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Perhaps one of the most prominent aphorisms in circulation, both within work and private spheres of life is the law of labor known as “Time is Money”. This phrase, mentioned by many but widely attributed to the great aphorist and writer, Benjamin Franklin, who first mentioned it in his 1748 essay, ‘Advise to a young Tradesman‘ suggests that the less time people waste, the more time they can devote to work, and thus the more money they can make. Franklin reminds his readers of the opportunity cost of wasting time – namely throwing away potential earnings. Regardless of the origins, what remains certain is that this aphorism cannot be traced to one individual or epoch in time. “Time is Money” is rather a conventional wisdom, a collective formula that has occupied human subconsciousness and which seems to manifest in both private and professional spheres of life at every fork in the journey of life. While at work Time is Money may manifest itself in managers keeping a close eye on how their subordinates spend time at work, in private life, it might encourage parents to nudge their daughters into learning cooking skills – presumably as a way to enhancing their value in the market of marriages and cashing in on the most desirable opportunity on the table. Time is Money thus embodies a omnipresent desire for success, specifically a slippery notion of life success and the aphorism a almost guaranteed way to accomplish it. Despite the aphorism’s widespread intuitive appeal, and its omni-presence in the fabric of our collective thought, there are reasons to believe that its utility may be questioned and the connection between time and money reexamined.

First, the functioning of society has changed. Franklin’s work was published during the earliest phases of the industrial revolution. Introduction of machines moved traditional manufacturing processes from homes to centralized factories. Laborers organized themselves in shifts and wages were based on the number of hours instead of the amount of production. Time therefore became synonymous to money. Unlike this period however, contemporary society is predominantly composed of salaried and not contractual hourly labor. Wages today are not based simply on the number of hours worked but rather on a broad range of work and non-work-related criteria, the least of which is how well employees are able to contribute to forwarding the organizations goals.

Second,emergence of knowledge economies which are quite distinct from those in the 19th century, has moved emphasis from simply the willingness to work towards both the physical and intellectual capability of workers. Knowledge workers as they are often called do not get paid simply for showing up to work and operating machinery. Rather their income is determined by abstract capabilities and a focus on results rather than specific time worked. Working less, quite contrary to Franklin, may actually be beneficial as it can spark creativity and productivity of work force.

Finally, there is a trend towards what some refer to as the “Third industrial revolution” where money is not an end in itself but rather a means to enjoy other alternate desires of life. Indeed, the focus is on Money as a social construct – the value of which is determined subjectively by the extent to which it satisfies the broad range of needs of individuals. Franklin based his remarks on a monolithic ideology of human need – the sole pursuit of money. In his view, money is the objective concrete instrument through which all needs may be fulfilled. Yet, money is a social construct because the extent to which it is deemed valuable is based on the both the degree or nature of needs as well as the breadth of needs individuals might have. While some may appreciate buying tickets to an expensive concert, others might be far more comfortable watching a concert from the comfort of their home for a meager fee. These individuals may experience the same level of satisfaction as those actually attending an expensive concert and thus see no merit in the popular wisdom that it is only by spending time at work, money and life’s pleasures may be obtained. Alternately, even those who do idolize the idea of “time is money” may find that they spend so much time at work, that little if any time is left to fulfill their needs such as shop for a house or spend time with family. These hard workers have disposable income but no real income, i.e. income that allows them to experience the things they cherish. Collectively these changes in the nature of work since the beginning of the industrial age, suggest that the connection between effort and money may not be as straightforward as proposed by Franklin. Franklin’s remarks, rooted and appropriate for the context in that period are nonetheless not very useful in contemporary society. Today, abstract mental aptitudes rather than physical labor are more valuable, there is a panoply of needs that individuals may have which extend beyond financial security and indeed can often not be directly purchased in a market, a work culture where the quality of work rather than time spent at work is more sought after, a work environment where working hard as Franklin argues may induce stress and be actually counter productive are all reasons that cast a long shadow of doubt on whether time is indeed money. Success in life and its connection to wages is a slippery slope far different from the one assumed in the widespread aphorism.

We then conclude that in contemporary society, “Time is NOT money”. The aphorism may well succeed in producing disposable income against all odds but we contend it is far less likely to produce any real income. If Franklin’s remarks are inappropriate today, what could possibly be formulated to overcome the aforesaid issues? While there is no space to fully develop alternate ideas, one promising approach is to examine the accumulation of real wealth by focusing on “purposive action – the extent to which individuals take well directed efforts to accomplish goals” and the idea of “Extrinsic versus Intrinsic goals”. Extrinsic goals are those where life choices result from societal expectations such as pursuing a particular profession because its lucrative. Intrinsic goals are those where life choices are governed by interest, passion, and calling in life rather than financial attractiveness or family expectations. Individuals who make choices congruent with intrinsic goals and take well directed and thought out purposeful actions may find themselves in a position of both disposable as well as real wealth. New age ‘Instagram celebrities’ are an example where passion and pleasure is blended with work. Alternately individuals who make life choices based on purely extrinsic objectives may find themselves working exceptionally hard but being unable to realize financial gains due to “capability ceilings”. Difficulties negotiating a job they are not best suited for may leave them with a lack of both disposable as well as real income.

As our limited exposition of alternate ideas to those of Franklin suggests, the link between hard work, capitalizing on opportunities, and income is far more nuanced and tenuous. Far from being a maxim we should guide our life with, time is money simply provides for a well disguised course in life slavery. Far too many fall prey to it – spending their entire life working meticulously often for others, only to realize in the end that the opportunity cost of following the aphorism was far greater than any opportunities lost had they ignored it. They perhaps even made money but little that was actually useful.

About the Author:

Juilee Jayade is a second year student at IAQS . She is passionate about learning new things, be it spoken languages or programming languages. She also owns a small bakery business.

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