Capitalism and the Economics of Time

Here is a widely accepted statement, based on economic understanding:

In a properly capitalist society with free-enough markets, all economic profit eventually becomes normal profit.

Economic profit is understood as money you earn beyond what is necessary to cover your variable and fixed costs.  This money, on a per unit basis, is supposed to grind down to $0, as competition increases and entrenched positions erode.   This makes all kinds of assumptions that aren’t fully reflected in reality, but that’s the idea.

Let’s apply that to time:

In a properly capitalist society with free-enough markets, all economic time eventually becomes normal time.

Economic time basically being your time allocated for leisure and long-term personal development.  It seems that this is because of the law above, but considered in terms of savings – in a capitalist market with a captive population, the system is designed to whittle away at consumers’ savings – consider, if a marketer is doing their job based on a 20th century understanding of success, they are helping create wants in the minds of their consumers, and often conflating these wants with true needs.   If you think of your ‘economic savings’ being a function of your income less your needed expenses, and ‘normal savings’ being your income less your needed expenses less your wanted expenses, it is easy to see how this conflation can help move ‘economic savings’ towards ‘normal savings’ and even ‘no savings,’ because of all the wants being marketed as needs – almost no one markets the need for saving.    All of our banks today would much rather you spend with their credit cards or other forms of borrowed money than have you save the money you have, in order to not need their services.   And in a profit-driven system like capitalism, it is understandable why this is the case.

So we’ve established that why savings for so many people are moving towards $0.  What do you do when you need more money?    You further leverage your time.

You work more, you pick up overtime or a second job.  You see your kids less, making them further susceptible to marketers influence, and you compensate for it by buying them further wanted things in order to help replace actual needs.  In this sense, your ‘economic time,’ the time you get to spend doing the things you truly love and enjoy and want to do, like pursuing your passion or spending time with your loved ones, slowly becomes 0 and is replaced with a new conception of ‘normal time,’ which is time spent at work, or performing a never ending routine of tasks that ‘need to be done.’    The drive for profits and the encouraging of needless consumption in our capitalist system has forced us to put the cart in front of the horse in many respects.

Consider – little Jimmy needs his father’s time, love and attention, but Dad is stuck working as much as possible to keep the family fiscally afloat, and so compensates by buying Jimmy toy trucks, that Jimmy learns to love and cherish, as a reflection of his father’s love.   There is no need to use a material good as a surrogate in this manner, but it sure is convenient, and it helps Dad validate what he is doing to himself in almost a form of cognitive dissonance – ‘well, I work so hard so I CAN buy these things that little Jimmy loves’….   now of course, there’s nothing wrong with buying toys and other cool little knick-knacks for yourself or people you love, but they cannot be a substitute for the feelings and values that are supposed to underlie them…if they are you are growing a generation of people who have learned to associate the humanly values of feeling love and affection with the materialist values of buying possessions, and you have almost created a generation of consumers overnight who can be badly mixed up on the inside, further making them vulnerable to cheap marketing ploys that a more well-balanced individual would be less susceptible to fall for.

This is part of the social contract involved with capitalism, where all eyes are on the bottom line.  It is encouraging to see 21st century capitalism starting to expand the scope of what that bottom line includes from just dollars, but there is still a ways to go in society’s understanding of why profits are important, and what exactly they are for.   It is only funny accounting (an overly restricted scope of inclusion, dismissing of ‘externalities’) that has allowed the capitalist system to do many of the tragic acts it has perpetrated.

Of course, this isn’t to belittle the greatness of things that capitalism has achieved, or to pointlessly deride it’s evils.  But rather to recognize some of the faults and account for them properly, to determine ways to improve the system by keeping it’s best and reforming what is not working as well as it could.