By Adam J. Pearson
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
~ Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), Walden
We have often been told that ‘time is money,’ however, we often forget that the statement also works the other way around: ‘money is time.’
If we pursue this line of inquiry, I suggest that we quickly come to a shocking conclusion: the economic cost of a thing is not, in fact, defined by how much money we need to pay to obtain it.
On the contrary, the true cost of all transactions hits far closer to home. The actual cost of what we buy or pay for is defined by how much of our lifespan
we have to pay to get it.
How many hours do you have to work to buy what you buy? Consider then, that in order to get it, you are trading in that many hours or minutes of your lifespan in exchange for the object or service you are buying. The ultimate wallet is the hourglass of your finite time on Earth; each purchase you make requires you to give away some of the limited sand in your hourglass to get it.
Thus, everything we buy, we buy using chunks of our own lifespan. In this sense, the basis of all economics is not truly economical in nature, but biological. The exchange of lifespan for products and services is the foundation of all economics, not money, or even supply and demand.
This surprising conclusion is based on the fact that demand simply determines what we are willing to invest a chunk of our lifespan to obtain. Supply provides the means of spending this chunk of our lifespan to get what we think we want. Money is the symbol we use to stand for the chunk of our lifespan that we trade in in exchange for goods and services.
Therefore, ultimately, all economic exchange involves the trade of units–not of dollars and cents–but of biological time, of your very lifespan or your limited time here on Earth. That’s truly what you trade in each time you buy anything at all, a portion of the finite interval of time between your cradle and your grave.
Thus, in a very real and concrete sense, lifespan is the only true currency; money is merely a virtual symbol of lifespan. We forget that money is virtual because the signifier we use to point to it is material; that is, the fact that we use physical tokens to represent money–namely, paper, metal, or electrical processes in a computerized digital system–disguises its virtual nature. Nevertheless, money remains virtual just the same. The only real currency is your lifespan. That’s all you really ever have to spend.
Moreover, we do not only spend our lifespan only when we buy things in the economy and the marketplace, or in the stores, restaurants, and cafes of daily existence. We spend units of our lifespan whenever we do anything at all. Every action takes time to complete. All time is spent. Where does the currency that enables the spending come from? Where else? Your lifespan.
Therefore, we pay for every commercial we watch with a chunk of our lifespan. We pay for every clickbait article we read with a chunk of our lifespan. We pay for every hour we work at our job, ride the bus, or gaze at our phone with a chunk of our lifespan. And so on and so on, not ad infinitum, but ad finitum; every action involves making a withdrawal from the limited bank account of your life.
Furthermore, even inaction has a cost; even if you simply lie on a couch for an hour, that very inactive state costs an hour of your life. We are always paying, always making withdrawals from the bank account of our life, whether we take action, remain inactive, or buy anything at all. Always.
Given these considerations, it would be wise for us to reflect:
Are we spending our lifespan how we want to spend it?
Are we spending it without even thinking that we are spending it?
Are we not often simply spending our lifespan out of habit?
Are we taking our limited lifespan for granted, falsely assuming that it is infinite when it is all too short?
Are we spending it on what we’re told we should want to spend it on?
Are we deciding the true value of the things we trade in our lifespan for, or are we accepting the values assigned to them by our media, politicians, cultures, religions, sciences, family, teachers, neighbours, and friends?
Based on all of these considerations, I would humbly suggest that when we spend money buying anything at all or spend time doing anything at all, it would be wise for us to remind ourselves of this fact:
“I am trading in a portion of my lifespan for this. Is it worth the price, not in dollars and cents, but in time subtracted from my time alive on this planet?”
After all, money is abstract, but what is more concrete to you than the very sand in your hourglass, the very fabric of your life?