Shallow meditations on time and money

On the personal level, time and money are limited and to an extent interchangeable resources.

The limitedness of money is a bit of a joke, since there are people with more money than they can spend in any reasonable way, but there are no infinitely rich people: it should be trivial to construct exercises that would exhaust any given finite sum. Say buy Russia, pay all the people to leave, and launch the region into the Earth orbit kilogram chunk by kilogram chunk until nothing by a hole a kilometer deep remains.

(Though there may be a limit beyond which the spending of money would destabilize the entire world, cause political and military intervention, destroy the meaning and value of money, and plummet everything into total utter absolute chaos. Also, since the use of money requires someone else to shove it at, there may be practical limits to how much you can buy, unless you pay extra. “Recipe for spending X euros for any positive X: Buy a milkshake. Tip.”)

On the personal level, time is quite probably limited — more likely than not, in a hundred million minutes or so everyone alive right now is dead. (That’d be somewhere around two centuries; assuming of course that in a hundred million minutes my brain or yours won’t be in a canister or a computer, cackling “silly Masks of Eris! Wrong again! Ha-ha!” Rigor is something of a bother; I know. Then again, immunity to aging doesn’t need to mean immortality: a computer program may not have a fixed lifespan of threescore and ten or less, but one EMP and poof! it’s gone. Statistically, everything with a nonzero change of dying will die, eventually.)

(Still, assuming near-immortality, this arrangement becomes lopsided: you can get any riches you want provided you can save a fraction of what you earn, no matter how little that may be. Or you could just plop a euro in a bank, and wait, hoping there won’t be any instability to swallow your savings. I think this “put money in a bank, go to deep sleep” gambit is tried and fails in Simmons’s Hyperion; I ought to re-read that.)

Time can be converted into money: this is rather easy. Just get a job and rake the money in. Or invest some minutes in robbing a bank. Or study to get a degree, thus multiplying the amount of money you get once you start working. There are many ways that all involve doing something you rather wouldn’t, and receiving money in exchange. You do the time, you get the money.

(Or in the case of a bank robbery, the reverse order. Sigh. Also, you can cheat if you get paid for doing something you want to do: that’s free money!)

Money can be converted into time: lifetime, free time, time to do what you want to do, that is. If you have money, you can avoid many things: you don’t have to spend time working, you don’t even have to waste time wiping yours if you so wish. In addition to saving time, you can generate a bit of time, too: better healthcare means a longer life.

(You can use time to get time, too: work out, put in negative instead of positive time by eating things you’d rather not eat instead of things you want, and live longer — though it’s debatable whether the gain is more than the loss. Seventy lean years or fifty fat ones? It’s profitable, certainly, if one can derive pleasure from all the jogging and celery-munching.)

Now, I often use a rather petty version of this to manage my life: sure, I could change the tires on my bike myself. That would cost me time. (Also maybe a finger.) I could also take it to the Bicycle Repairman, lose a negligible amount of time doing that, and lose some money paying him. Some people say you should do things yourself if you can, and waste no money; but in my personal opinion the loss of money stings and bothers me less than the loss of time would.

Given that one has two limited, interchangeable resources at one’s disposal, one must seek an arragement where they are managed so that one gets the maximum amount of pleasure out of life. This could be called, were one a fan of polysyllabic words, the equivalent exchange principle of personal philosophic hedonism, or EEPPPH.

I just call it my excuse to not lose time, temper and fingers changing my own tires. (Though the real test comes when you think “Okay — ten minutes searching for the spare bulb that I have here somewhere within a hundred-meter radius, or two euros to buy one tomorrow with no fuss? Time… or money?”)

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