Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The tangible value of time

I've had a thought-provoking experience today: a meeting which got cancelled shortly before. Nothing besides a minor annoyance, but a very valuable trigger to muse on the economic value of time as a function of individual's position in time. Something around the "Time is money" stuff. Lots of terms are in quotes, because this is more of an unsorted dump and less of a coherent essay.

A thought experiment: you ask me to spend 10 minutes now or 10 minutes tomorrow. If I can - I will prefer to spend 10 minutes now. "Now" is "cheaper" for me than "Future" - even though it is in limited supply. "Now" is quickly depreciating - left unused, it becomes a non-redeemable "Past". That's why I try to "sell" the "Now", at a best "price" (usefulness of the activity), so nothing is going wasted into the recycle bin in the corner of Zeus' father cabinet.

So, the most "profitable" strategy for me is to "sell at the edge" - i.e. have little planning at all - the cost of this "just about to be gone" for me is approaching zero. However, since every activity is fitting within the nonzero time interval, this means that the competing activities would meet with the non-determinism - there might be already another thing that I am doing, and the contender, if it is time-critical, will face a "loss".

Seems with the "future", it's really the determinism of my availability that I am "selling" to the "buyers" - in addition to the intrinsic value of "me".
There is a side in this for me too - with the "pipeline of things" the time is allocated, and there is no risk that it goes "unsold" - and if I am able to estimate the "usefulness" of the task for me, then I have a stable "return on investment".

This is similar to a model where someone would pay money "now" to get something in the "future", in an economy with a spiraling inflation. So, "time" is indeed quite similar to money, except the mapping is a bit twisted!

Now, the next question - if the time bears such a strong relationship with money, would it not be interesting to just use the time as a currency ?

So, let's make another thought experiment. Let's assume that the technology allows everyone to print their own currency, and the technology is such, that with every exchange you can see how much of the "units" have been emitted and are in circulation.

"What's the guarantee behind?" - you ask, citing the current money in circulation. With the technology above, the guarantee for the mass of the "personal money" issued by a given individual, is the individual himself. That's when we can exploit the saying "He's worth his weight in gold".

Obviously such a "guarantee" seems scary at first (it looks like some twisted form of slavery), but it is not a problem - to "own" you, someone must be able to continually attract all the "money" you put into emission. Which, unless they produce something you need, is unlikely. Plus, if you are desperate, you can always dilute their "share" by emitting more "money".

This system would some interesting properties.

It would be the economy financially driven by the youth - because the "first emission money" will be the least inflated - therefore of most value. The youth would be able to pay for the education - which would be provided by the elder, who can no longer just "print their money".

With this, it might be that the very core of the society will change (youth being more "naive", if you wish), might just make it for the better. But maybe not.

In any case it would be an interesting experiment.

Now, if that proved to be successful, we can go further, and replace the "personal money" with "personal time".

This interpretation might be even more deterministic - because the lifetime of a person is finite, and is statistically rather well defined.

So you start with your current life expectancy's full of "personal money-time", and get it "vested" in a special way - you have to spend it the moment it is vested or it is lost.

This system would have even more interesting properties. Besides also driven by youth (because they still have more time in front of them), it would also have a very strong inherent motivator for the healthier lifestyle (because then you live longer, which is one of the ways you get richer), and the good for the society as a whole - because the longer the overall society lives, the "richer" it is - which is great for everyone.

This brings a loophole, however - a reproduction can be viewed as a way of "printing money". However, this is maybe not a problem too - as e.g. most of the West have difficulty keeping the birth levels as high as they would want to.

Also, the *way* you spent your past time might also affect the current time's valuation - more educated person would be worth more.

There is one difference between the "personal money" based system and "personal time" based system - the time is something you can spend only once.

But overall, I think it is an interesting system worth modeling. As the technology levels go up - it is not something infeasible to do. It would be a terribly interesting exercise if someone figured out a way to model it.

Not sure how interesting you found this post - but I certainly had a very interesting time pondering. Which means that the today's cancellation was well worth it.

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