Time is Money =/= Money is Time

We all know the metaphor prized by the busy cosmopolitan “Time Is Money”.  I have some thoughts about this that are a little disjointed, but I will try to pull them together in this analysis of this type of metaphor.

This is an ontological equivalence construction, X is Y.  In fact, it has a place in most modern systems of categorization.  The interesting thing is that just because X is Y it does not mean that Y is X.  Sometimes though, it is the case that a Y can equal an X, but in these cases X is Y is not qualitatively equivalent to Y is X.  Confused?

Clarify your thinking with this example:

German shepherds are dogs. [X is Y]

*Dogs are German shepherds. [Y is X]

(where “*” denotes ungrammaticality or non-equivalence of type)

This example of the X is a kind of Y (or X is Y) construction has its place in making sense out of what is unfamiliar, taking the unknown and relating it to the known – the specific related to the generic.  X is Y is a tool of abstraction and categorization.

When we think about the phrase “Time is Money” what we are doing is equating as abstract concept to a slightly less abstract concept.  Time and Money are not in the same hierarchical structure as [Dog] & [German Shepherd]; Time and Money are like apples and oranges.

In order to understand how this apples to oranges situation fits the X is Y construction consider this primary metaphor:


In this metaphor, we can look at the idea of time as an object and the idea of money as an object, and as objects we can equate them, compare and contrast them, and manipulate them.

Moving forward…

We all understand that in this modern world that people pay other people for their time (people’s time is not free, it requires your money…if you have money you can have my time.), we show that we value time by putting a price per hour cost on it.  In this case we feel that the value of our time is less than the value of money, because we are trading time in order to get money.

But the inverse is not always met with the same familiarity and cultural esteem, we don’t always think that time is worth more than money, unless we feel that we are underpaid (that our time is worth more than the money we are getting).  I want to argue that sometimes time is worth more than money and that it is a good decision to work less or earn less in order to do more with your time.  This is a skill for a new generation, especially as certain swaths of the job market increasingly move to remote & free-agent type environments and the typical job is no longer 40hrs/week + overtime in an office.  Learn to live more with less.

The Japanese Freeter is an example of this preference for time over money.  Consider this quote from Wikipedia:

Freeters are a relatively new phenomenon in Japan. The word freeter was used first around 1987 during the bubble economy, referring to young people who deliberately chose not to become salary-man despite a large number of jobs available at that time. During this time, freeters were also somewhat glamorized as people pursuing their dreams and trying to live life to the fullest.

While the optimistic Freeter mindset is valuable to maintain, the reality of the Freeter lifestyle is less optimistic for people who want to have a specific career other than an hourly wage job.  In the global economy for a small cadre of workers it is possible to work less because you value your time above the money AND still earn a descent living wage.

For this small group of workers (i.e., those who can make it in a decided career with less salary and more time) they esteem the inverse Y is X metaphor “Money is Time” where they trade money-making opportunities for time conserving career strategies.  This requires a multifaceted approach to living in order to make it work.

On a slightly different note, and to draw this to a close, time plays a role in understanding happiness.  Check out this article by Aaker, Rudd, and Mogilner (2010) that outlines the ways in which time-spending can be governed by economic principles.

Finally, for my American friends, have a relaxing week hanging out and relating to other people over Thanksgiving dinner, and make sure to spend some time pondering how good it feels to have time to do the things you want to do.

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