Another thing money can buy: time

Money doesn’t buy only job opportunities, kindness, and compassion: it can also buy time.

Last night, I was poking around the Transition Lab‘s website (because yes, I still have fantasies about doing it, even though I probably won’t for a whole bunch of reasons), and I noticed an announcement about two new work-exchange scholarships they’re offering:

At Transition Lab, we face an irony: While building a new economy, we still need to charge tuition in order to pay our bills in the old economy. Yet, the students who would benefit the most from our program don’t have a lot of money, because the traditional economy isn’t working out for them. It’s a double bind that is preventing the new economy to take off.

So we are going to take an innovative leap to break this cycle: We are offering the two remaining slots in our 2014 Co-Creator Program as gifts in exchange for the gifts that students can offer our program. That’s right- full tuition to two students in exchange for what they can gift us in return. Really? Yep. Gifts for Gifts.

It’s great that the people at Transition Lab recognize this double bind and are working to make their program more accessible.

But it reminded me how easily money can serve as a substitute for time and energy. People who can afford TL’s tuition can just go, no strings attached; those who can’t have to come up with a skill that’s useful to others, and then spend their time and energy practicing it throughout the program.

It’s similar to all the festivals and events that offer volunteer slots in return for free or reduced admission. Those who can afford tickets have the luxury of spending their time however they want; those who can’t, don’t. Volunteering isn’t necessarily bad–it can be fun if you do it with a group of friends. It can be a good way to practice your skills and learn new ones. But it can also be exhausting. Sometimes you just want to relax and enjoy yourself without having to work.

And that’s not even getting into the many, many people who work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, who wouldn’t have the time to go to festivals or events if they wanted to.

I want a different world: a world in which free time isn’t a luxury, but a right. A world in which people have the time and energy to explore who they are and what they want to do.

Reducing the standard work week to 21 hours, spreading out work more evenly across the population, and instituting a basic minimum income would go a long way toward making that possible.

Speaking of which, Alyssa Battistoni’s recent essay in Jacobin Magazine, Alive in the Sunshine, is a must-read. She argues that reducing the workweek and instituting a basic minimum income is necessary to achieve both economic justice and environmental sustainability–and would also give people the time to build communities and enjoy life.

Her analysis reminds me of my favorite book, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, condensed into a form that’s both more succinct and more specific about policy goals. It also reminds me of this great video about visualizing a plentitude economy, made by Juliet Schor (whom Battistoni quotes) and the Center for a New American Dream:

This is the world I want to build.

(Note: just to be clear, I think Transition Lab is going great work toward building that world, and I’m not disagreeing with or attacking their decisions at all. I’m just using them as an example to illustrate my train of thought about the ways in which, in our current system, people with less money often end up with less free time and less control over how they spend their time.)

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