Saturday, December 10, 2016

Commodification of Time: the Imaginary Enemy

Why is the commodification of our economic time value, so often perceived as a negative? Possibly, because of the fact a substantial amount of personal time became externally defined in the 20th century, by the institutions in our midst. Nevertheless: in the 21st century, as these same institutions gradually need less employment to generate more output, societies will need to reconsider the wealth potential (commodification) of time value, in a much more positive light.

Otherwise, many groups would have difficulty initiating mutual forms of self employment, for time based product. Yet doing so is likely the most advantageous process, to effectively counter the effects of automation in the near future. Negative perceptions regarding time value need to be confronted, because otherwise they could ultimately lead to great losses in productive economic complexity, which would unfortunately be reinforced by progressives and conservatives alike. In many respects, what was an earlier internalization of time value in relation to institutions and/or resource capacity, would shift towards economic time value in relation to individuals. It's also a process which could help to restore a great deal of personal autonomy (economic freedom), which was temporarily apportioned to external organizational processes.

The inherent usefulness of our time for others, is a natural resource in the same sense as any other form of commodity or product wealth, despite the fact time value has yet to be directly tapped (on symmetric terms) for economic purpose. Meanwhile, the incentives to initiate such a process are only growing. Indeed, the more useful our time value is perceived by others, the more options in life we would have - once again. Even though the services economic option is sometimes openly disdained (which is "better", building or maintaining/assisting?) in part due to perceptions of gender limits, skills use options are far more open ended, than the class/gender separations suggested by general equilibrium terminology.

Granted, through much of the twentieth century, few individuals needed to provide mutual, time based assistance via internal (direct) means, since widely dispersed tradable wealth made a full range of time based coordination possible for multiple income levels. Whatever complaints one had about externally driven time commodification in the 20th century, the benefits of this (more temporary than realized) compromise were still undeniable. It was also a time of abundant "stuff" in our environments. While this form of material abundance is not as important as it once was, many income levels during this period were able to experience life, in ways which extended well beyond the places and circumstance of one's birth.

Greater mobility and personal autonomy are still possible. In this post I'd like to suggest that we have scarcely even begun to pull back the layers of commodification potential, to discover what lies underneath. What might that potential consist of, in terms of regaining a societal level of personal autonomy which has been all but forgotten, in recent years? Mike Konczal is one of many, for whom time commodification appears as though the "enemy". While musing about the reality of a Trump presidency, he included some negative associations with time commodification. In response to a working class which feels as though constantly ordered around by professionals, he writes:
Meanwhile, we should feel out our own case against professionals. Tying professionals to commodification, the people who get in the way of needed goods (especially with whatever TrumpCare ends up looking like), might be a way to get there.
One problem with commodification labels such as this: they neglect today's limited production processes, which in turn greatly diminish aggregate supply potential. Here, Konczal further clarifies the commodification identity:
...the divide among economists on trade is driven by the fact that labor economists study the real effects of unemployment on real people, where trade and macroeconomists treat people as just another commodity.
Were macroeconomists the first to do this? I would suggest they took their cue from a broad array of institutions which had already done so first, through the process of offering lucrative - but double edged - asymmetric compensation, to individuals in the form of well paying work, throughout the years they were able to do so. Small wonder, then, that human capital as a productive resource, became narrowly defined.

Negative reactions to time as commodity, can also be attributed to the fact that people chose to heavily invest in education as a long term career gamble, during the 20th century. By so doing, many individuals collectively handed over the keys to their broader time options and destinies, in hopes of gaining a lifetime of security. Yet gambling for fortuitous gains in human capital, has become more elusive over time. Should one ultimately land on the "right space", it often feels imperative to remain there.

Circumstance such as these likely contribute to skepticism, regarding time as commodity. Another way to frame the problem: narrowly defined human capital imposes substantial limits on aggregate economic time value, which in turn disrupts once productive economic landscapes. Given today's minimum of managed time continuum environments for group work, only a mere fraction of what we learn through the course of our lives, translates into economic or even social gain. Even though some of our economic contributions are highly valued, this process has occurred in ways which lay waste to the larger potential of human capital.

Fortunately, human capital need not exist solely as a time based component of externally defined wealth. Let's return to the consideration of commodity definition in a positive light. Upon doing so, something immediately becomes evident: time's perishable nature. Just as many time options need to play out in an organized continuum (if they are to fully manifest), food is also a perishable commodity, which needs to be consumed within a fairly short time frame. And yet something very positive for progress took place for foodstuffs in the 20th century, which has yet to take place for human capital: greater food preservation.

Instead, the institutions of the 20th century, made time use potential more perishable, along with the knowledge use potential associated with time value. Let's reverse this process. I suggest that an equilibrium corporate construct, be given the chance to do so. The progress of the 20th century, can hopefully be continued in the present. Time value is by far, the most important commodity we all have.

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