Franklin Was Wrong: Time is not money

Dear Ben,

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: it’s a classic case of hero worship crashing into reality. We met when I was an overly-impressionable child and you were the charismatic character in the play 1776. You became my imaginary BFF and we had great conversations (it’s a wonder the other fifth graders didn’t kick the snot out of me). You were so wise; so smart. You knew all the answers and when you didn’t, you had a good joke or witty remark. I accepted everything you said as true until a few years ago when the difference between my pay and that of the CEO made me realize that time is not, in fact, money.

Time does not equal money.
Ben Franklin was so very wrong, and believing him cost me dearly.

We didn’t talk as much after that, but I still wanted to believe you had the answers. I rationalized that because time and money can be exchanged according to market principles they were, if not identical, at least somewhat equivalent.

No more. This week, I came face to face with the awful truth: not only is time not equivalent to money, they aren’t even comparable. The inescapable difference between time and money is you can make money. (Remember the talk we had about Twitter, Ben? Well, you can click here to tweet that.)

I’m trying to work through this; I’m telling myself that it’s because you were on a gold standard. I’m telling myself that everyone is wrong sometimes and that I shouldn’t be too hard on you, but the truth is…I’m pretty steamed. Your sage-sounding remark has shaped my world and I am only now realizing what it has cost me.

“Time is money” made me think that it was acceptable to trade an hour for four dollars, it was great to trade an hour for $11, that it was a bargain to trade an hour for $23, and it was a screaming deal at $32.

All these years I have been exchanging my time for money, thinking that when I had some money, I could exchange it back for time. I’ve watched patiently as each raise, promotion, and new job made my time became worth more money. I even thought that perhaps I could work some sort of arbitrage and trade my money back for time with a profit.

But Ben, the transaction only goes one way! For all their money, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett had only 168 hours last week. They may use productivity techniques to make the very best use of their time. They can pay other people do clean their house, walk their dog, answer their email, etc. to free up time…but even they can’t buy more of it.

As wise as you are, how could you not recognize the effect of scarcity on the price of time? I know you can see that the less there is of something, the more valuable it is.

As wise as you are, how could you not recognize the effect of uncertainty on the value of time? While we all had 168 hours last week, statistically 6,375 people aren’t going to make it through the next hour, and 153,000 of us run out of time each day. Did you ever stop to think about how this affects the price of and investment in time…or were you too busy coming up with misleading one liners?

Ben, your advice caused me to sell my life cheap and it’s going to take me a while to get over this. I know we have been buds since I was 11, but I think it’s time for a break. Maybe someday we can reconnect in a more healthy manner.


Kwin Peterson