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Time Defined as Commodity and Property

Updated on January 29, 2011

Can the immaterial really be stolen?

Many people have come to believe that time is a commodity that can be stolen like a car or some other substantial object.
Many people have come to believe that time is a commodity that can be stolen like a car or some other substantial object. | Source

Time as Property is a Misconception

In a society where we claim proprietary rights, just about anything can become mislabeled as property. How for instance can we lay claim to the warmth of the sun as property of some and not of most. Although we can argue in favor of proprietary rights for something like a fish we caught, or that gold nugget we found, there are things that no one can claim as property, such as gravity and time. Yet, many have come to accept some preposterous claims.

How often have we all heard the boss or some other authority say “My time” and “your time” as it it was something physical that can be divided and parceled out or exchanged like vegetables, metals, cloth, houses, cars or some other commodity? Most of us have heard it more than once. This idea that time is something that can be bought, sold and traded is something of a huge misunderstanding. In fact, time has become regarded like a commodity; at least by some people. Time is one of those things that is not a surplus value or even a use value or a value as regarded in classic economic definitions and terms. We don't find time lying about waiting to be discovered, converted and used like objects or raw resources found in nature. In fact, if we are to define time, we have to turn to and consider the findings of Albert Einstein who defined time as a variable dimension, just as other dimensions are variable under General Relativity, defined only by particular frames of reference. By now Einstein's findings have been proven by experiment which is the final measure in science. Anyone can prove these things given rigorous controls and practice. Adjusting GPS or relativistic effects is now routine.

Coupled with the misconception of time as commodity is the idea that time can be privately owned. Yet for all our seeming ability to claim time as property, it is not controlled to the least extent by everyday actions. We cannot stop, start or manipulate time in any way. We are in it for the ride. Each one of us, floats as it were through time, within the eternal moment, within the context of historical development. During this period, we attempt to change our circumstances, but not time itself. Time can be said to be primordial, a fundamental condition that can be also viewed as change itself. For without change, the cosmos is static and what we call time is the medium of change. At the quantum level the cosmos is discreet and it follows that time or change is also discreet.

We have been led down the garden path to believe that time is property that can be owned. This surfaces in the concept of production, specifically, surplus production that is the locus of profit making. It takes time to turn raw resources into something of use value and use value arises only because of added labor value. Labor value is interwoven with time. It always requires some time to convert something that is available to something that we find more useful. Not many people live in trees such as other primates, but we will harvest trees, make lumber and plywood and turn this into a house where we do live. This is the basis that allowed the idea that time itself is a commodity that can be bought and sold, when it was actually labor effort and surplus value that is the real commodity. What we have is another form of alienation of labor, not only from production, nature and each other, but time as well.

How often do we see the laborer or worker disgruntled and dissatisfied with spending time at a job that is neither rewarding nor fulfilling and increasingly, not financially gainful. The job becomes time that is under suffering and is torturous. The nature of class division with its ownership of the means of production and fictitious value as the laborers reward only drives the point further home. The self appointed owners of the means of production then divide time into productive and non-productive time and seek to expand the former at the expense of the latter. Non-productive time for profit makers are things like rest or sleep, transit to and from the factory, field or office, eating, vacations and the like. Productive time on the other hand is that where commodities for profit are being created. As in any other mode of production, the productive time that the owner-bosses claim as their property like the means of production is encouraged in order to maximize profit. The non-productive time is discouraged. Thus events like lengthening the work day and eliminating breaks is desirable under capitalism to tip the scale in favor of productive time, which is claimed as the property of the capitalists. As the struggles of the 1920s and 30's ended up establishing the eight hour day in America, the bosses had to go off-shore in order to get 12 to 16 hour work days in China and India, where there are few labor laws and other restrictions such as health, safety environmental limitations. In addition, there is the “bonus” of much lower wages. Americans are left to fend without work, while the Chinese and Indians are overworked and the bosses are ostentatious in the display of their wealth. The only two economies that are growing are where the production has increased. For those that still work in America, we still hear the old ideas.

Thus we hear things like “Not on my time” from the boss or straw boss where you have no claim to time when under the directive of the capitalist. You must do with time, what you are told to or risk the consequences of violating the sanctity of productive time under the mode of profit making. We even here that time is money, linking time with the money making schemes of capitalism which includes the creation of fictitious value, a way of attempting to cheat time by creating value out of thin air. In reality, it is the laborer that is being cheated all the way. Their labor value is regarded as variable capital. Their time is not considered their own to do with as they see fit. They are encouraged from cradle to grave to respect all the concepts designed to exploit them.

Today we even hear of the expression “time theft” as if time were like a diamond or car that can be surreptitiously stolen and ferreted away to be enjoyed in secret. Time theft emerges when the laborer seeks to extend non-productive time at the cost of productive time by lengthening breaks or coming in late to or leaving early from the work shift time. Time theft occurs when the worker claims hours worked that were not worked. This is what could be called generating fictitious time. Time theft occurs when the laborer makes an error at the cost of the company. The penalty for time theft is often dismissal and possibly the garnishing of wages. Little or nothing is said when the capitalist “steals time” from the laborer by the non payment of wages, whether it is the result of bankruptcy or by neglect or deliberation for one “deduction” or another. Today, according to many economic analysts, many state and city employees across the land are at risk of losing pensions and wages due these entities declaring bankruptcy. This has the potential to create enormous unrest.

The wage slave, which by far is the commonest form of slavery today, does not have time to call their own. Increasingly, such as in China within the Walmart enclave, we see laborers working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week with little “non-productive time” for themselves beyond sleep. Wages are often a pittance,incapable of providing total support. Wal Mart is not alone in this. There are work shops all around the world that function this way. The whole thing is part of a grand deception. By awakening to the truth that time is not owned by anyone, we set in motion a move toward a radical change in society. As the worker is worthy of the full value of what they produce, then they are also worthy of the full time they take in order to accomplish this. The moment some one appropriates this to themselves as “owner” even at the force of law, at someone else expense is the moment we fall into delusion.

Time and its various definitions


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