Time and Money


“Time is money!” As ever-present as this notion is, it is wrong nevertheless. It implies, vice versa, that money equals time. One could argue at this point that money is, in a sense, the time you invest in your own work and which you will then be paid for in money. Every employee has their own opinion on whether or not their boss has adequately converted the time they spent at their workplace every day into money. So far, so good. Even so: We can’t use money to purchase more time and we can’t save time for the future.

Michael Ende’s novel “Momo” exemplifies the absurdity of this idea of saving time for future use better than any scientific analysis. I am going to work longer today so that I have more time on my hands tomorrow. Of course, we can “save up” for a sabbatical this way. But who can say for sure they’re going to live to enjoy their retirement, which they’re slaving away for, anyway? This is how the Men in Grey in “Momo”, the agents of the Timesavings Bank, make their money.

All of this is made possible simply because money forms the basis of our entire economy and the life of society. Yet, this hasn’t always been the case. The idea, too, that rhythm is strictly determined by a certain beat, may be self-evident today. But the literary scholar Eske Bockelmann has proven that this predominance of the musical beat developed in the same century that also saw the evolution of our “modern” money – namely the early 17th century.

The question of what role we assign to money in our world cannot be detached from the question of how we interpret time. Einstein taught us that time is not absolute. Time is relative. As soon as we dismiss the claim to absoluteness of time, we can resort to dealing with other notions of time in a much more relaxed manner. Why does time have to “pass”? It only does so if we interpret it as a linear course. Cyclic concepts of time, as they predominate in Asia and among numerous so-called indigenous peoples, allow for the idea of time as constantly recurring categories. If one spring has passed, another one will come. If the sun has set, it will rise again. Modern-day economy and its obsession with optimization and growth has increasingly pulled us away from these notions that ultimately are bound to our natural surroundings.

There is a reason why awareness and slowing down, stress reduction and meditation have found their way into mainstream consciousness. The modern world does not really coincide with human beings as they evolved over time. An African proverb states: “Europeans have watches, Africans have time.” Once we exchange a Rolex for placidity, we realize that time and money are not commodities which can be arbitrarily exchanged. You don’t have time, you make it. However, the prerequisite for being able to do so is based on our notion of money and economy.

Signet Sunflower Foundation