In Time- An Economist Point of View

Andrew Niccol



Life is like a strategic game for me and for a lot of economists. There are zero-sum games in which while one part win and other have to lose and there are non-zero-sum games in which both parts can be better off at the end of the game. So, which one seems closer to the real life for you? Do you think that some have to suffer to make other’s life better off? I would like to engage your attention to this expression: “I work extra hours today to make my boss’s children go to private school.”.  As a result of the economic system, it seems like we have a zero-sum game. Is that possible to change the distribution of income and make our economic system a non-zero-sum game? In time is a dystopia which seems like it is not that fantastic at all, and it is in line with the 21st century’s economic system.

Economists always mention that we have scarce resources. All the economic policies and all the hard work in our lives are about the distribution of these resources. We measure every meta with the money in this century. It seems like money buys happiness. We value it so much and we tend to regret the problem is not the money, it is the scarce resources! In the movie, there is no money. Appraisal tool is the time! You can buy anything with time, but you have to work to earn time.  This point of view seems so impressive to me. We usually discuss 2 scarce resources while talking about preferences of individuals: time and money. If you have both, you have it all! In time shows that time is money now! People stops aging at their 25’s and starts using their time as money. Is it a dream to live without money and forever young? What would be the problems then?

Time is money

As the movie shows, money is only a tool that helps people to have a common sense about the value of the items. If there were no money, still we would have scarce resources and probably we would replace the Money with another tool. The character of the manager of a time bank is emphasizing the importance of scarce resources with mentioning that for some people to be immortal, others have to die; there is no such space in the world for everyone to live forever.

Nothing in the real life is about nominal prices, cost we are faced to is always the alternative cost! “There is no free lunch!”.  You need to give up some of the resources you have to have another one.   Andrew Niccol (director) illustrates this phenomenon in a sharp way. You have to spend time to have a lunch anyways! If there were no money in the world and time were money, you would need time and more time to have a lunch. In the real-world settings, you still have to spend time to earn money that will buy the lunch and also you need time to eat that lunch.

Although the main character tries to take the time from the rich people and give it to poor ones and make the world fairer, it does not seem possible in the current system.  As bank director says in the movie even if you give everyone equal time, the market will stabilize it and this distribution will change in at most 2 years. This makes us think about another basic principle in the economics: the markets move toward equilibrium.  Apparently, in the current system there is income inequality in the equilibrium, and it is not possible to keep an equilibrium in which there are equal incomes for a long period.

Another related principle of economics is that living standards depend on the capacity to produce goods and services. We need to produce the goods and services for a better life. It does not actually matter either we earn money or not. After all, we will exchange our products and services, or we will use it. Either way, it will help us consume more and make us be better off. As another economic principle suggests trade increases wealth. It is not the main point in the movie but still we can see that people still need to work and still buy a coffee or pay for the driving.


  • People live in places in line with their wealth in the movie, if they try to change their neighborhood it is not easy at all. We think that we are mobile, and we can change our neighborhood no matter our wealth level, right? I would suggest you think twice. Do we? When I look around, I can see that people have to choose their neighborhood according to their wealth level. Everything differs price levels, sociocultural behavior, activities etc.
  • Time loses its value!  Prices increase day by day and unexpectedly in the movie. They cannot even buy a bus ticket or a coffee with the same price tomorrow. This price changes decreases people’s well-being as expected. We call it inflation in the real-world setting. However, there are a lot to think here. What would happen if time were currency, and it loses its value?
  • Rich man says, “We want to die, we need to.”. We as human beings cannot appreciate most of the things we have. An item, a person or a situation need to be mortal, otherwise we cannot value it too much. That is why scarce resources are more valuable. That is why rich people get bored and depressed no matter what the currency is. Money (or time) is not that valuable for the rich ones as others think. This explains partly the suicides of rich people in the movie and in the world.
You only know the value of something when it's gone.

I would highly recommend this movie to the ones who are interested in economics and the ones who likes dystopias.

I would not recommend this movie to the ones who do not like dystopias at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: