“In Time” and the lesson of the time-economy

NB! Spoiler alert!

The other day in Birmingham I went to see the movie “In Time”. The movie was good entertainment with simple yet interesting plot and good actors. A typical Hollywood movie with thrilling plot, lot of action and happy ending, it captivated me with the very different economy in it:

People stop aging at 25 and are then given one year of time starting at the age of 25. Time is the (only) currency of the community and as long as you have time, you can live forever. All products and wages are priced in units of time, which are taken/given to you. Time can be transferred directly between people or stored in external modules. If your ticker (which is ticking down constantly) goes to zero, you are dead.

The country is divided into the time zones, according to the wealth level of the individuals. The underclass lives in their own time-zones, works in factories to produce goods for the whole population and struggles daily to keep their time-balance above zero to stay alive. The whole concept is pretty intriguing and set aside some obvious weak-spots, the whole economy does seem reasonable enough to work.

In Time, Estonian style

One little bit disturbing thing, and the reason for this blog post, is the glorification of the anti-capitalist concepts  in the movie. Throughout the movie, it is emphasized that the class hierachy, unequality and inflation are totally bad and should be removed by any means. In fact, the whole movie is about the main characters (played by Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried) fighting to change the system and break the barriers between the rich and the poor. They become the society’s Robin Hoods – they steal from the rich and give it to the poor. At the end of the movie, there is the expected happy ending – the protagonists steal a million years from the rich, divide it to the poor people, who then effectively conduct a revolution, they leave their poor time zones and factories and march straight to the time-zones of the rich and pretty.

But, given a second thought, is this ending really so happy as they want you to believe it is?

What would happen to the economy if everybody stopped working and there would be a lot of people with a lot of (unearned) cash(time)? I.e. lot of demand on goods and services and no supply? You guessed it. They are not likely to hit their 0% inflation target. And not only that: since the working class is idle, there will probably be a shortage of very vital necessities.

My bet is that the sequel to the movie will be pretty gruesome: famine and violence. But if there will be no sequel and you are still interested what would happen in a society when there is suddenly a lot of money coming in without one having to work too much to get it, then don’t worry. Just google “Greece’s economy after joining the EU” and there’s your answer.

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