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Against Time Inequality
Mind Matters is a newsletter written by Oshan Jarow, exploring post-neoliberal economic possibilities, contemplative philosophy, and the bountiful absurdities of being alive. If you’re reading this but aren’t subscribed, you can join here:
Dear Fellow Humans,
Hello. I have two things I’m giddy to share:
A new long-form essay - Against Time Inequality: A Framework for Progress. It defines & diagnoses ‘time inequality’ as a root affliction in hyper-capitalist economies, and proposes a political economy designed for ‘time ownership’ as a response. More below.
A new Musing Mind Podcast conversation with the wonderful historian & professor of leisure studies, Benjamin Hunnicut - Ben Hunnicutt: Leisure, the (Forgotten) Basis of American Progress. His work inspired the "Decline of Leisure” section of the essay.
Ok. In we go.
Against Time Inequality: A Framework for Progress
I think of this essay as the next in line following my last long-form essay, The Capitalist Production of Consciousness. Rather than focusing exclusively on UBI as a way to ‘decommodify time’, here I develop a crisper framework to understand what that means, and explore the broader political economy it requires.
Time ownership is a new phrase draped over an old idea. In Ancient Greece, they called it freedom. In the early days of industrial capitalism, leisure time. During the 100 years between 1830 and 1930, leisure time for all was seen as the highest dividend, the greatest promise of economic progress.
At heart, the essay explores how we can reclaim this connection between economic progress and social progress. Defining time inequality demonstrates the problem. Defining time ownership offers an economic principle that can guide solutions.
Time ownership is about a new policy-driven approach to ownership that democratizes the benefits of wealth.
“But the point is this: if the onset of ownership had the power to birth a civilization, new models of ownership should have the power to fundamentally change it. Ownership is a lever plunged into the heart of our social structure. To pull the lever is to move civilization from its base. This is why a politics of time ownership must dig beneath wages. We don’t want more comfortable cages. We want to break them.”
I like the way Toby Shorin frames the need for new institutions of capital ownership:
The first half of the essay explores the concepts of time inequality and time ownership. The second dives into the political economy - the policies and institutions - that can make this worthwhile future of more equitable ownership a reality.
Amidst the United States’ 21st century wealth, the psychologically corrosive, politically bankrupt unfreedom of extrinsically dominated lives (those on the shit end of time inequality) is a design problem we’re capable of solving.
I also wrote up a Twitter thread going into a little more detail
There is, of course, much more to it. I hope it provokes a response.
The World’s Invitation…to Drift
Though we are more capable and well-resourced than ever to build, do, and create, there’s a cultural tendency to do the opposite. To drift. The philosopher José Ortega y Gasset writes:
“we live at a time when man believes himself fabulously capable of creation, but he does not know what to create. Lord of all things, he is not lord of himself. He feels lost amid his own abundance. With more means at his disposal, more knowledge, more technique than ever, it turns out that the world today goes the same way as the worst of worlds that have been; it simply drifts.”
Pair that with Robert Pirsig, from his well known Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“Drifting is what one does when looking at lateral truth. He couldn’t follow any known method of procedure to uncover its cause because it was these methods and procedures that were all screwed up in the first place. So he drifted. That was all he could do.”
Point being. Modernity's methods & procedures for doing that which is worth doing, for nurturing our "vital level" (Gasset), that which all technology and innovation should ultimately serve, are askew. With skewed instruments, we drift.
With enormous capacities, we apathetically drift, building nothing. Gasset writes:
“The mass-man is the man whose life lacks projects, and just drifts along. As a result, though his possibilities and his powers are enormous, he builds nothing.”
Often, when people blow on this trumpet, they conclude by saying something like: “So stop drifting. Build something. Change your life.” Case in point is Marc Andreessen’s recent essay - It’s Time to Build - which is totally devoid of the structural, institutional reasons we stopped building in the first place.
Admonishing individuals for not bringing more gusto to their lives is the wrong approach. It privatizes, or individualizes the problem. As if we could all just choose to build, and the problem would disappear. As if for most, doing so isn’t like swimming up Niagara Falls.
“To start with, we are what our worlds invite us to be, and the basic features of our soul are impressed upon it by the form of its surroundings as in a mold.”
Rather, I suggest that the invitations proffered by the existing world are dull and lifeless. The (hyper-capitalist) world, as it’s presently constructed, invites us to drift.
We’re (citizens of hyper-capitalist, advanced societies) molded by a world that does everything but inspire vitality. Schooling labors against curiosity. Employment labors against intrinsic motivation. Media panders to the lowest possible common denominator. Technology is built on business models of addiction and co-dependency.
But we’ve all heard this story already. What to do? This is part of my motivation behind writing the Against Time Inequality essay. I’m mostly interested in economics as a basis for human development. I think policy-design for time ownership can reconfigure the everyday environments and possibilities that mold us.
“This means a political economy for time ownership is more than an economic commitment, but a framework for human development (as I’ve written elsewhere, the two can hardly be separated nowadays). Designing for time ownership, the rebirth of leisure, is to create systems that nurture the intrinsic capacities of human beings.”
[[There’s much more to be written, drawing in Charles Taylor’s study of our secular age, and how disenchanting the world overburdens individuals with agency, with the weight of a world buzzing with more possibilities than ever, and in which any failure is entirely your own fault, to which drifting is a rational response. But that’s for another time.]]
Baby Bonds - A Simple, Cheap Way to Change the World
Baby bonds are creeping into the Overton window in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing spotlight on racialized wealth inequality.
At a cost of $100 billion, I struggle to understand why we wouldn’t implement them. Here’s a quick spotlight (although Darrick Hamilton’s Ted Talk does a better job, and you should watch it).
Passing baby bonds would mean every American citizen receives a federally managed bank account upon birth. The account would come pre-loaded with an amount of money that scales depending on your families wealth.
In Hamilton’s proposal, children of the wealthiest families would receive bonds of $500. The lower your family wealth, the higher your bond value. Americans on the lowest end of the wealth distribution would receive bonds worth up to $60,000.
Just like an inheritance, or a trust fund, every citizen would be allowed access to their account upon turning a certain age. Say, 18. From birth until your 18th birthday, the account would grow with the economy, benefitting from capital gains.
Hamilton estimates the program’s cost at $100 billion. We could afford this simply by scrapping a small portion of already existing ‘asset building tax programs’. They’re meant to help Americans build wealth by creating tax incentives, but they wind up disproportionately favoring the already-wealthy, rather than helping less wealthy Americans.
For example, scrapping the mortgage interest tax deduction and the real estate tax deduction (a move with bipartisan support) would fully fund the program (not to mention that the program would probably pay for itself in the long-term through new innovation and higher demand).
In the Against Time Inequality essay, I imagine a supercharged baby bond program (more like ‘baby equity’…thanks Jason):
A friend working at a cool new startup approached me, asking if I’d like to sponsor their platform through the podcast. But I’m conflicted over the whole ads-on-podcasts thing.
You know, those little 30-second interjections at the middle/end of a podcast where the host plugs some company they think is cool in exchange for money. The podcast isn’t large enough for sponsorships to make a dent in my rent, but it’s a start.
I never wanted ads on the podcast, but I’d also like to earn enough to devote more time to actually doing the podcast, so. Would anyone despise & forsake the podcast if it included a quick word about a platform that I really like? I don’t mean this rhetorically: what do you think about podcast ads? Do you know of any podcasts that do ads in a tasteful way that don’t make you cringe? Let me know. I’m swaying on the fence.
Which brings to mind: I’d like to deeply thank my Patreon supporters, especially those who’ve joined recently: Erich Eisenhart, Mark Barden, and James Lohner. The generosity of Patreon supporters provides hard-to-come-by stability. By offsetting the monthly hosting & production costs, it helps prevent the podcast from losing me too much money (my girlfriend informs me dry humor doesn’t come off well here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). The more I can offset, the more time I can devote to the project
So, thanks gang. Truly. But the best thanks I can give, I think, is to get back to work.
As always, you can respond directly to this email with thoughts or suggestions. Or reach out on Twitter. I’m here for conversation & community.
Speaking of which, here’s a question: how do we design an economy, and through it a world, that offers better invitations to live with vigor, zest, and vitality?
If you have a friend who might dig this newsletter, consider sharing it. The more people on this network, the more possibilities we can cook up, and the more time I can devote to these projects.
Until next time,