Sunday, 19 April 2020
On lockdown time & money
‘Time is money,’ wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1748, just as the Industrial Revolution was gearing up, and ever since then those human activities that don’t directly generate money – sitting around, listening to music, reading books, pottering in the garden, making love, looking after others – have been widely regarded as peripheral to what we’re here for. Signing up to the time-equals-money equation has resulted in this: the labour of childcare, still largely carried out by women, not valued as work at all; the ‘caring professions’ underpaid; and in these strange days a 99-year-old man walking round his garden, not on the face of it a money-generating activity, becoming a hero for our times because his garden-walking has raised more than £20 million for NHS charities.
‘Time is money’ messed up what had been the relationship between time and money for all of human history until then – just for a certain part of the globe at the time, but that part proceeded to grab the other parts.
Captain Tom is heroic. Because he walked round his garden a hundred times? Because he raised money for a cause that should have been properly funded in the first place by our taxes? I’m confused.
I have a confused and illogical relationship with both time and money. Show me anyone who doesn’t. I can’t watch daytime TV, still: TV is for when you’ve earned time off and come home from your shitty job in the evening. I’ve published a superb poet (he was with Faber, three books, before they asked him politely to walk the plank because his poems weren’t making money) who published his first book at the age of 72; before that, he understood that the purpose of his life was to earn 9-to-5 money to put bread on the table for his family. I completely get that mindset. I’ve written around a dozen books but none of them were written between the hours of 9 and 5. CB editions was started when my kids were in the 6th form, I’d pretty much seen them through, and the house was paid for – given my mindset, I couldn’t have done it otherwise. No right in this, no wrong.
A few stray airborne droplets have changed everything. Are all it took to take down the world economy. Are all it took to expose what we’ve taken for granted as normal as just a version of normal that has suited those who have profited from it. Meanwhile, us non-essential workers are richer than we’ve ever been in time; and time for many of us is now moneylessness.* Bankruptcies, suicide and domestic violence will soar.
Two months ago, taking time out of the time=money economy would have been unthinkable. It’s thinkable now. It’s compulsory. We are all going to die anyway, apparently. Life is very, very short. We have exactly that time to start getting things right.
* Not me, as it happens. I have a pension, I’m being sent typesetting work, I’m selling books from the website, I’m sending autumn books to print early because the printer is still in there, wanting a thing or two to do, and I’m mending a broken giraffe. I have a back garden. Luxury. Don’t waste sympathy. Channel that, please, into rage at our Tory government whose policies have fuelled the death figures.