In Time Economics

Many praise the new movie In Time for its intriguing premise:

Time is money: Everyone is genetically engineered to stop aging at 25; … after that, people will live for only one more year unless they can gain access to more hours, days, weeks, etc. (more)

In its tone, the movie comes across as shrill class hatred, like They Live. Lazy snobbish aristocrats with inherited wealth live forever young, and conspire to “manipulate” prices so the poor die fast, to keep them motivated to work. Boo mean rich folks, rah poor rebels. Though some think it didn’t hit hard enough:

For a real dose of revolutionary fervor, you’d do better to head down to Occupy Wall Street. (more)

But if you study the movie a little closer, its moral looks rather different.

First, the “time is money” angle can be misleading, leading folks to think in nominal price terms. In real prices, the scenario is equivalent to:

  1. Physical immortality, with no body/mind aging, has been achieved.
  2. Everyone must periodically pay a head tax to the government. Each person pays their tax into a personal tax account, which the government continually drains.
  3. Everyone has a built-in bomb, which automatically kills them if their personal tax account ever gets empty. Most people die either from tax bombs or from murder by thieves, which authorities tolerate.
  4. If a situation arises where most people can reliably pay their taxes, authorities raise prices on widely-needed commodities until enough people die from tax bombs. In the movie, commodity prices are raised via “manipulation,” but that can’t work reliably unless authorities in effect raise taxes on those commodities.
  5. [Added 1p:] The government gives the tax revenue, and more, to favorites.

Now first of all it is extremely expensive to kill off most of your working class, just to motivate them to work. Surely they’d be motivated plenty just to eat and pay rent.

More important, this society’s main problem is being over-taxed, via a severely regressive tax system, with poor law enforcement aside from very well enforced and extreme penalties for failure to pay taxes. How can the outcome of such a terrible tax system be a critique of wealth inequality in our society, where the rich work hard, taxes are progressive, the poor pay few taxes, and penalties for non-payment of taxes are mild?

Yes, once physical immortality is possible, then how long any one person actually lives must depend on their ability to afford rent, food, etc. But this would be true no matter what the tax or economic system.

Added 10a: The main event that drives the plot is when a government detective, apparently without due process, takes all but a few hours from our hero’s tax account. Again, government, and those who profit from it, are the villains in this movie.

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