The phrase “Time is money” has always annoyed me. It runs rampant in our current money-headed world. This phrase was coined by Benjamin Franklin in “Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One.” I would wager that this phrase has been largely responsible for the rise of contemporary greed and concern that one’s every minute is subject to a money value.
James Merrill writes about his bourgeois father’s obsession with time and money:
My father, who had flown in WWI,
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
But the race was run below, and the point was to win.
Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin-black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days.
This excerpt is quoted in Vernon Shetley’s excellent work of criticism entitled,
“After the Death of Poetry,” where he proceeds to write that “The phrase ‘time is money’ posits a universal law; the poet’s [Merrill’s] rephrasing denies its universality. ‘Time is money’ again embodies the conventional wisdom of the hard-headed businessman, a wisdom whose truth the poet both acknowledges and distances himself from; his financier father may have transformed time into money, but time retained its own powers of transformation.” Merrill continues to write that: “Time is not money.”
When asked to translate an experience into monetary terms, the basis of that experienced is removed from lasting personal or emotional value. Money is an exchange. Time is experience. To say that experience is an exchange is suspect. Experience should be rooted in the here-and-now, the singular moment of the present time, which helps construct past times in the form of memory. The time of the future is groundless; we should not think of the future in terms of dollars, nor the present. Time is free, or should be. Or as singer Stevie Nicks says, “Love is time.”