Time Poverty: A Closer Look
By Devon Bowers
Below is the transcript of an email interview I did with Rugveda Sawant discussing her July 2023 article on time poverty more in-depth.
1. You note in your article that "it becomes important to note that what is being sold and purchased here is not time, but labor-power. Time is not a commodity." What would you say to those who argue that it can be both, especially with the idea of 'time theft' in the corporate world?
I'm talking about commodity as an object or a thing that can be produced or purchased for exchange in the market. Understood in this sense, time is not a commodity. It does not have the value factor of a commodity. A worker sells his labor-power for a certain duration of time. This labor-power in motion creates value and as such can be treated as a commodity whereas time remains a measure or determinant of the magnitude of value that is created. I think understanding this relation of time with value creation is important. Marx in his chapter on commodities writes, "As values, all commodities are definite masses of congealed labor-time." The term time-poverty obfuscates the relationship between time and poverty by falsely positing time as a commodity. I argue that one cannot be time-poor since time is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, but people remain poor because their labor-time remains unpaid.
I actually had to look up the term time-theft. This is the first I'm hearing of it and all I can say is- good for people who can pull it off. I think it's supposed to be a metaphorical expression but if we were to extend this idea of time-theft, do you think we would be looking at what is generally understood as a strike?
2. In what ways do ideas like 'revenge bedtime procrastination,' obscure the effects of time poverty and put the onus on the workers?
That is another new term for me but yes, I think it does fail to recognize and acknowledge the relationship between time and poverty. It also fails to challenge the class structure that leads to this condition of being overworked. In a capitalist society, the working class is burdened with the task of laboring and creating value for all classes of the society, whereas the capitalist class merely reaps benefits of this labor. The relationship between the capitalist and the working class is inherently exploitative and parasitical in nature. Shortening of working hours and the struggle for more free/leisure time for all can happen only through revolting against such exploitation and "generalization of labor" as Marx puts it. He writes, "The intensity and productiveness of labor being given, the time which society is bound to devote to material production is shorter, and as a consequence the time at its disposal for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual is greater, in proportion as the work is more and more evenly divided among all the able-bodied members of society, and as a particular class is more and more deprived of the power to shift the natural burden of labor from its own shoulders to those of another layer of society. In this direction, the shortening of the working day finds at last a limit in the generalization of labor."
3. Has the idea of time changed? I say that in the sense of was time once viewed as deeply interconnected to the worker-capitalist relationship, but it is now viewed as a separate entity? Why do you think that has occurred?
I think the impetus of postmodern ideology which rejects the totality of class, has also relegated time to be viewed with complete subjectivity. Postmodernism focuses on personal narratives and lived experiences. It deflects from the centrality of class and does not offer any sort of structural analysis of the issues at hand. It leads to individualization of problems- time or the lack thereof becomes an individual issue, detached from the process of production. I think it is what makes people believe that things like 'revenge bedtime procrastination' which you mentioned earlier are actually some sort of a retribution, when in fact they are not. It's more harmful to the ones practicing it than anyone else.
However, the structures of power are so indeterminate within postmodernism that it can't help but induce a state of every person for themselves. The fragmentation of identity that is encouraged by this discourse, not only diminishes the grounds for common struggle amongst the working class, but also instills in the members of this class a false sense of independence and choice.
4. Why does the idea of paying for household work continue to play out, even though it will simply be added into the cost of production?
I think it is the same individualized outlook towards women's issues that leads to unpaid domestic and household work being viewed as a solely patriarchal problem. Detached from the class struggle, it leads to demands for separate pay for such work. However, it does not lead to any sort of true liberation for women, as elaborated in the article by David Rey (referred by me in the piece on time-poverty).
5. Where can people learn more about the connections of time impoverishment to capitalism?
I am honestly still just a student of Marxism myself. The texts that helped me decode a few of the things I've written about in the article were Marx's 'Wage Labor and Capital' along with some chapters from Capital Vol. 1. I hope to expand my own understanding in the coming years as well.