Monday, July 30, 2012

Liberdade e frugalidade

Freedom and Frugality, por Wendy McElroy (via António Costa Amaral):

A few years ago, my view of frugality changed due to an obvious realization that I had never fully grasped before. Material goods cost money; money is acquired in exchange for my time; my time is literally my life. If X costs $100 and I make $25 an hour, then X costs me four hours of life. Or rather, it costs four hours plus whatever time is consumed by the transaction costs of making money, such as the time and expense of a commute.

This was a paradigm shift for me. I ceased viewing possessions in terms of money and saw them in terms of time. And my time is a scarce good. The hours available can sometimes feel boundless, and it is easy to fall into the trap of valuing each unit as if it were part of an infinite supply. Of course, it is not. There are only so many hours left for me to live.

With no morbidity, I apply a version of “marginal utility” to those hours. This economic law says that a person values the first unit of a thing according to its highest use and values subsequent units less. For example, if you have one unit of water, then you value it highly for staving off dehydration and death. If you have a large number of units, then you value the last one for watering a house plant. You would be willing to spend far more for the first unit than for the last. I try to view my hours as though each one were a first unit and, so, highly valuable.

When I look in my closet, many possessions now represent wasted time: a dress I never wear, shoes that go with nothing… I won’t waste more time reproaching myself, but I need to learn a lesson from that closet. I traded irreplaceable units of my life for possessions I do not value; I call these possessions “the useless shoes of life.” They are things that are neither necessary nor worth the time I traded to acquire them. Instead, I could have been reading or writing, laughing with friends or watching movies with my husband.

And then there are the purchases I will never regret: books, DVDs, my sporty little econocar, our farm, the ingredients for a superb meal. Those items provide a utility that is well worth the cost. And yes, I include pleasure as a “utility.” Pleasure is one of the most useful things in the world. It makes you spring out of bed with energy in the morning; it makes you fall asleep with a smile on your face at night. But even pleasure should be balanced against the cost in time and purchased at bargain rates, if possible.

People respond to the idea of possessions representing units of their lives in different ways.

Some people redouble their efforts to earn more and so reduce the amount of time that any one purchase represents. This is a return to the traditional American dream: Work hard and prosper economically. I wish these people the best, but their choice is not mine. At this point, I find it difficult to understand why anyone would spend years at a job they don’t enjoy in order to own a bigger home than they can use, especially since the upkeep absorbs more time and cash. The trade-off doesn’t make sense.

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