Time To Change The World:
Universal Livable Income and Free Time

by C.A. L'Hirondelle, June 5, 2012

"People who work too much and are constantly busy
have little time to contemplate or to question."
—Sharon Beder, Selling the Work Ethic, 2000

"Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes to us in dreams" Smohalla (1800s)


The most overlooked factor when it comes creating positive change in the world is time*. And the way to get time for all, is with a guaranteed livable income for all (also known as basic income). Without this, humanity will only spin deeper and deeper into environmental, economic and social problems.

(* Note: I'm not talking about 'time as an illusion' but 'time' as in when the boss says "if you don't show up for work on time, you'll be fired" However, if we all had more free time to study theoretical physics, we could then fully explain why time is an illusion whenever we are late.)

Currently, many people with paid jobs are perpetually squeezed for time. People who are unemployed or under-employed have surplus time, but no 'free' time because they are consumed with trying to survive. And people with unpaid care responsibilities usually lack both time and money.

"In fact, my 'free time' is as far away as it was when I was working 16 hours shifts without a break and often without something to eat." - @simsa0 re: unemployment

"Worrying about money is paralyzing, depressing and it sucks the energy and creativity out of people's minds." J.S. Larochelle 2012

"When you are the primary caregiver as well as trying to support your family, there is just not enough time." -Naomi, interviewee, Women's Economic Justice Report 2006


Problems, whether they are social, environmental or technological, require people having adequate time to address them in any meaningful way. Just as slow-food is the opposite of fast food, meaningful problem solving is the opposite of band-aid fixes that only move problems from one place to another (food banks for example).

The goal is not to have a problem-free society —that would be an impossible goal since there's no way to define a perfect society. The goal is simply for humanity to have time to innovate and respond meaningfully to problems as they arise.


When people benefit from something, they have an interest in maintaining that situation even when it causes obvious harm to people or the environment. This causes a conflict of interest between what is good for the individual in the short term and what is good for humanity and the planet in the long term. Thus vested interest structures impede and suppress innovations that would benefit society as a whole. See supplementary article: Vested Interests as a Barrier to Change


"...if somebody steals from the commons and from the future,
it's seen as entrepreneurial activity and the state cheers
and gives them tax concessions rather than arresting them."

—Ursula Franklin, The Real World of Technology, 1990

As well as the problem of vested interests, we also have an economic system that treats 'bads' as 'goods' and 'goods' as bads'. War, pillaging the environment, designed obsolescence, junk food, and other 'bads' —all make the GDP go up and the economy grow, which we are told repeatedly by our political leaders, is the ultimate aim of society.

On the other hand, voluntary simplicity, unpaid work, and healthy diets and lifestyles makes the economy shrink. Ergo: we are currently subject to economic rules that make it impossible for society to attain widespread health and happiness.

Without universal livable income as a 'just transition fund', we will only keep digging ourselves deeper into 'crap' even if more and more people see that the current system is broken. A universal income creates traction to get us out of our ruts of destruction because it creates free time. And free time is 'time freed' from being used on destructive activities that only exist because they are part of some death-cycle economy vested interest job perpetuation machine. This 'freed time' is then available for doing things that enhance life or, at the very least, are not involved in destroying the environment.


"I think that there is far too much work done in the world,
that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous..."
Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness, 1932

Anyone who talks about a basic income often encounters people who respond with horror at the idea some people might 'do nothing'. However, doing nothing means not exploiting, wasting, or harming natural resources or harming other people.  

There are three ways to assess an economic activity: Positive activity = helpful; Negative activity = harmful; No activity = neutral. It is actually better to do nothing (no activity), than it is to do something destructive even if it is currently considered 'productive'.

In addition, instead of having a fear of free time, we might want to ask: Is doing nothing the creative cornucopia? More and more it is being revealed that 'doing nothing' is a key ingredient to imagination and innovation. See See Cognitive Surplus ; Jonah Lehrer on creativity, and the first chapter of Bill Bryson's At Home:

"...[with] immense amounts of time on their hands ... many of them began, quite spontaneously, to do remarkable things" —Bill Bryson, At Home

Humans used to have a lot more 'doing nothing' time until a war was declared against it:

"European observers sometimes noted the parallel between the crackdown on native rites worldwide and the crackdown on carnival and other festivities within Europe. Recall their tendency, as mentioned earlier, to equate the 'savages' of 'new' worlds with the lower classes of the old world, and the occasional analogy drawn between European carnival and the ecstatic rites of distant peoples. The parallel extends, in part, to the motive for repression: One of the goals of the crackdown within Europe was to instill the work ethic into the lower classes and apply the time 'wasted' in festivities to productive labor. Similarly, European colonizers were often appalled both by the apparent laziness of the natives and by the energy they invested in purely 'superstitious' ritual activities, and to such a degree that their irritation sometimes extended to the flora that supported the supposedly easygoing, native way of life. The poet Samuel Coleridge, for example - surely a liberal by nineteenth-century British standards - once suggested that the South Sea Islanders' breadfruit trees be destroyed, so that the islanders would be forced to learn hard work." —Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

peasants dancing around the may tree

" ...The medieval economy also provided ample opportunities for leisure within the year... Whereas I estimate a range of 1,440 to 2,300 hours per year for English peasants before the seventeenth-century, a mid-nineteenth-century worker in either England or the United States might put in an annual level of between 3,150 and 3,650 hours." -Juliet Schor, The Overworked American



"What all my patients reiterate is that they cannot turn to others for help because 'everyone works'..." -Ilene Philipson, Married to the Job: Why We Live to Work and What We Can Do About It, 2002

"A major problem is that children are increasingly left alone to fend for themselves while their parents are at work." -Juliet B. Schor The Overworked American 1992

Much current social dysfunction is caused by an economic system that uses up the time that is necessary to have healthy families and communities. Many people don't have enough time to spend with their loved ones because they must sell their time in the market. This has an especially negative impact on children.

For some people time is a burden because they have no one to share it with. My friend has a young adult child with a serious disability that impedes his mobility and has contributed to his social isolation. There are people in his circle who enjoy his company, but they are all too busy trying to 'make ends meet' to spend time with him. In addition, the new people he meets avoid becoming friends with him because they can tell he is desperate for company and see his neediness as being excessive for the amount of free time they have. He has lots of free time, but because other people have none, he is mostly alone.

Often it's the people most needing care and advocacy who are left starved for help and companionship: the young, the old, people ill or in crisis. Those who have high care needs and those who provide unpaid care often end up being isolated by the commodification of time.

And yet the more care we can provide to ourselves and others, the healthier society will become. All forms of care and self-care should be seen not only as individual personal benefit, but also as a benefit to all of society.


Twilight Zone

"In the words of the English historian E.P. Thomson,
time became 'currency: it is not passed but spent.'"

Juliet B. Schor The Overworked American 1992

The vast majority of us don't own our time (our lives), we only get to have as much of our own time as we can afford. This is why we often hear people say: "I can't afford to take time off." Sad to say, we've invented a society where time is money. The only exception to the Time is Money rule is when people have direct access to the resources they need to live and the skills to make use of them. (See The Subsistence Perspective)

Slavery is at the extreme end of not owning your own time (see Disposable People). At the other end of the spectrum are all the soul-sucking jobs that drain people's lives away one torturous minute at a time.

"If we accept society's context, we may move up in social systems but at the cost of our ideals, dreams, and values. Our inner life gets socked in the stomach. If, however, we accept our inner truth as the context for making our life's decisions, we may go hungry... The society-vs-our-souls dilemma makes us soul sick, and it makes society sick as well. We get caught in a deadly cycle. ... We blame each other or maybe the human species but not the paradigm."   —The Paradigm Conspiracy: why our social systems violate human potential and how we can change them by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent

windupmanThis widespread mundane tragedy breaks spirits, not bodies (although it can do that too). By the end of the workday, many people have no energy left for themselves or for their families. This daily breaking of people is no doubt the driving force behind all kinds of coping addictions and behaviors. In this light, random acts of venting and dysfunction should be downright predictable.

"According to the adaptive model, addiction, like hibernation, occurs when an individual cannot meet the demands of the environment and survives by adopting a diminished mode of functioning until the opportunity for more complete activity reappears."Bruce K. Alexander, Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the War on Drugs


Money is a tool that humans invented because it was useful. It is not like gravity. We can't decide to turn off gravity. We can however, change how we use money. After all, rules about money (and forms of money) are changing all the time.

The quickest way for humanity to get free lives and free time is by changing our understanding and use of money and then initiating an unconditional and universal livable income or 'share'. A universal share would create maximum freedom with minimal bureaucracy. Those who say universal livable income is just a band-aid fix are not considering the revolutionary effect of free time on society, on human health, and on the health of our environment.

Free time is what humanity needs to get out of our current destructive economic ruts. Or, to put it another way, we would have the time to untangle the knots that bind us, instead of pulling them tighter.

big freeway with peole driving to work

Jacques Fresco explains that money is merely a symbolic tool "If all the money in the world were destroyed, as long as we have sufficient arable land, the factories, the necessary resources, and technical personnel, we could build anything and even supply an abundance."

If you want to learn more about how the money system works, see the videos of Positive Money UK.


A universal livable income would give humanity the time that is necessary to meaningfully address environmental, economic and social concerns.

It would:

  • eliminate the need for wasteful make-work jobs (saving people's time, health, and natural resources);
  • allow full development of labour saving and green technology since there would be fewer vested interests to impede its development;
  • allow necessary work (especially unpaid care work) to be valued and shared among more people;
  • allow us to redefine work (reversing the 'goods as bads and bads as goods' problem of conventional economics).

"The most precious thing we have is our time, and the most precious thing for the planet is that we don't kill it." —J.S.Larochelle, 2012

"Time comes to our attention only when we are separate from the things we're doing, watching or thinking about." —@simsa0, 2012

"Everything is energy; if you want food which is energy, then you have to put energy into raising it. And if you're putting energy into making a living and trying to find a way to pay your way, you can't have energy for gardens and canning and staying home making meals from scratch, which takes 2 or 3 hours and not 5 minutes in the microwave. You don't have the energy to cook when you get home. People put themselves under great stress to try to do everything and take care of their health, and then it manifests itself physically and we end up in surgeries with cancer and with every kind of ailment you can imagine. The pendulum has to start swinging back to agriculture. We have to start providing people with food close to where they live. I'd love to see a project where every boulevard is filled with fruit trees and nut trees and community gardens." -Kathy, interviewee, Women's Economic Justice Report 2006


Add your comments via a time survey form.

Additional Information:

The Status Syndrome: why people abuse service workers and don't want a boring basic income

A Critique of Zeitgeist Moving Forward and why suddenly ending the use of money, as is advocated by Zeitgeist and others, would immediately devastate those who are most vulnerable in society.

Also read: Economic Foundations and Environmental Progress

Defining Money and Productive

The Last Taboo: How Jobs Cause Poverty

Funding a Global Basic Income

Livable4All articles list

External links:

Movies with a time theme: The movie "In Time" takes the 'time is money' idea to its literal and logical conclusion; rich people live (very very) long lives while poor people get their lives abruptly cut short; the dystopian Visioneers "Did you ever feel like you were going to explode?"; and the comedy Office Space.

100 reasons not to go to graduate school. No free time

Discussion thread "no free time"

Work time, Free time in Europe, Japan and the US

Married to the Job

Thank you to: J.S. Larochelle, @simsa0, Alexander B, Ann L. for providing feedback and comments on the topic of free time.