Austrian Economics Wiki

Time is present in every human action as a means that must be economized. All human life takes place in time.[1] (See here for many definitions.)

"Time is that quality of nature which keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn't seem to be working."

Action and Time[]

All human life must take place in time. When a human being decides to act, his goal, or end, can be finally and com­pletely attained only at some point in the future. If all ends could be reached immediately, there would be no need to act.

For any given action, we can distinguish among three periods of time involved: the period before the action, the time absorbed by the action, and the period after the action has been completed. All action aims at rendering conditions at some time in the future more satisfactory for the actor than they would have been without the intervention of the action.

A man’s time is always scarce. He is not immortal; his time on earth is limited. Each day of his life has only 24 hours in which he can attain his ends. Furthermore, all actions must take place through time. Therefore time is a means that man must use to arrive at his ends. It is a means that is omnipresent in all human action.[2]

See also: Action

Production and Time[]

When a human being decides to act in order to attain an end, it can be com­pletely attained only at some point in the future. A man’s time is always scarce, his time on earth is limited. Whichever ends he chooses to satisfy, there are others that must re­main unsatisfied.

For every action there can be defined:

  • a period before the beginning of the action
  • the point in time when the action begins
  • the period during which the action occurs
  • the point at which the action ends
  • and the period after the end of the action.

The period from the beginning to the end of action is called the period of production. It is composed of the working time (when labor energy is spent ) and maturing time (where labor is not spent; long maturing periods are for example in agriculture or aging of wine). Production itself can have any number of stages, each taking time.[1]

Main article: Production

Time preference[]

All people prefer a given end to be achieved sooner rather than later. This is the universal fact of time preference. The further in the future the attainment of the end appears to be, the less preferable it is. The less waiting time, the more preferable is the end.

It may be called the preference for present satisfaction over future satisfaction or present good over future good, provided the same satisfaction (or good) is compared over periods of time.

It is sometimes objected, that future goods may be more preferred. For example, in winter will a man care little for ice, but will crave to have it in summer. But a good is not an item with certain material properties. The good "ice-in-the-summer" provides different (and greater) satisfactions than "ice-in-the-winter", they are different goods. In this case, different satisfactions are being compared, while the physical property of the thing may be the same.[1]

Main article: Time preference

Leisure versus Labor[]

Leisure is also a consumer good (and a very desirable one). Man must divide his time between leisure and his productive efforts.

What if an increase in production is desired? One method to increase production per unit of time is by increasing the expenditure of labor. Such an expansion is very limited, by the number of people in existence, the number of hours in the day and the (varying) ability of each laborer. And, finally, is the question how satisfying is the labor itself - it may provide additional satisfaction or dissatisfaction, bound to the production process. (Note: there are activities engaged in purely for their own sake, not for labor - they are called play, which is another type of consumers’ goods.)

More production may be achieved with more time spent on it, by sacrificing leisure. The more a man labors, the less leisure he can enjoy. This loss is called the disutility of labor.

Man will expend his labor as long as the marginal utility of the return exceeds the marginal disutility of the labor effort. A man will stop work when the marginal disutility of labor is greater than the marginal utility of the increased product provided by the effort.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Murray N. Rothbard. "Chapter 1-Fundamentals of Human Action", Man, Economy and State, online edition, referenced 2009-05-15.
  2. Murray N. Rothbard. "Chapter 1-Fundamentals in Human Action", Man, Economy and State, online edition, referenced 2009-05-01.
  3. Murray N. Rothbard. "8. Factors of Production: Labor versus Leisure", Man, Economy and State, online edition, referenced 2009-05-01.

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