The Asymmetry of How the Government Values My Time

I was struck recently by a stark asymmetry in how the government values the time of private individuals.

On the one hand, they insist on a high value for my time, with the state of California ruling that no one may sell their time for less than $15 an hour.

On the other hand, in numerous ways, the government values our time at zero.  They, for example, treat recycling as "free" and ignore the value of the millions of man-hours spent sorting trash.  The IRS certainly values our time at zero, as does most tax agencies.  Certain sales tax agencies do provide a collection and paperwork credit (since technically the business is acting as an agent of the state in collecting the tax) but that credit generally amounts to pennies per hour of labor.  Mono County California changed their tax filing process in a way that created thousands of extra man hours of private filing labor all to save a few dozen of their hours every 3 years on audits.

And then there is this.  Germany is considering eliminating their unlimited autobahn speed limits to save energy:

…the head of Germany’s Federal Environmental Office, Andreas Troge, says a speed limit of 120 km/h on motorways “costs nothing and would immediately reduce C02 emissions by 2.5 million tonnes per year”.

That is it "costs nothing" as long as you value private individual's time at zero dollars an hour.


  1. Matt Obenhaus:

    Absolutely brilliant. In all of my ranting about the minimum wage being completely feckless, arbitrary, and economically harmful, I have never once thought about how government fails to value opportunity costs in everything else that it does.

  2. Solomon Foster:

    BTW, for those not handy with metric, 120 km/h is about 72 mph.

  3. mobiuswolf:

    It really is an excellent thought. A slaves time is only of value when the master benefits.

  4. SamWah:

    Our time doing taxes, Warren's time trying to understand and then comply with regulations...

  5. McThag:

    Ever notice that not a single state mandates that jury duty be paid as lavishly as they require businesses to pay at a minimum?

    California pays a juror $15 a DAY plus 34¢ a mile (one way, I guess you're on your own to get home) from their residence to the court-room after the second day.

  6. J_W_W:

    If President Hillary goes back to the 55 mph speed limit, I'm marching on Washington.

  7. SamWah:

    Please to note the picture at the end, with 17 licenses and applications:

  8. Kurt Droffe:

    Mind that the source referred to concerning the autobahn speed limit is from 2007; politicians still do not dare propose in earnest introducing a general speed limit. Which does not mean that they aren't doing it by stealth; the authorities are free to limit the speed wherever they deem neccessary; only about half of autobahn kilometers are really limit-free.

  9. Mercury:

    How many tonnes per year of CO2 emissions would be eliminated by banning private jet travel just to and from Davos once a year?

  10. Q46:

    Revenue stream.

    All Western Governments are strapped for cash, and every little helps.

    You can be sure the Germans will enforce such a law with a vigour uniquely German, which means lots of Germans used to tramming along at escape velocity will be caught in speed traps and fined with ruthless German efficiency, thus providing a nice cash stream for Government to squander.

    Which is the more likely reason for the proposed legislation... please don't think I am being cyncial.

  11. Nehemiah:

    I am developing a nationwide franchise opportunity for the sale and/or rent of pitchforks, torches, tar and feathers. Opportunities available in all 50 state capitals. I will reserve Washington DC for myself.

  12. Jim Collins:

    I've always said that Jury Duty selection should be made from the unemployment rolls. The compensation for Jury Duty shouldn't have to be reported and it should count towards job search credit.

  13. hcunn:

    When I was stationed in Germany in 1977-1979, there was some talk whether they should match the American 55 MPH (90 kph) speed limit in the name of energy conservation. One German politician skewered the idea, saying in effect: "If we impose a 90 kph limit, our auto manufacturers will seize the opportunity to turn out the same worthless junk as the Americans do."

  14. randian:

    You see much the same thing in how traffic signals are designed. Driver's time and intersection throughput are irrelevant in many jurisdictions. Excessively long green for side streets, lights that turn green even when there are no cars waiting at that intersection, left turn arrows that prevent turns even when traffic is clear, and signals that only allow one of an opposing direction to go at a time all waste huge amounts of driver's time, waste fuel, increase pollution, and generally make traffic worse. Of course if you're an anti-car liberal, of which there are altogether too many, this could be seen as a feature.

  15. VMS:

    I get 74.6!