Sunday, May 18, 2008

How much is your time worth?

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

I've been meaning to write this article for about six years. I
kept "not quite getting around to it" and putting it off, sometimes to
a degree that I find maddening.

To put it into my perspective, roughly 87,660,000 children
have died of starvation in the time that I've been not writing this
article. That's a population roughly the 3.5 times the size of Mexico
City, the most populous city currently on the planet.

When I first wrote this article in early 1999, I pointed out
that roughly 40,000 children die of starvation every day on this
planet. I learned this fact in the late 1980's or very early
1990's, when I began studying global health and housing issues.

Happily, those numbers are changing for the better, and less
people are starving to death each day. Unhappily, they aren't changing
very quickly, so we're still losing 24,000/day as of this update in
mid-May, 2003. As a result, some of the figures in the examples are a
bit out of date. However, the general point of this essay stands, so
I'll keep the original figures, and leave calculating the current
rates as an exercise for the reader in whatever time you're reading
this. Hopefully, all of this will seem like quaint history before much
longer, and no one will be dying of starvation anymore, but there's
still a lot of work left to do.

I bought a book called "Ending Hunger: An idea whose time has
come" (ISBN 0-03-006189-X) from a thrift-store on May 3, 1999, just a
month and a half after writing the first draft of this article. I
found it for $2.29, and it's a fantastic resource for those interested
in hunger issues and information. As of this update (mid-May, 2003), has 49 new & used copies available, starting at $0.95.

The book was published and (c) 1985 by Praeger Publishers, and
author credit goes simply to "The Hunger Project". On page 2 it states
as its reference numbers the following statistics:

* 1 billion of us chronically undernourished
* 13-18 million of us dead a year
* 35,000 of us a day
* 24 of us (18 of whom are children) a minute

Then continues with:

"Yet because we view hunger in the background of life, this
terrible toll does not enter our headlines, nor, for most of us, our

For most of us. But not for all."

If you're interested in finding out the current hunger
numbers, I'd recommend starting with the Worldwatch Institute at (While there, you might also want to pick
up a copy of the current edition of their book, "State of the World".)

For about as close to "live" data as you'll likely find, check
out o.s.Earth's "Worldometers". Their Food Supply meters are at and
there are many other ones to check out. Please do.

Another good reference, and excellent project, is The Hunger
Site, at There, you can click on links
that will cause internet advertisers to donate money that buys food
for starving people. (This is about the only good use I've ever seen
for advertising on the Internet. <*grin*> )

The Hunger Site states: "About 24,000 people die every day
from hunger or hunger-related causes. This is down from 35,000 ten
years ago, and 41,000 twenty years ago. Three-fourths of the deaths
are children under the age of five."

At the beginning of the article, I made the claim that
87,660,000 children had died in the time I'd spent *not* writing this
piece. Here's my original math, using the 40,000/day figure:

40,000 people (I said "children", but the 75% figure from
"Ending Hunger" might make that only 30,000 children) starve to death
each day.

There are 365.25 days in a year (the .25 adds up to one leap
year every four years.)

(6)*(365.25)*(40,000)=87,660,000 children who've starved to
death in the past six years on planet earth. The numbers are a bit
rough, but don't worry, it will be larger by the time you read this,
and should cover any discrepancy.

Sorry to start this whole thing off on such a down note, but
it really is frustrating, and maddening.

Anyway, 40,000 per day is roughly 1,666 per hour, which is
roughly 28 per minute, which is roughly one child dying every 2
seconds. Mind you, this is only death from starvation and
malnutrition. Not disease, or accident, or war, or any of the litany
of other things that can kill children. It also doesn't cover adults
or senior citizens, just kids. It's a whole lot of kids, though.

So, roughly six years ago (from the initial writing - early
1993), I was walking down a street in San Jose, California, working in
a job I didn't like very much, fresh out of college with a head full
of ideas and ideals. I was calculating exactly how much I was making
per hour doing what I was doing (a dismal number somewhere in the
single-digit dollars per hour), and then calculating what I figured
was the potential value to society if I were able to pursue my chosen
work of finding solutions that would keep those kids from starving to

Know what hourly rate I came up with?

$1.66 billion/hour. In long form, that's roughly

Here's my math:

40,000 dead kids per day equals 40,000 people who can't ever
contribute to society, per day. That's lost value to society as a
whole. This is calculated by looking at a "standard" working-life of
approximately 40 years per person, and a rough estimate of a person
earning roughly $1,000,000 in their lifetime (a conservative estimate,
since that would average to about $25,000 per year for 40 years with
no raise, ever, in that entire time). It also doesn't take into
account the fact that society generally figures they're getting MORE
out of a person than they're paying that person, otherwise, it's not a
profitable venture for them.

So, we end up with (40,000/day)*($1,000,000 potential personal
income)=$40,000,000,000 day, or $1,666,666,666/hour lost to society.

Of course, I don't actually expect anyone to PAY me $1.66
billion per hour to go work on figuring out how to feed the world, or
to eliminate homelessness, ensure clean drinking water for all, or
similar things. To be quite frank, there's no one in the world,
individual or government, who can afford such rates. I'm merely
calculating the potential worth to society, and quietly wondering to
myself if we can afford NOT to be addressing these issues.

These are merely the things that I'd RATHER be doing with my
time, if I, like most others, wasn't worrying about how to pay the
rent, power, phone and grocery bills, and all the other things that
pop up unexpectedly. It also causes me to wonder about all those other
billions of people out there, and what it would be that THEY would do,
if they didn't have to worry about scraping out a living in an office,
or a factory, or a field, or an alleyway. What would happen if
EVERYONE had the means to support themselves indefinitely, and could
really turn their attention to whatever it was that their
inner-compass pointed them towards?

How much is it worth to society to develop a cure to AIDS? How
about cancer? How about antigravity or interstellar travel? How about
new music? New art? Perhaps teaching the future generations of
scientists, doctors, lawyers, and parents? How about writers?
Programmers? Designers? Space Technicians? Much much is it worth to us
to negotiate an end to the constant bickering between countries? To
stop genocide and conflict between nations who have historically
battled over who-knows-what?

I don't know if these things HAVE a price, but I'm certain
that they're worth a lot. An awful lot.

My main curiousity is in figuring out ways to make sure that
people have their basic needs met. That they have a roof over their
heads, clean water to drink, plentiful food to fill their bellies, and
lots of new ideas to fill their minds. I want to see people who have
lots of leisure time to ask themselves and each other "What if...?",
then try to find new answers. Having people punch clocks and then
stand around for 8 hours per day doing robot work seems better just
left for robots. I think that people, and the minds that those people
posess, have far more important things to be doing with their
time. And I think that their time is probably worth a LOT more to
society than whatever the going rate is in the job market.

So I ask you, and I ask you to ask yourself: What is it that
you'd REALLY rather be doing, if you had your choice? What sort of
changes might that activity bring about? Who might it benefit (think
BIG!), and how would it help? Then ask yourself if you (and we) can
really afford NOT having you follow your chosen path?

In short, I'd like you to figure out:

"How much is your time REALLY worth?"


___________________Think For Yourself____________________
Patrick G. Salsbury -
Check out the Reality Sculptors Project:
"Kick your own ass. Live up to your true potential."
-World Entertainment War

Most Recent Update: 11-05-03

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