Politics and the Alternate Utility of Time

Next time you turn on the news, click to open an article, or read a long post/Twitter thread on politics, consider what else you could be doing during that time. Time, after all, is the one resource you can’t get more of. Unlike economies of trade, it is a zero-sum game.

The concept of alternate utility in economics deals with how resources are best used. For instance, a piece of land could be used to grow 100 units of corn or 80 units of rice. Another plot could produce 30 units of corn or 50 units of rice. If corn and rice are equally valuable, it makes sense to grow corn, not rice, on the first plot, even though it could still grow more rice than the second. The utility of the two plots is not equal. Alternatively, think of an executive and a secretary. The executive might type faster than the secretary, but it is still more efficient for the slower secretary to do the typing since the executive’s time is best spent doing more valuable things that the secretary can’t do.

Your own time is the same. There is only so much you can do in a given day, just like there is only so much that can grow on a plot of land.

Is worrying about politics producing anything for you? Is it giving you pleasure? Is it making you money? Is it giving you any information at all that is relevant to your decisions?

Even in a functioning republic, the utility of political content consumption is very low. The last two election cycles should demonstrate to you that, at least at the national level, we do not exist in a functioning republic. Being an informed voter doesn’t mean much when your vote doesn’t count. It means just as little when there are no politicians to vote for who represent your interests or voter referendums that are in line with your values.

As author Brian Niemeier points out, when someone with real (not merely polemic) brain damage gets elected, you have a paradox: it’s the result of voter fraud, or he does represent the voters. In the event that an election did come down to a single vote (presumably your vote), a judge will decide the outcome. Sorry!

Given that there is virtually nothing you need to decide on—either the vote doesn’t matter, or there is nobody to vote for—what is the alternate utility of your time spent on politics?

Virtually anything would be a better use of your time.

Politics, however, can be addictive. It’s part train wreck, part dopamine kick. That’s why I suggest spending that time praying instead. That can bring you closer to God, align your will with His (which will help with political anxiety), and train yourself not to think of politics. Even if you aren’t a believer in prayer, the optionality is far superior to voting. God at least could answer a prayer. Even staring at the wall has more utility than watching Fox. At least being alone with yourself will make you think. Would you be worse off doing anything besides watching the news? I would say not, and you have the potential to be much, much better.

Full disclosure, I did vote in the latest election, but that is mostly because there were local school bonds I wanted to vote down. However, given that the election was run in Harris County, I have fairly low confidence in either my vote being counted or it mattering at all. On the plus side, I don’t have to think much about the bonds. No thank-you to more taxes for schools I don’t use.

Put your mind and time to better use than politics. If you want to change the world, change the culture and start with yourself.

Check out my newest book, a collection of short stories focused on the perspective of the generation born between the late 1970s and late 1980s: Generation Y, and my newest fantasy-tragedy:


  1. This is a great way of looking at everything we do, and not just politics. However, politics is a great example because it’s just as pointless and soul-crushing a waste of time as self-pleasure.

    It’s the idea of a time audit. I ask myself, when I have free time, “Is this getting me closer to my goals or not?” Whether it’s writing or reading or lifting or anything else, it’s a quick but powerful question to ask oneself.

    Focus your limited time on that which matters.

    Also: Fetterman 2024

  2. Excellent piece, and reinforces my own conclusions regarding politics and voting (I voted this time, but that’ll probably be the last time except maybe for local elections).

    Personally, I think of voting to a superstition: something you do even though you know logically that it can’t have any effect on the outcome because you have an emotionally conditioned, nagging sense “but what if…?”

    Time audit…that’s a good idea.

  3. Really good point. I’ve been trying to write something similar recently. Unless politics is a source of entertainment or income people should treat it like a copy of Twilight–run from it.

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