Economy of Time, Law of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Economy of Time, Law of


a universal economic law that expresses the source of economically efficient social reproduction and the means by which such efficiency can be increased.

The law of economy of time was formulated by K. Marx in connection with the disclosure of the historically transitory significance of money—the latter being the manifestation of the social character of production in terms of value. Under communism, value will no longer be needed to ascertain and measure increasing efficiency, since this will be feasible by direct means. As Marx pointed out, “Comprehensive social as well as individual development, consumption, and activity depend on the saving of time. All economy is ultimately an economy of time. . . . Economy of time, like the planned distribution of work time among various branches of production, is still the first economic law based on collective production” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, parti, p. 117).

The law of economy of time is a scientific abstraction. Marxist science never projects this law directly onto specific economic phenomena; rather, it reveals the specific historical conditions and forms in which the law is operative for the various modes of production.

Economy of time includes economy of work time expended in a given period, as well as economy in the results of previous expenditures of work time, or work time expended on raw materials, supplies, machinery, equipment, and other means of production. Accordingly, some of the concrete effects of the law of economy of time are higher labor and capital productivity, lower material-intensiveness, and optimal proportionality in the national economy as well as within individual economic units.

As interpreted by Marx, the law of economy of time can be applied not only to work time but also to some nonworking time (that is, time spent on the performance of duties beyond the range of production proper). Under this interpretation, the law of economy of time is manifested in such concrete forms as the mechanization of housework, improvement of consumer services, and reduction in the amount of time expended on transportation, shopping, sewing clothes, and private housing repairs.

The law of economy of time may operate in spontaneous as well as in planned form. In the first instance the trend toward increased efficiency results from the interaction of resource losses and savings; in the second, the law of economy of time operates in the form of a policy of economies.

The mode of production is the decisive factor determining the law’s nature and its socioeconomic effects, which are radically different under capitalism and under socialism. Under capitalism, economies of time are realized by private owners by means of increased exploitation. The law of economy of time assumes the particular form whereby scientific and technological advances and increasing economic efficiency tend to serve the interests of private capitalist appropriation. Surplus value and capitalist profit are the supreme criteria of economy.

In Das Kapital, Marx examined the historical actualization and antagonistic contradictions of the law of economy of time under capitalism. The unavoidable vices of capitalism—parasitic consumption on the part of the exploiting classes, unemployment, the anarchic formation of the proportions of the national economy, and the crises consequent thereto—preclude the attainment of maximum economic efficiency, and hence maximum economy of time. At the same time, subject to these general objective limitations, the economic efficiency of production under capitalism does increase. Capitalist management in practice, in addition to plundering resources, leads to the development of new techniques and methods of saving work time, raw materials, and supplies, reducing production costs, and improving the quality of products and services. These innovations, disassociated from socioeconomic forms unacceptable to socialism, are studied and assimilated by socialist enterprises, institutions, and organizations.

The socialist mode of production provides greater opportunity for the economical use of time and of all types of resources. Parasitic consumption by exploiters is eliminated, and reproduction is freed of the narrow criteria of efficiency foisted upon it by private ownership; the economical use of resources and the implementation of the law of economy of time are effected in the general form of planned reduction in the relative expenditures of live and embodied labor—that is, a policy of economies. The decisive factor in the law of economy of time is the development of reproduction on the basis of a single national economic plan, which permits the deliberate and constant maintenance of optimum proportions in the overall economy and in its branches. The system of branch and regional production plans ensures optimum reproduction at all levels.

Socialism is characterized by a set of uniform state policies with respect to technology—policies that also yield considerable savings of resources to society. Under the conditions of advanced socialism, when the advantages of the socialist system of management are combined with the gains of the scientific and technological revolution, the progress of reproduction is accelerated and acquires a complex character. Improvements in efficiency and quality take place at a faster rate; the socially necessary level of such improvements rises continuously and becomes mandatory for all producers. Obsolescence takes place at a more rapid pace, affecting technology, production techniques, the organization of production, and the finished product; every phase of social reproduction must be intensified. Consequently the time factor becomes increasingly important, thus in fact reflecting the specific effect of the law of economy of time under the conditions of mature socialism.

Under socialism, the socioeconomic effects of the law of economy of time are expressed in the reduction of time required to produce the necessary product, this being the material prerequisite for the fuller and more comprehensive development and demonstration of man’s creative endowments.


Marx, K. Kapital, vols. 1–3. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 23–25.
Marx, K. Kritika politicheskoi ekonomii. Ibid., vol. 46, part 1, pp. 116–17.
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, pp. 352–55.
Materialy XXV s” ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1977.
Chemykhin, V. “K voprosu o soderzhanii zakona ekonomii vremeni pri sotsializme.” Ekonomicheskie nauki, 1976, no. 10.
Akhundov, A., “Zakon ekonomii vremeni v usloviiakh razvitogo sotsializma.” Ibid.
Kurs politicheskoi ekonomii, 2nd ed., vol. 2. Moscow, 1970. Chapter 16.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.