Day 4 — Thoreau's "new economics"

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport introduces Henry Thoreau's idea of new economics. Thoreau argues:

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.

Economists call this opportunity cost: the idea that the true cost of something is not just what we exchange for the item, but also the choices that are no longer available to us by making that exchange.

On my first read, I chalked this quote up to cliche. "You only have one life" and "time is the most valuable thing a person can spend" ring familiar to every one of us. We may not take the advice to heart, but we've certainly heard it.

In coming back to this idea, however, there's something really powerful about Thoreau's choice of the word "life." He does not specify his life. Nor does he specify that we're talking about the length of his life. He simply says "life."

Thoreau's "new economics" is a reminder to consider all life in our decision-making. We must consider quality of life. We must consider differing philosophies around what makes a good life.

And we must do so for every single person.