So we’re a few posts in now and I’m aware that I haven’t really spelled out exactly what this blog is about. While it is meant to be an organic exploration of many things, there is a central idea that I am interested in exploring throughout it. Here is as good a place to start as any so let me sketch it out a bit.
Firstly, let me say in anticipation of a variety of possible comments that no I am noton anything, nor am I a member of any particular group, party or have any affiliations. In fact I am rather anti-groups myself on the whole. Am I insane, no. Stupid? I certainly don’t believe so. An irredeemable optimist? – quite possibly. I also do not belong to any religious group or church – including atheism. I believe that while humans are capable of incredible cruelty, greed and selfishness, we are also capable of altruism, beauty and love. It is this capacity in fact that makes me defiantly idealistic about what we are capable of becoming if we were to put our minds to it.
Secondly, I am not trying to sell anything. I am simply someone interested in exploring an idea that sounds a bit mad to some people the first time they hear it, but that – if you think about it as much as I am starting to – kinda grows on you because it makes a lot of sense. It’s a tough one for some because it requires re-thinking a lot of what we believe we know about the world and rebuilding it again from a different angle, but it’s worth it. Regarding the grand narrative that many of us hold about our world, there exists a lot of short hand we’ve accepted as the full story, a lot of logical leaps and assumptions that I think deserve closer scrutiny.
We have to first understand to what degree the ‘reality’ of our current world is warped by the system we have chosen to run it. It’s not as easy as it sounds as so much of what we think of as ‘human nature’ or ‘the way the world works’, is only true in so far as it’s a result of the context we find ourselves in. The world has been built this way and it’s extremely hard to imagine it recast in another form.
Anyway, with that preface out of the way let me try to put forward what I think as succinctly as possible.
I think we should abolish money.
There you go, fairly succinct. It probably warrants a little expansion though..
I believe that the vast majority of the world’s problems, the things we are always ‘fighting against’ and that make people miserable, hungry, isolated, persecuted etc and – that (rolled together) forms the sum of what threatens human survival and happiness – is either eliminated or greatly reduced if we chose to have a world without capitalism and going even further – without money.
Looking at it the other way, I think that for humans to evolve the way we live and maximize the potential for human happiness and individual fulfilment we need to get rid of money. Let me expand..
Money (of the representative or fiat variety we have now especially) is an abstract fictional device to introduce a reliable agreed value to aide in the commerce of trading goods and services in a market economy. All good so far, makes sense right? If people are going to produce things and trade them for other goods or services then you need an efficient mechanism to avoid problems of inequality or inefficiency. Monetary systems evolved all over the world in different places for a reason, and it made lots of sense at the time no doubt.
Most societies at those times however were very hierarchical and (in broad brush strokes) the distribution and accumulation of wealth was considered of the utmost importance in building and expanding empires as well as individual ambitions of all kinds. Now I could go on here to delve into whether all this was a positive step in human civilisation or not but let’s leave that debate for another time as there is a high risk of it all being ultimately redundant anyway. There are lessons to be learned from history (to be sure) but what really concerns us is where we are today and what exactly should we be thinking of for tomorrow.
Today, we have an imaginary thing called money. I call it imaginary because it’s something intangible that we invented. It’s only value is agreed and therefore entirely conceptual. You can do real things with it, but only in so far as others agree to its value. There are lots of situations where cash isn’t of any use or it is rendered worthless in the blink of an eye to remind us of this fact, however the real point is that once you accept this you have to start asking some larger questions.
Like, what’s it for? Buying stuff is probably the immediate answer. But as many around the world appreciate at some point in their lives, ‘stuff’ is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of our lives. What has true value is happiness, love, peace, freedom, acceptance, a sense of fulfilment and purpose – and so on. All of these things are of course free. You cannot buy them in a shop, though with wealth you can improve your influence and circumstances in such a way as to improve the odds of attaining one or more of those. That however is not the same thing as attaining them directly.
The things we need to survive – oxygen, food, water, shelter – are also free. Air is made by plants, plants grow in the ground with rain and sunshine etc. I mean that if we are talking about a human being in a natural state (not dropped off in central Manhattan where trying to get most of life’s necessities would be pretty hard without a bit of cash). I’m talking about the basic equation here, starting from scratch and building the picture up. Human’s need a few things to survive and some other things to really ‘live’.
The accumulation of wealth is not actually one of them. It helps in this world because of the conditions we have created, but there is nothing that logically necessitates it. Moreover I would venture to say that the system we have and the focus that we place on attaining this ‘abstract’ notion of value (money) actually undermines and erodes many of the greatest characteristics we possess and incentivises the negative ones – such as selfishness, greed and above all – competition. Capitalism and consumerism grows out of this and creates exactly what see in the world now – poverty, scarcity, unsustainable consumption and the promotion of privilege and gross income inequality. This is evident all over the world in all spheres of life. One of the most pressing and obvious is our collective inability to act sensibly on climate change, making environmental concerns subordinate to economic ones – despite the fact that the planet is very real and necessary and money isn’t.
Also, by placing money as an enabling interface between people and the things they need to survive or be happy in the world we force people to focus on that. We tell them that if they have enough of it they can do more or less whatever they like, they can have whatever they want. They can have better lives, be better people, have freedom and power etc.
For the most part, I believe people only really desire those things as a means of achieving the ultimate aforementioned goals we are all after anyway – so why not cut out the middleman?
Humans don’t need money. Humans don’t even ultimately want money – they want something else. Is it possible to have these things without money? – Yes. The rest is just detail of how we work it all out.. how we keep things running. There, done. Problem solved. ;)
Naturally I am oversimplifying just a bit here, but to begin I think it helps to break it down to its component parts.
Can we exchange goods and services without money? Indeed we can. Societies have done so throughout history successfully at various points, some small groups even today practice Gift Economics which has seen a growing revival of sorts in certain parts. Science itself is in fact an information gift economy.
Can it work with Capitalism? No. Many people say that consumerism is a real problem, others go further and say that capitalism is the underlying issue. I would go even further and say that money itself is the seed of all this. Does that mean I am invoking the dreaded c-word – Communism? Certainly not the Soviet-style oppressive regime that most associate with the term anyway (which for those that don’t know wasn’t true communism it was an autocratic totalitarian regime presided over for a long time by arguably history’s most successful mass murderer). Some call it Communist Anarchism but that label might be a bit scary for a first date and I’m not all that comfortable with labels at this stage of things as really it’s an idea I want to explore not turn into a commodity.
Neither does it mean I suggest we all become hippies and live in yurts – not that there’s anything wrong with that. What I do suggest is that there is way for us all to live happily, peacefully, prosperously and most importantly – sustainably. I use that term in the broadest sense too, not just pertaining to the environment but to all aspects of life.
How exactly? Well, it would take a long time to detail exactly but the gist of is a step forwards (taking with us the lessons we have learned) rather than a step backwards, and would look quite different to the world we have now.
We would have a democratic style of local community governments or councils but with no innate superiority or status over anyone else – and without politicians. Education and health care would be widely available and free to all. People wouldn’t have to live in cities as their would be no industry or centralised power, wealth or industrial complex to service. Corporations would cease to exist or become so transformed that they would be largely unrecognisable. Economies of scale would lose a lot of it’s meaning as a concept once there is no purpose of ‘profit’.
Gone are industrial age models of education, cramming 30-40 into a classroom to memorise random facts and achieve by some rigid ‘one size fits all’ measuring stick. People would be not only free but actively encouraged to develop a range of skills throughout life. The high quality development expertise that nurtures people’s natural talents and helps them focus on getting the most out of their work in large corporations would be available to all – ensuring that people develop continually throughout life and can fulfil a variety of roles.
Food is sustainably produced in an organic, de-centralised and environmentally sensitive way – with no large industrial agri-business and mono cropping. Energy generation is also de-centralised and 100% renewable. Our limited natural resources are not exploited for profit but taken care of, and regenerated where necessary. We take no more than we need, and share all that we take in collections of communities who support each other, benefitting from their shared skills and interdependent roles – strengthening community ties, social bonds and reducing the amount of conflict. [The principles that underlie all of this are far richer and more complex but to keep it even this brief I have to summarise a bit]. The important point is that this sort of system has and does exist in the world. It may be small and exist in isolated places but most importantly, it proves it’s possible.
When the majority of what divides us in this world and creates the conditions for the worst kind of suffering is removed, then the best aspects of human nature are allowed to flourish. The incentive to live selfishly is largely removed, the joy of life is more easily attained, the resilience to deal with the innate tragedies and discomforts of life is strengthened by interdependence and mutual respect. The main resources needed for life; land, shelter, air, food and water can be apportioned fairly once there is no incentive to have more than one can use. When the basic necessities of life are satisfied we are free to devote out time to more meaningful endeavours.
None of this is a complete blueprint yet, nor is it a roadmap.. it is instead a vision that I’m interested in exploring. I want to consider how it might work and would like you to think about, and contribute to. This blog is a thought exercise for what should be aiming for, not a series of band aids or quick-fixes for the problems of today.
Some people will be incapable of engaging with this because it’s too ‘conceptual’, and not offering any concrete steps, but for the rest of you.. I look forward to your thoughts as the concept expands across future posts and various aspects of it are explored further.