Imagine yourself in a world without money.
No rushing to get to some rat race job that doesn’t ultimately satisfy you. No reason to undertake years of slogging away, toiling at things that don’t interest you – just to earn a crust. If you could do anything, what would you do?
What would we all do? How might labour be divided? Would anyone work? Would we have careers? If no one gets paid for anything then what’s the incentive, what’s the point?
If we abolished money (and centralised government) overnight, I imagine that for a little while a lot of people would – among other things – take a ‘well earned rest’ from working and enjoy not having a boss tell them what to do. In the long run however, people are people and – as much research has demonstrated – people need to be involved in meaningful productive work to feel happy and fulfilled in life.
Many of us have found ourselves saying “if I didn’t have to work I’d do absolutely nothing”, or as the stern matronly stereotype would say; without sufficient incentive people would be “lazy ne’er do wells”. This is not the case, as the natural reaction to feeling exploited, overworked, underpaid, unsatisfied and unfulfilled in one’s daily grind is not the same as having no drive, or no ambition. When work is dull, tiring and seemingly never ending we all just want a break.. but after a while, our souls seek some satisfaction, some purpose – that’s what it is to be human.
Without a government or figure of authority telling them what to do, and without the necessity to ‘fit in’ as any sort of pre-defined cog in the machine, everyone would be able to do what only a lucky few get to do now – to benefit from the raft of powerful psychological tools at our disposal to help people understand their talents, fully realise their capability and live engaging, rewarding and meaningful work lives. Find their ‘calling’.
Without economic incentives warping the way things play out, people are free to do the things they are best at, follow their talents and contribute to their lives, their community and their world incentivised by the strongest goal of all – self fulfilment. The most productive and engaged worker is one in ‘flow’, challenged by the task at hand but continually using and refining their talents and skills, doing something they relish.
Deep tools exist today to help guide us towards realising where our natural preferences and talents lie, help us discover our strong points, our core motivations and help us strategise what career path might make us the happiest – and thus the most productive. (This is one of the things the field organisational psychology concerns itself with). The only thing that prevents most people from benefitting from this now is that the expertise is concentrated in a few people hired by very large corporations who can afford to pay the specialists to do this – as for them it’s the best way to identify talent and develop the careers of their best and brightest that will one day lead their companies into the future.
Without money as a limiting factor however, this knowledge and set of skills of how to help people in this way could be passed on, more people could learn it, and eventually everyone could benefit from it. In a world where everyone is helped to realise their own unique potential there is enough diversity built into all of us to ensure that every role needed in society can be filled happily by someone.
Now no one really knows for sure how far this would stretch to cover everything that was needed but I think it would work. Even if that were not completely true however, we could all do enough of what we loved most – most of the time – to agree to spend a small portion of our time doing something that we merely liked or is a ‘secondary preference’ for the greater benefit of the community. To imagine this we need to bear in mind that all of the commercial and industrial systems that exist today would be radically different or non-existent. Without the need to make money – only to be sustainable and cooperative – our world would see different population densities, different pace, different kinds of work needed. So much of what we have today has arisen because of the incentive to make money and as such a lot of it might well melt away once the incentive for people is to prosper sustainably and focus on what makes them happy rather than constantly chasing wealth or fleeing from poverty.
For the most part however, though we wont have the same consumerist patterns we do today, we will still want and need to make things. There will actually be more people that want to make things as well. Manufacture wont need to be centralised and industrial, but centres of mutual appreciation or knowledge sharing may arise organically. People will do more than one thing in their lives – not just having two or three careers like some do now, but actually at once.
The thing to consider is that in reality, most people are good at more than one thing. They might be great at one thing but we all have a variety of talents and are capable of learning a variety of skills. With everything commoditised (as it is right now) it creates an imperfect situation where it doesn’t serve the needs of the economy for everyone to be a doing similar or overlapping things at the same time – it’s un-economic. People guard their knowledge, their expertise and their status because it brings them power in the market, the are a commodity.
With those concerns gone, the incentive is to do what makes you happiest and also to help others because that enables them to help you in return. The incentives shift towards cooperation and sustainable communal benefit through personal fulfilment. There are many people who (even right now) would be delighted to be able to work with their hands a little, be a bit creative sometimes, attack intellectual problems other times and so on. Having no barriers to education or training in all areas opens up the possibilities for increased engagement, knowledge and skill sharing and also makes our society more resilient to natural disasters and extreme events. (Imagine today some horrible fate befalling a conference of the world’s best scientists, artists or thinkers etc – we’d lose a generation of greatness).
Extreme (and perhaps unlikely) scenarios aside, this kind of model means that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn whatever they find most fulfilling, plus a few other things on top of that – while simultaneously avoiding one of the world’s most annoying phenomena’s; people who’s help you need but who are either so terrible at their job and do it poorly or just are so disengaged and apathetic that it results in the same thing. How many times have we had to deal with that? Why are people who love their jobs so hard to come across? The answer is the demands of the economy – ie. money. Education costs someone money and the expertise or incentive to help people find out where their true (perhaps unexpected) talents lie just isn’t there. Even if by some miracle you do find your calling, you may not be able to access what you need to follow it, or the road may be very difficult. When the competition for jobs for money is removed, there is no economic law of supply and demand that determines what someone should or could be, or incentivises people to do something just because it makes money.
Even if there were enough watches made and no new watchmakers were necessary, and making more was a waste of resources – then remember that skills and talents are transferrable. We need to remember that the joy that someone who loves making watches gets from that task is not really loving the watches themselves, and could easily get the same joy from working on something else that suits and benefits from their skills and talents. It’s exercising one’s skills and talents in the pursuit of meaningful and satisfying work that we derive joy from – not the thing itself.
If we are all involved in helping cultivate our own food communally, building and maintaining our houses and engaged in meaningful productive work then we should have all the necessities covered, and still be able to advance technologically – not for the pursuit of profit but for genuine sustainable advancement of our civilisation. Even if we discovered some gap wasn’t filled, some roles that people weren’t doing enough of – then the need would make itself known and the burden to fill it could be shared among those who’s tastes, talents and capabilities were closest matched to the necessary task – in some mutually agreed time share arrangement perhaps?
The key thing is that without money ‘the need’ is everyone’s need and the incentive is to help for everyone’s benefit including the individual’s. It encourages people to think longer term. It may be my roof that is leaking today, but it could well be your sink that’s broken tomorrow, or your child that needs teaching something I know well etc. We are not in competition any more.
In this world today, the incentive to work is (obviously) money and if someone wants your help with something in the work world it is going to benefit them financially so you either get a slice of that in return for your help or feel disinclined to help them. Why put yourself out for their benefit? You don’t get anything from it so there’s nothing in it for you. This thinking disappears alongside money. There is no profit so there is no one benefitting more than anyone else in the grand scheme of things.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine a world where everyone get’s the same chances at developing their skills, discovering their talents and engaging in fulfilling and meaningful work without abolishing money. As long as the fiction that is the monetary system places demands on us through an unsustainable economy we are locked into indentured servitude. We have no choice but to fight all the time. Fight for money, fight for access to education, for work opportunities and for advancement.
We can however create a world where we see and emphasise the natural interdependence that we have with each other, the social bonds that tie us together and support us. Value these things like many tribal cultures have for thousands of years only more so – and actively – in the way we run our own world. Make it clear that we all live on this planet together. Everything we have and everything we know comes from this one blue green planet right here and thus everything we ever need can be found here too. We just have to manage it well so we can continue to benefit from it.