We would all be in a better, moneyless society tomorrow if everyone understood how and why it works, but the truth is that it’s a very difficult idea to convince people of. So why is that? As someone who has been trying to sell this idea to people for about five years now, I’ve had plenty of time to think about this question, and this article is what I’ve come up with so far.
The solution is the easy part
Convincing someone about the potential of a money-free future is basically a two-part exercise. First, you have to convince them of the benefits, then you have to convince them of the feasibility. The benefits are many, and most reasonable people will have no trouble accepting them: better quality of life for all, less inequality, poverty, crime, greed, corruption, pollution and waste; greater health, education, trust, respect, awareness, sustainability, community values, technological advances, etc. Most people want these things, so our problem is not really about convincing them of the benefits – it’s convincing them of the feasibility. How is a moneyless society possible?
I have come to realise that the reason it’s so difficult to demonstrate its feasibility is that it requires the simultaneous suspension of several beliefs that are fundamental to how we perceive the world.
In order to convince someone, we have to first demonstrate the misconception of those beliefs, and then supplant them with ones closer to their true origins. Of course, it’s a big ask of anyone in the bustle of their busy lives to devote time and energy to this kind of mental juggling, but if they apply themselves a little, then, like a wooden puzzle, the pieces will start to slot together.
And once they solve it, there’s no going back.
The six parts of the puzzle
Imagining a world without money usually raises the following objections immediately, each of which is linked to a particular lifelong held belief (in brackets):
- You need to have exchange (You can’t get something for nothing)
- No-one would do anything (money motivates people)
- People would take advantage (greed is human nature)
- I will lose everything I have (fear of loss, ownership)
- Chaos and violence would ensue (society requires control)
- Society would stagnate or regress (markets fuel progress)
The good news is that all of these objections can be overturned quite easily using just plain common sense and basic observations. There’s no proof required, but before someone can arrive at the same conclusion as you – that a moneyless society is possible – they need to simultaneously suspend and reevaluate all those beliefs.
Here’s a run down through all the main arguments and beliefs, and their (I believe) appropriate responses:
1. You need to have exchange (you can’t get something for nothing)
Somehow, somewhere along the way the First Law of Thermodynamics (energy cannot be created or destroyed) got mixed up into the conversation on human society. Along with popular phrases like ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’, these idioms have conspired to underpin the belief that nothing happens without some exchange of value, whether by money or barter.
You could be forgiven for thinking that certain groups would happily wish to continue to perpetuate this thinking, but the fact is that it is simply false, and not based on anything else we see in nature. In nature the closest thing we have is something called symbiosys where two species benefit each other (the bee taking nectar while helping the plant to pollinate is the most obvious example), but there is no intentional transaction taking place. Both species are ignorant of the desires of the other. It is purely an accident of evolution that has caused both species to survive and flourish. Nowhere else in nature do we see evidence that intentional exchanges are an essential ingredient to life or to community. We invented that idea to cope with scarcity in more primitive times, and with more complex needs.
The money / value system that we operate in has its origins in more primitive times, but which has now made us hell-bent on keeping score and accounting for everything in a numerical sense, and at the expense of common sense and sustainability. But nature doesn’t keep score. We ourselves don’t seek exchange in our families or in our circles of friends, so why do we seek exchange in others? Among our loved ones, we all tend to help each other out when we can and no-one keeps score.
If we allow ourselves to trust in others as we do those in our immediate circle, and trust that others, like us, will help each other once they find themselves in a society that meets their needs, then we will eventually be able to see the futility of exchange and keeping score, and that everything, by and large, evens out in the end.
2. No-one would do anything (money motivates people):
People are motivated by money, yes. It is perhaps the biggest motivator of people, but the only reason for that is because we need money to live. It’s linked to survival – our most fundamental instinct. This is what gives it such power.
There are, of course, many other human motivators: the desire to love and be loved, to meet people, to have children, to help others, to improve ourselves and our surroundings, to look good, to feel good, to learn, to challenge ourselves, to express ourselves, to innovate, to demonstrate our skills, etc. Every person alive is motivated by these desires to some degree. Because, after survival, these desires are what give our lives value and meaning.
So if we didn’t need money to survive, and society could be better without money, then it follows that any or all of these desires would become our primary motivators. Since technology can now make the basic business of survival incredibly easy for us, all we would have to do – rather than working and earning – is to spend just a little time serving our community to ensure that the system works for everybody, then spend the rest of our time doing whatever it is that makes us happy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we all have to go and live in the forest and eat berries! If technology was not limited by a market system, and peoples’ desires to help, innovate and improve became their prime motivators, then our technology could be completely maximised to take in almost all jobs that no-one wants to do, and create a highly advanced culture.
3. People would take advantage (greed is human nature):
Greed is not human nature – it is simply the desire to stockpile something scarce which you need to live. Like a squirrel collecting nuts, greed makes good sense – because we don’t know what the future will bring. In a monetary world, the greatest scarcity is money itself, so it makes sense to accumulate it, and, since there is no upper limit to the money and property you can have, there’s no reason to stop accumulating it.
But if society can work better without money and everyone has access to everything they need, then there would be no point in stockpiling anything in large quantities. Who wants a basement full of coffee, cornflakes or tomatoes when all these things are freely available at any time?
For the first time in history, we have the technology to eradicate scarcity and create an abundance of necessities for all humans on Earth with minimal physical effort. The market system is the only thing that prevents this from happening, as it intrinsically requires scarcity to perpetuate itself.
4. I will lose everything I have (fear of loss, ownership)
Any marketing guru will tell you that the most influential factor of human decision-making is the fear of loss – even more so than the desire to gain. So arguing what someone will gain living in a moneyless society versus losing their exclusive property rights probably isn’t going to convince them, as the fear of loss will be overriding. It is better to just tackle the whole notion of ownership altogether.
We all need privacy and a certain amount of exclusivity, right? Who wants to share their toothbrush, or have strangers walking around their home, for example? Our normalised belief tells us that we define who uses what through something called ‘ownership’. Our laws define and protect ownership, with the threat of punishment to those who disobey (ie. stealing).
But where does this concept of ownership come from in the first place? Did we own nothing before someone wrote the law? Of course we did, but in our early egalitarian days it was more like moral or logical entitlement. Moral, as in, we implicitly deserved entitlement to an object, or logical, as in, it made logical sense for it to belong to us. The point is that most things in the community belonged to no-one. Whatever items within the community that were not morally or logically entitled to anyone were used and shared by all.
So without ownership, what stops people from stealing? What actually stops people from stealing from each other is that it is anti-social, disrespectful and invasive, and people who do so are liable to become deeply unpopular. This social incentive for certain behaviour is far stronger than any rule could ever be, as it is dictated by how we feel about ourselves and our position in society. Yet we commonly mistake the rule of law as being the only thing that governs this behaviour.
If we understand that respect, privacy and exclusivity are, in fact, already hard-wired into our social psyche – not dictated by external controlling forces – then we can begin to move beyond the traditional inefficient limits of ownership and with it, any fear of loss.
5. Chaos and violence would ensue (society requires control)
To address this belief, it’s worth first pointing out that our world under its current system is already rife with crime and violence, so any argument for a moneyless society must be measured against that standard for comparison. Also, no-one is suggesting that a free world would be perfect – just a whole lot better.
Most crime and violence is driven by desperation through lack of basic requirements for living, ie. theft, armed robbery, burglary, etc. Almost all other crimes can be seen as the secondary effects of poor upbringing. ie. where parents are poor, over-worked, unemployed, frustrated, depressed or disillusioned, etc. – all factors that can contribute to an unstable and unloving environment for children, who may later turn to crime as a result of low self esteem or maladjustment.
If society can work better without money, then most of the reasons and contributing causes of antisocial behaviour will no longer exist. Society will automatically be more cooperative and inclusive, and everyone will have free access to good food, housing, education and technology. It won’t be perfect or eliminate all crime, but if everyone has a good quality of life and free access, then crime will have little or no incentive.
6. Society would stagnate or regress (markets fuel progress)
Many economists or entrepreneurs cite economic incentive and competition as good for progress. But since the money system is everywhere, people who make this claim really have nothing to compare it with, so are drawing a false conclusion. Are we really to believe that all innovators, inventors and artists will down tools the moment someone calls time on money? Obviously not, since we all know so many creative people that never achieve financial success, it shows us that they are not driven by money, but rather by their passions and desire to innovate.
We have already seen the rise of the Open Source movement and how large scale innovative projects are becoming the optimum means of production without a monetary incentive. Many computer programs like Linux, Chrome and Android have been developed freely by enthusiasts in their spare time. The computer industry has led the way on this, but of course, there is no reason why ‘open source thinking’ cannot be applied in agriculture, crafts, construction or education, etc.
History has shown that, in general, our greatest innovators and artists have come from privileged backgrounds. Does that mean that they were smarter? Of course not. It means that they had a comfortable upbringing, access to good food and education, and had the luxury of time – not labouring for their keep – but spending it on developing their ideas and skills instead.
If society can work better without money, then all potential young Einsteins and Mozarts will have the optimal opportunity to exercise and advance their talents.
Now allow to simmer…
For most people, taking all this new information on board is quite a mental feat, and it usually takes some time for the information to filter through the subconscious and back into the conscious mind. The subconscious mind is like a giant calculater which is a lot smarter than the conscious mind, and reevaluating all these lifeling-held beliefs and experimenting with new ones takes more than a little mental gymnastics.
If you keep an open mind, eventually the lightbulb will come on and you’ll see it. Good luck, and remember, even if you still have misgivings, we are not victims of culture or destiny – we can shape the world as we please. Let’s make it better!
If you agree with a moneyless future, please show your support by reading and signing The Free World Charter. Thank you.