Occupying My Mind – Thoughts On What A World Without Money Might Be Like

Back in 2008, at the exact time the financial crisis hit, I was moving to start a new life in Denmark because it was clear that no matter how hard I worked and no matter how much I sacrificed my health to be the bread winner, I would never get ahead in Britain. I live with Fibromyalgia and I am slowly losing my mobility and I was told in 2007 to start working part time but I never could afford to. My husband Ray has never been able to get a job in Britain due to a crippling combination of health problems but because I could work just about he was never eligible for benefits and I got no help or support for caring for him on top of everything else. We decided to risk it all and move to a new country in the hope it could provide us both with a better support network and job opportunities. I can say after being here 3 years now we were right.

However when we landed in Denmark and the economy tanked all our plans kind of went out the window and we found ourselves in a strange house, in a strange land with no income and with all the barriers of not speaking the language. I remember feeling really low at one point, really hoping this economic crisis would spark a domino effect that would put an end to the whole corrupt monitory system by making it crash worldwide, putting everyone back to zero if I can quote the movie Fight Club.

I got to thinking what it would be like to really wean ourselves off our addiction to money and consumerism and with the #OWS movement now out in full force campaigning for our rights to equality and justice I find myself thinking about it all over again. This process has showed me how much could be changed about our day to day lives if we didn’t use this kind of pervasive and perverse system. I think it can be handy, even just as an intellectual exercise if nothing else, to try to step outside the money way of thinking to allow mental space for the possibility of something new to grow. Just as science fition often becomes science fact, given enough time. I don’t claim to hold all the answers and there is so much out there I do not know enough about, but here is my 2 cents on the subject in the small hope it might help someone out there in a better position than I to do something about it:

I find when I read discussions online about leaving money behind it is often assumed we will go back to a barter system or complete anarchy will ensue as looters and hoarders steal and damage what they can, leaving others with nothing. Sure there might be some panic as things shift, resistance to change in natural, but if you look at how the Occupy Wall Street Movement has organised itself amongst all the chaos of police state brutality and have achieved things from the library, catering and camps for large numbers of protesters and homeless, organising peaceful events, to providing the political foundation for serious change in our societal ethos through protest. So I feel confident we will not all regress into the darkest of our animal instincts. Sure there will always be that element to our nature, but if society stops creating monsters through unjust treatment and poverty there will be far fewer problems to deal with in the first place.

As for bartering I doubt it will suddenly stop (we still do it now), but it needn’t be the corner stone of our society. We left bartering behind for money as it provided a better system at the time, so perhaps we can leave money aside for something new too. When the financial crisis hit we may have lost a lot of points on the stock market in some computer somewhere, but our ability to produce only went down in respect of how many people were still employed. If everybody who was in work before the crisis hit then went out and did the exact same job the day after the crisis – we would have produced the same amount of tangible goods and services as before. Our ability did not change overnight, what did was our incentive.

Most of us work because we have to, because it is the only option on the table. This is the model of society we have grown up with, so it only makes sense that the rules of engagement with one another would need to change in order to live without money. The trick is how we make sure that the essential needs of all are covered when we no longer have money as our motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I have long thought that even in places like Denmark where a 37 hour working week and 5-6 weeks’ vacation a year is quite common, that we as a people are over worked (although to be fair Danes on a whole don’t blink about taking on part time study on top of a full time job or staying up late and getting up early on a regular basis) When you are tired, overworked and not getting enough sleep it is harder and harder to face a boring job that doesn’t inspire you (beyond the fear of losing it and your home). This is why I think valuing a person’s time should be the replacement: as we say ‘Time is Money’.

I think that if all our basic needs were met (housing, travel, food, garbage, sewage, water, electricity, heating, clothing, internet etc.) a lot of us would change our careers. I remember being told as a child, after I had picked up the guitar and found I had a knack for it (along with my knack for writing), that I could only do this as a hobby I had to do something ‘practical’ for my day job. By practical, my father meant something that would make me as much money as possible. I got into IT because of this and although this career after 12 years is finally starting to pay off in the usual indicators we would use to measure success, it does not inspire me, it does not make me wake up in the morning with such drive and enthusiasm that I feel satisfied with what I do. I don’t regret going down this path but I’ve always wanted more from my career than it had been able to give me so far.

Now imagine a world where we could funnel the natural enthusiasm of people into vocations that would motivate people to do it regardless of the rewards involved, because they were not counting on the results being linked to the roof over their head. When you are doing something you are passionate about, the means are the ends; there is enjoyment in the journey. One of the great strengths of the human race is our variety. There are so many of us on this planet with so many different areas of interest and specialities to cover our large spectrum of needs. For the jobs where we do struggle to find people and that cannot be left in the hands of technology, we can take a leaf out of the prison model but in the opposite direction.

We can value time as our highest commodity. We can offer non-monetary incentives, such as more holiday or a shorter working week in compensation for the reduced satisfaction people may feel whilst they commit to this essential service for a certain amount of time to meet the demand. (This can also apply to the young who have yet to gain working experience, as well as students and those performing community service). The idea you could have more time at home with the family without it impacting on what kind of home you could afford to live in, whilst providing essential services that benefits everyone I’m sure would be popular as you would get people who would prefer more time at home over retraining for something more demanding of their time. Along with this reduced work load the need for more positions will arise in order to cover the time when people are not working due to the perks of their job.

There will however always be people who can’t work in the traditional sense, either because of ill health or the need to care for someone, or due to maternity leave for example. Society should be able to protect them as much as the people doing the most work on average per week. People should no longer be at the fringes of society because they cannot provide for themselves, weather for a short period or for their rest of their lives. We can however create and provide activities that benefit the community and keep them included in society such as, gardening, child minding, support groups, teaching and art, all whilst providing them with the support they need to function.

This allows us to get everyone included in their community; and the more someone is connected to their community, the less likely they are to trash it for no good reason. We need to rethink the kinds of things that make a difference to human beings when profit is not the motivating factor and therefore what we can really do without, so we can redirect the effort into something that benefits us all. Someone may not get paid a lot to write a song, a book or even a poignant post on Google+ for example, but when the right idea comes along at the right time it can affect us deeply and become invaluable to our culture. This should be considered as contributing to society as much as any other position.

And for the rest, what stops them from just not doing anything and still getting everything they need? Simple, if you don’t have any extenuating circumstances that reduces your work load then you need to be involved somehow in the world that provides for you to the best of your ability. If we don’t all pull together how can anyone expect to have their needs met? Whether this is taking a course, inventing something, finding an organization that is doing interesting things and supporting that, creating your own company or group of likeminded individuals, or even providing a local service to your community or building something new entirely – there will always be plenty to do.

However in whatever position you start with you should always have the option every now and then to grow and go in a new direction if you need it. People shouldn’t be tied to what they thought they wanted at 18 but are trapped because they can’t get out of it without losing pay. The key is to get people involved and excited about what they do for the majority of their lives. If they are excited and enthusiastic the quality of their work will go up and they may even put in more time and effort than was required of them.

Also for employers, because they will not be worrying about the budget balance all the time and how to cut it, telecommuting can spread because there is less need to watch over people 24/7 to make sure they don’t waste shareholder money doing nothing or surfing the web. As long as the work gets done to the standard and deadline required of them, who cares where it is done from and how you manage your time as long as you show up when it is really needed? Of course there are some jobs that can’t be done remotely but it can cut down the car dependency we have for a large chunk of office based commuters, which will be greener whether we drop money or not. A Stanford study recently concluded that people were more effective and produced more on average when they could work at home verses the work place.

We should also be an Idea Economy providing places that inspire creativity, research, innovation and technological developments for next Steve Jobs, Einstein or J. K Rowling. These people all went through unconventional routes that led them to what they were most known for. In my writing group I remember one of the members saying ‘I wonder how many books are out there, sitting in draws because they didn’t feel it was good enough’. Too many of our dreams are crushed early because they are not obviously profitable to begin with, even if they proved to be later on after the fact. We need to cultivate human curiosity, experimentation and ingenuity once more.

So how do we make sure all the essentials are met? Well first off if you are working in an essential service you will get the better holidays/working hours as discussed but for things like food and what we call consumer items how do we make sure this is dealt with sanely? Well there is the option of setting limits on what is reasonably expected an average human in your position needs of any given thing, such as no-one needs more than 5 loaves of bread a day or 5 working TVs at any one time or something like that. People can get different kinds of allowances for different things, such as essential allowances to cover the basics that everyone gets and then health allowance for special needs and work allowance for things you need in order to carry out your job and these would be assessed individually based on the position you hold, but should never be excessive.

This still gives an incentive to be in work as your allowances will expand because of your needs as an employee. However the difference between being unemployed and employed should not be that vast. In Denmark they have a scheme called ‘Flextid’ (flexi time) where people with chronic conditions (such as myself) can work up to 25 hours a week and still get 90% of their wage, the difference is paid by our local kommune (council). So it need not be such a huge gap to be an incentive to work, 10% is enough – it has kept me in full time work for over 3 years and I’m trying to wait as long as possible before relying on it, in case I can’t go back to full time work again.

We could also use a smart card system (instead of credit cards) in order to claim goods. We can reuse the checkout lines whenever we go to a store to track what we have taken to make sure we are entitled to it and work out when people have stepped over the line. This is no more than like giving someone a prescription that is to last a certain amount of time. Yes people could use it all up in one day but they can’t fill another prescription until the last batch is due to run out, unless they can provide evidence of some extenuating circumstance (e.g. if there is a fire and you need to replace everything). It probably gets a bit tricky when it comes to food, but we can see such restrictions in stores already where they sell food so cheap that you can only go away with so many of an item at any one time. Again though, if you know you will always have your needs covered it reduces the need to steal to survive. Also if you can’t resell items, say at a local market or on e-bay, then what is the point it taking more than you need when anyone else you know has the same right and access and has no need to go through a middle man. It will take the extraneous monetary value out of products and return it to its previous state where only its usefulness is the key.

Greed however is a human problem and I doubt it will just evaporate overnight, so we need societal structures that make sure that someone cannot significantly raise their quality of life without raising it for everyone else. We need to disperse power so it cannot end in the hands of the 1% again, but can be controlled by the masses without stagnation and delay. However in a world without money we can still have law. If people steal or try to fraud their way into more resources than is their fair share then of course we can still prosecute or alter the rules for everyone’s sake if it’s deemed reasonable. We can use these moments in the courtroom to confront the boundaries in dispute to see if we are keeping up with the times and making allowances realistic for our needs. This allows plenty of room for us to grow in the future in this system and yet still retain it’s fairness.

However a world without money means that the whole nature of law changes too. We no longer have the issue of the guy with the most money buys the verdict they want by getting the best lawyer on the block. Lawyers will no longer be motivated by money, they might want to be successful but it will no longer be the case that Defending is more profitable than Prosecuting, so it becomes a level playing ground again. Lawyers will do it out of passion for justice and equality and not because of the pay. It will be about who has the best skills for the job, not what someone can afford. It will also cut out all the injury claims law firms, it will stop the spread of polices in schools, hospitals and the like that have to cover their ass so as not to get sued and preventing kids from playing games like conkers in case the school might become liable if there was the slightest incident. This kind of mentality can go; there are better things to be spending our time and energy on.

This would be true also of lobbying. If you take the money out of that system then the only real reason to lobby will be if there is a considerable group in society that feel that a change is needed and true debate could be held, rather than be the tool through which the 1% rule the political spectrum. It will take a dedicated group to pass new laws and amendments because they are motivated enough to do it on its own merit. It would allow so many issues to come to the fore that had been pushed out of sight and out of mind for too long.

For example, there would become great need for proactive preventative medical treatment for all, because the longer and healthier someone’s life is the more time they have to give back to society. It won’t just be about dealing with people once their health has becomes critically ill and they can’t avoid it anymore, but doing what it takes to help people stay active and well throughout the course of their life. As well as usual medical treatments this should include fitness and stress reduction in any form that keep people saner and in good health. The emergency room worries should be about the condition of the patient not about if you can afford treatment or what this will do to your insurance premium.

Now about housing: This is big potential for creating jobs. If there is no money you cannot pay rent or mortgage loans. Really the ideal thing would be to say to start with is: whatever house you are in for now is yours. There are very few reasons why someone needs more than one house and they can always be accounted for in allowances. Yes there will be also shitholes out there, but that is where the jobs come in. So many people don’t have homes or the accommodation they do have is uninhabitable or in run down areas. For those with inadequate housing, we just start a list much like a housing list for council accommodation in Britain, except it registers all available housing, monitors their condition; making repairs when needed. As soon as new or renovated buildings are ready they get matched against the needs of those at the top of the list, with those in the most need due to age, ill health or the condition of their current residence, being given priority for the available housing first.

This of course is a long term thing, but there are many houses that are empty that could be used in the meantime, there are many levels unused in skyscrapers that could be turned easily into apartments too. Then when it comes time for a change and you feel like moving to a different house or area, we can use an agency to manage the wishes for those who want to house swap; creating chains that we often see today in the property market except they will not be waiting on banks to approve mortgages, but waiting on the completion of a chain (by the last person getting a new/empty house that does not require someone to leave), so that you can all arrange to move out at once. Again this utilises systems we already have in place, many councils in Britain manage similar lists today for example, except it operates under a new mandate that is practical to our needs when money is not the driving factor. We can also combine this to a maintenance service which comes round each house to fix things when needed, providing a lot of jobs for those handy men and women who can help in these areas.

In the end we need to start catering to people’s needs not what is the latest product a company wants to sell regardless of whether we need it or not, but because they can make a buck off it. I find myself recently really coming to loath the phrase ‘It’s nothing personal, it’s just business’, as if business is the only time it is acceptable to ruthlessly exploit the world and we should all consider it acceptable behaviour. It gives business the image that they should get everything they need and we should all say ‘oh it’s business so of course you can get away with anything you want’ as if the qualifier ‘business’ is some kind of get out of jail card. We have seen what corporations can do when they are exempt from the law. Take money out of the situation, return the power to the people and this kind of unethical modus operandi will run out of steam.

I could really go on forever listing different aspects of modern life and how it could be improved without the money crutch, but this post is already long enough. What is crucial though is that whatever systems we devise to move us away from money we have to pay attention to the new structure and how it could be exploited. We have to remember that there will be a certain group of society that would stand to lose a lot in the example system I proposed above and those so habituated to the greed that comes along with vast fortunes that they have to learn how to let that go whilst keeping things stable for the rest of us. We have to remember the pit falls of the past whilst we design the foundation of our future. We have to safe guard ourselves from what this new system might evolve into, so the money mentality doesn’t just morph into a different form, under a new disguise. It has to be a replacement that can handle the powers that would be created by centralising the commodities market and eliminating money. We have to make sure that we can’t get a divide in society where a small group can be significantly better off at the expense of the quality of life of the masses. We have to limit the divide in society, whilst proving incentive to gain education and experience to contribute to the world, taking into account all the foibles of human nature that might resist such a system.

In terms of stepping stones that could lead us from where we are now to something close to what I have mentioned in this model, might be abolishing interest rates all together. They add fuel to the fire, making an already bad situation worse. I could pay off my mortgage 3 times faster if I wasn’t paying for interest. In Denmark they have a policy that makes all interest payments tax deductible, so I get a third of it back in my wages by reducing how much tax they take out to start with. This is for any kind of loan and it really does make a difference. However this is only the first step in a long line that we need to take. We can’t be fooled by putting a band aid on a festering situation, essentially allowing banks to carry on as normal; we need to wipe the slate clean eventually to prepare the ground for a change that is long overdue.

Finally I just want to link to this video ‘Money as Debt‘ as it shows how interest rates on debt requires some people to become bankrupt in order for the whole monetary system to keep ticking, because there isn’t actually enough money in the system for everyone to pay off all their debt PLUS the interest. Surely this is not a stable model to be working with, but I have faith that we humans are smart enough to outgrow it and see beyond our cultural conditioning that has kept us hooked in today’s economic slavery and find something better and fairer for all.

For The Hole Inside Everyone

Niamh Brown



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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] can see it at my blog For The Hole Inside Everyone and it is called ‘Occupying My Mind – Thoughts On What A World Without Money Might Be Like’. It may seem idealistic at times but here is a quote from it explaining why I wrote it. Comments […]

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