What would our world be like if money - and man's dependency on it - were to be deconstructed in favor of a system based on global fairness, equality, justice, free education and healthcare for all, scientific advancement and enlightenment, space exploration and the freedom to share and access knowledge, art, music, technology and design? A world where the economic future of the people is no longer decided behind the boardroom doors of the world's banks and financial institutions by a select and secret few.
Could we function in world without money? In the purest sense of what money has become, we already do. The money we use today is called fiat and fiat money derives its value from government regulation and has no intrinsic value. Contrary to common belief, money is no longer backed by gold - nor could it ever be, as there is not enough gold in the world to do so. Over the centuries the devaluing of the value of actual money to its current state of physical worthlessness is an interesting tale of human greed. Money no longer functions as an item of value being exchanged for an item of equal value. Money functions as something far more complex and elusive than this, even though the majority of people in the world do not realise it.
Before the emergence of commodity money, communities functioned using gift economies, only bartering with strangers and unfriendly communities. Trust and the close association to other members of the community were the main cohesive factors in a gift economy. Bartering was done with those they did not trust who had things that they needed, in exchange for things the other person needed. Difficulties arose when items could not be exchanged for equal value, for example if the value of the exchange was unequal by the value of half a cow.
In the earliest times, commodity money was comprised of easily transportable and useful items considered to be of value in themselves such as barley, cowrie shells and beads. Despite (and perhaps because of) the access they had to vast amounts of gold, the Meso-american empires instead valued cocoa beans as their currency.
In the first millennium the Grecian discovery of touchstone made it possible for the first time to calculate the worth of precious metals. This discovery simultaneously heralded the mass minting of coins and the spread of vast mining operations undertaken by slave labour in a race for cities to secure precious metals to mint. The earliest known stamped coin dates to 700 BCE, from the island of Aegina, Greece. In the beginning, coins were made with precious metal and valued against their own weight and type. In time, a new standardised system of minting coins was set up where the city's government minted their own money and placed their stamp upon it, asserting its worth, however, often they did not always place an equal value of precious metal into the value the coin represented. The difference in the value of the coin was upheld by the promise of the issuing government to honor it.
Many centuries later, in part due to a practice called coin debasement, which devalued a coin by clipping the precious metal from it, commodity money became superseded by representative money, which meant precious metals could be deposited for safekeeping in return for a receipt showing the worth of the deposit. Eventually these receipts were used as payment and in 1661, the first bank note was printed. The gold standard followed shortly after and meant the value of the printed money was backed by its equivalent weight in gold. These notes were legal tender although exchanging them back into gold was discouraged. By the beginning of the last century almost all countries backed their notes by the gold standard, despite the fact most countries did not actually have the required amount of gold to redeem their entire currency.
After World War II, most countries dropped the gold standard and adopted fiat currencies, fixing their value against the US dollar, which was in turn fixed to gold. But in 1971, the US government suspended the possibility to convert the dollar into gold, leading many countries to remove their currency's value against the US dollar. The money we have been using - some of us for our entire lives - merely bases its value on the fact it is considered legal tender by its issuing government and it can be used in exchange for goods. There is absolutely nothing of worth in the numbers sitting in your bank account. They are merely numbers. You would not be able to own the equivalent amount of gold or any other precious metal for the same amount of those numbers. If those numbers suddenly disappeared, perhaps in a financial collapse, you would not be reimbursed with gold or any other item of value, you would simply be out of numbers. Fiat currencies are slippery like that.
And incredibly, this abstract concept woven into the very fabric of man's existence controls our world, our governments, our lives, even our identities. We believe in money. We believe it gives us security and stability. We believe it gives us freedom. But money does none of these things - what we experience with it is merely a faint shadow of what we would have without it. Money is limiting, when it assumes it has the right to put a price on any thing that exists, such as a star in the heavens, how can one put a price upon a star? As a mere representation of perceived value, money has a dark immunity from moral limitations. Right now, somewhere on this planet, human beings are being sold for money.
Now. Let us imagine our entire planet cleansed of the concept of money and of all which dances upon its strings. Watch as all the banks, stock markets, financial institutions and corrupt corporations vanish from existence, leaving behind motes of dust reflecting the sunlight. Watch as your debt disappears, as your bank accounts vanish; as your fridge fills with nourishing and uncontaminated food; as health returns to loved ones who received medical care from a health industry which works simply for the joy of finding cures. Watch as the forests spread across the planet, sheltering life and bringing balance to Earth; as the oceans teem with life, as whales swim free and majestically alongside the quiet wind-powered boats of man. Rhinos, elephants, and tigers roam wild and free under a clean and chemical-free sky. Watch as fast food restaurants, shopping malls, slaughterhouses, factory farms, oil rigs, nuclear power plants and polluting chemical plants explode into tiny particles of light, all of them no longer possible in a world untainted by the concept of money...
Look around you. The world is so different, it is clean, it is foreign, it is balanced, it is beautiful. It is powerful. You realise the human race can do anything now he no longer wears the chains of a concept. You have one minute to live in this world before it will be ripped away from you. Enjoy it. Live it. Breathe it. Know it.
It is over, now you must return. The banks, the stock markets, the corporate deals, the fast food restaurants with their chemically enhanced food, the slaughterhouses with their frightened, crying animals, the factory farms filled with cruelty and pain, the chemical companies, the oil rigs, the filthy oceans filled with trash, the fish dying by the millions, the whales dying of starvation, the health industry that only works for the bottom line. A world where a human life is for sale. Darkness.
Paying money for water. Watching a loved one die because you don't have the money to keep them alive. Getting into debt for a car made of materials originating from our Earth, freely given by our planet, but stolen along the way by opportunists and sold for a profit to the rest of us. The rapacious cycle of resource theft and debt kept alive until our planet cannot give us anything more, whereupon the human race will face its extinction, the rich and the poor finding themselves equally deprived of the resources of life, to fall one by one until the world is silent.
Who would find us? What would they say as they discover the wealthy hidden away in their sprawling mansions, emaciated in their designer clothes? Would their hearts break at the sight of families of nomadic herdsmen huddled together for comfort in their final sleep, their animals already long dead? What would it be like to see billions lying unburied and unremarked across the planet, dead of hunger or thirst, or to be unable to find a single animal, bird or fish still living? What would they think of the 'lucky ones' surrounded by the useless trappings they drove themselves and the planet to destruction to acquire? Would they leave our planet, saddened and disturbed by the stubbornness, shortsightedness and greed of what could have been a promising race of beings? Boarding their ship, the co-ordinates are set for the next solar system. A burst of light momentarily eclipses the brightness of the sun, and our planet's visitors are gone. Far behind them, Earth spins slowly along her lonely path, empty, barren and broken.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend May 24 2012