There is nothing that I like more than a challenge, that much is true, but if there is anything I don’t like, it is a challenge based on a faulty premise. “Living without money experiments,” regardless of their post-financial crisis popularity, are a perfect example of such challenges.
My main gripe with these so-called “experiments” is that they have nothing to do with money.
Where Living without Money Fails
If you’re like most people, you go to work where you do only a few things, accept a monetary reward for your time, and then take the cash to go spend on all the things you didn’t do during the day.
So, where you might have spent eight hours at a computer making Excel spreadsheets like a baller, you still have a mouth to feed and a body to clothe. (You still have to live.) But all that time spent in the office isn’t conducive to making your own clothes, nor growing your own food.
That’s cool, though, because other people have your back.
How’s About an Example?
Okay, we have before us three different people: we have a farmer, a seamstress, and a baker.
Each can do one thing very well: farm, make clothes, cook food, respectively.
The farmer can grow enough to supply three people with raw food. The seamstress can sew sufficiently to supply three people with clothes, and the baker can turn enough raw materials into enough ready-to-eat meals to feed three people daily.
Their total output between each person is enough to clothe and feed three people. How perfect 😉
The Productivity of Each Person
In this three person society it matters not how poor the farmer is at sewing, nor how the seamstress can keep alive only plastic potted plants. Instead, what matters most is that each does one thing with excellence, and others value that talent in their own lives.
In a society with open trade, the farmer can trade food to the baker and seamstress while still feeding himself. In return, he receives clothing from the seamstress and bread from the baker. The baker trades his bread for raw foods and clothing. The seamstress trades her clothing for raw veggies and bread. Everyone wins.
But what happens when we divide our society? If we were to divide our three townspeople to create three societies of one, each would have to work 33% harder to achieve the same outcome.
While the baker, for example, can make enough bread to feed three people per day, he does not sew nor farm very well—two essential needs. In fact, he has 1/3 less skill in each of these areas.
He would need to spend 1/3 of his day baking (to sustain his baking needs), 1/2 of his day sewing for himself (for clothing) and another 1/2 of his day farming (for raw edibles.)
While the baker previously spent only eight hours per day baking bread to cover his basic human needs, he now spends 2.66 hours baking, 4 hours farming, and 4 hours sewing for a 10.66 hour workday.
This very basic economic equation gets lost on a lot of people. Specialization allows us to do one thing, and only one thing, while money allows us to divide our time, energy, and skill as best we can.
I realize there is a very popular, populist twist to these kind of stories. Usually it’s some kind of young professional who got tired of the Starbucks-9-lunchdate-5-hard alcohol grind and finally decided that he or she would rather live without everything they’re used to having.
Sometimes I wonder if its not some hippy couple that decided they didn’t like the prospect of work, or just couldn’t find a job that didn’t drug test.
Maybe its some right-wing survivalist hell-bent on living on the land…I don’t know.
I just imagine it goes down a little like this:
People have tried this experiment, or are making a life of it:
Mark Boyle lives without money. He has a degree in Economics, which makes me wonder why any economist would ever try this. Isn’t it pretty obvious that living without money, an easy unit of exchange, makes life more difficult? Best part of his story? This quote: “People tend to be either very positive about what I’m doing or very negative.” Ha!
He’s also featured in another article where he is quoted as saying, “If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we wouldn’t waste it so freely.”
While I believe what he says to be true, there is no reason to resort to difficulty to stop what we perceive to be negative outcomes. Progress is solving difficult situations/outcomes with better situations/outcomes. Besides, he forgot to mention that we would all waste a lot more of something that is so limited in supply: our time.
LivingWithoutMoney – A blog on a girl’s life without money. I really just wanted to link this because I figured she’d like a link about why I don’t like her idea. 😛 But hey, at least she’s willing to shine some light on how to live without money.
People who have used the idea:
Heidemarie Schwermer is freaking awesome. She didn’t just go live out in the middle of nowhere without money; no, she took the principles discussed in my article and created a market where the homeless could trade. In doing so, she removed something they didn’t have from the equation (money) and created a market where the homeless traded their own skill for the skills of others. No one left with more money, but they all left with a better standard of living. Props to her!
She’s still a bit of an anti-capitalist, of course, because she can’t separate dollar bills from greed, debt, or difficulty. It is a shame people don’t realize that money is just a convenient way to own things, save time, or manage resources.
I doubt many would disagree that it is far easier to have $100,000 than it is to carry around a single-family home or 12,000 hours of minimum wage work (you can’t store time/work).
Living without Credit – How living without credit affects your opportunities.