Given the political and economic systems we’ve grown up in, along with the myths that such societies have spoon-fed us since birth, it would be easy to believe that the only way in which we could manage labour in our economies is with money.
As with everything, it really doesn’t have to be this way. It is just a story, one of many, and one which we can change if it no longer serves us. Our current way of living may be theoretically convenient, but if convenience turns out to be soul-destroying, is it still convenient? Modern economics does little for the human spirit; it has left many of us miserable and hating what we do every day. Contrary to what money’s most enthusiastic proponents would have you believe, it actually inhibits our sense of freedom, and through its mechanisms stops us from pursuing the things we really want to do in life. The US, the self-proclaimed and flagship land of the free, does not legally require its employers to provide any paid leave, and almost one out of four workers has no paid leave at all.(82)
There are other ways of living and working, ways that uplift us, that build resilient communities of people who trust and depend on each other, systems that create unity instead of division. Some of these that I will list in the menu below are still based on the concept of exchange (a couple are even forms of local currency), yet I include them because they may help you move along your own POP model in this respect, and act as stepping stones towards living fully in the gift economy. They are divisible into two general categories: the modern, which is what will be useful to most of you in the immediate term, and the palaeolithic, also known as the art of survival.
Modern skills and labour systems
Since I gave up money in 2008, I have noticed a huge surge in the gift economy, most of which is organised online. This presents a problem. There is no truly moneyless solution to the internet due to the complexity of the technologies involved. You can access the internet without money by making use of your local library. Yet whilst this is free at the point of delivery, libraries in the monetary economy are funded by council taxpayers. Therefore, projects such as these in this section should be regarded as transitional strategies, as opposed to something to strive for long-term.
I created the Freeconomy in 2007, partially in response to the fact that all of the other alternatives to the monetary economy that I knew of were still based on the old mindset of exchange that lay at the heart of the dominant monetary economy they existed within. I felt an alternative to the alternatives was desperately needed.
Freeconomy involves sharing your time, skills, tools and knowledge to whatever degree you are comfortable with – completely for free – safe in the knowledge that whenever you need help with something else, or the loan of a screwdriver, another member of your local group (whom you may have never even met before) will then help you in the same spirit. There are no credits, IOUs, ratings systems to be filled in or boring administration to be done; unconditionality is much more efficient, and less bureaucratic, than conditionality. This philosophy sounds radical when considered within the mindsets we hold today, but the old adage ‘what goes around comes around’ just about sums it up.
Using it is even simpler than the idea itself. Once you sign up, you instantaneously gain access to the entire skill pool of all other members in your local area, whose radius you can define as anything between 1 and 25 miles, depending on whether you live in London or the Forest of Dean. From that point onwards, think of the Freeconomy as your online Yellow Pages, but where everyone does everything, and shares everything, for free.
Let’s take an example to show how simply it works. Your bike is punctured. Instead of trudging your bike off to the bike shop, you log on and search for the word ‘mechanic’. The software will then inform you of every single member within your chosen radius who has signed up with ‘bicycle mechanic’ as one of their skills, listing those closest to your doorstep first and those further away in descending order. You can contact them through the site, and if both parties are happy you can arrange to meet up on whatever terms suits you both (all we ask is that no money changes hands). You, or they, get the job done for free, learn how to fix a puncture in the process, and you both may even become good friends. Feedback I’ve received indicates that people often cook dinner or lunch for the person who has helped them to say thank you, but this is by no means expected.
If you’re worried that only Reiki and Hopi ear candle practitioners take part, think again. Freeconomy members have offered up over 500,000 skills at the time of writing, with over 2,000 pre-listed types of skills to choose from on the website. Skills range from hairdressing to plumbing. I’ve – rather ironically – helped a local children’s charity with its accounts and cash flow forecasts, and have had free legal advice from another member who I’d never even met before.
Against all the expectations of friends who originally told me that it was too idealistic to succeed in a dog-eat-dog world, the Freeconomy is flourishing. I’m not too surprised. Whatever conventional economists may believe, a glance at the one truly functional economy we know about – Nature – taught me that dogs actually show a strong preference for helping their fellow dogs rather than eating them.
There are now Freeconomy groups in over 160 countries around the world, and its success reflects people’s desire and need for a decent level of the gift economy in their lives, especially as the cracks in the monetary economy continue to widen and become visible to all. Members seem to be positively enthusiastic about doing things for no other reason than the simple fact that another human being needs help, and that they have been gifted the ability to be able to help them. What reason, other than the understanding that we can help another living soul, do we need to help someone? Do we always have to get something in return nowadays? Freeconomy has thankfully been teaching me that we don’t, and that people really enjoy giving unconditionally. Don’t believe those who will try to convince you otherwise.
The gift circle is an idea originally developed by a group of people, including Alpha Lo,(83) in California, but which is now spreading worldwide. It’s the equivalent of a small-scale, off-line Freeconomy group. Creating one, and then running it, is easy. Everyone (the optimum number is somewhere between twelve and twenty people, give or take a few) sits around in a circle and begins by stating a handful of their needs. This may be anything from a tennis partner, a desk, help with tax returns or learning how to make a bow drill, the loan of a sleeping bag or a lift somewhere.
Once everyone has said what they need, the group then go around again and say what they’re happy to share. Again, this can be anything from skills and stuff to knowledge and time. Once this is complete, there is an optional round, where everyone can say thank you to others in the group who have helped them in some way, or to the group in general. Although this can seem to be superfluous if time is limited, it is crucial to the long-term sustainability of the group. Hearing the ways in which others have given freely inspires the rest of the group to do so too, it uplifts everyone involved, and showing gratitude for that which we receive is an important part of life.
A few tips: it is wise to have a facilitator who has a fair understanding of gift economies (this can be a different person each week, and you can have multiple facilitators at each gathering), and for someone to take notes of all attendee’s contact details, what they want to receive and what they can offer, so that everyone can follow up on things afterwards if they need to. Groups can meet up as often as they find useful – some meet every week, some once a month. Organisations can also create their own gift circles as a way of getting things done without the need for money or funding, in a way that brings people of that organisation together under a common purpose.
The benefits of this over a web-based model such as Freeconomy is that it gets a group of people together face-to-face in a way that builds and nurtures real interdependency. It also doesn’t require the internet and its global infrastructure in order to exist, meaning that anyone can utilise it. Its only downside is that it doesn’t work as well when the numbers go over twenty, whereas a model such as Freeconomy (which is in effect a large online gift circle) can handle any number of people. In my POP model, I’d describe gift circles as the ideal and Freeconomy as a tool we can utilise as we transition to a point where each street has their own real-life gift circle.
HelpX works in an almost identical way to the more renowned WWOOF scheme, with the main difference being that it’s not limited to organic farms and smallholdings. Through this scheme participants spend a few hours of their day doing work for their hosts, often in places such as B&Bs, sailing boats, hostels or on farms, for which they get food and accommodation (along with the chance to experience a new culture or learn a language and skills) in return. It opens up the possibility of having the moneyless experience of WWOOFing in the city as well as the countryside. Usually people work for their hosts for about four hours per day, and then have the rest of the day off to do whatever they please. Again, combine this with hitching or cycling and anyone could live for a year or longer without needing money, bureaucracy or banks accounts if they wanted to give it a trial run. While the ecological benefits of this scheme are only utilised if done through an organic farm, it does allow anyone an easy opportunity to get a sense of how it feels to live without a penny to your name. Such experiences can have a huge impact on your own personal growth and provide you with a stepping stone to a more localised and gift based form of moneyless living.
Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS) and Timebanks
Adding these schemes to a book on moneyless living is questionable but, as I mentioned in chapter two, they can be a stepping stone for anyone who is currently embroiled in the monetary economy, enabling them to eventually make their way into the gift economy if they so wish.
LETS is a network of people who agree to use a local currency (LETS pounds for example) to share their skills. Its members create and exchange credits which, as Peter North points out,(85) “they back with their commitment to do enough work to pay this ‘commitment’ (not ‘debt’) off in a reasonable time in the future … you don’t need any local money before you start – you just make a commitment to work for someone else who asks you in the future.” It’s a bit like Freeconomy, but without the uplifting feeling of unconditionality that only the gift economy really creates, and without the bonds of interdependency that only money and immediate-and-exact crediting can so efficiently destroy.
Timebanks are much the same as LETS in that credits of one form or another are exchanged. When you help Mary with her car for an hour, you bank one hour of time. When Jake calls around to your noisy neighbour with a baseball bat and sorts him out, as agreed, he banks one of your hours. The critical difference with Timebanks is that everyone’s time (and therefore life, as what is life but time?) is valued equally, with the person who helps you get your garden into shape earning as much for their time as you do when you provide them with your plumbing or web development skills.
So how are these any different to ‘normal’ money? They’re not different enough to be seen as a long-term solution, and whilst they still perpetuate the old story, albeit in a healthier way, they do provide communities with extra resilience against shocks to the national currency, though this is marginal unless they have fully localised their material economy along with the currency. They also allow their members to get things done while reducing their dependency on banks, loans and the fundamentally corrupt money creation process that goes along with both – that can only be a good thing. Their role as a stepping stone to a new way of living, a new type of economy, is crucial. But local currencies ought not to be our holy grail.
Other skillsharing schemes
Swapaskill(.com)(86) and LocalSkillSwap(.com)(87) are straightforward barter schemes, with no credits or pounds being registered or accounted for. On their websites you simply post what skills you are willing to share with others and what skills you would like in return. In terms of my POP model for labour and skills in a moneyless economy, this is somewhere between Freeconomy and local currencies – they’re not unconditional, but they feel much more informal and value everyone’s time and skills equally.
The reason I described the menu of moneyless options early in chapter two is because the moment you mention the concept of moneyless living, different things spring to mind for different people. Some, like resource-based economists such as Peter Joseph and Jacques Fresco, envisage a technotopia where machines do almost all the work within the context of a world that has consciously evolved beyond the concepts of debt and credit, concepts which money represents in physical form. Others, like Derrick Jensen,(88) believe that the only sustainable way of living is one where the level of technology used is close to that of the palaeolithic era. The case Jensen presents in both volumes of Endgame is refreshingly rooted in reality and a place of deep ecological understanding, and it stands in stark contrast to the fantasies held by a people who want it all: an abundant, alive, healthy planet, and at the same time all the gadgetry that can only come at its expense.
Regardless of which side of the moneyless fence you fall down on, there is absolutely no reason not to learn the basics of survival – eating, drinking and staying warm. All of these can often rely on you understanding the art of making fire: food will often need to be cooked to make it edible, water may need to be boiled to purify it in a polluted environment, and in cold wet climes fire may be essential to avoid freezing and to stay dry.
Depending on your personal reasons for wanting to live moneylessly and your unique situation, the ways in which you could go about making fire can vary widely. In my POP model for personal economy that I outlined in chapter three, I declared that my own reasons for living moneylessly stems from my desire to reconnect with Nature and Her people and places. Holding such a philosophy means that, on my POP model for fire-starting, the simple bow drill comes out on top.
Others amongst you will want to live moneylessly so that you don’t ever have to burden yourselves with the wage economy, and all that goes with that, ever again. If this is the case, using discarded lighters may be top of your POP model. I find them regularly on pavements outside pubs on a Sunday morning.
However, there are many good reasons for you to resist the use of lighters, even ones that are destined for landfill before their time, and other mass produced forms of fire-lighting equipment. And there are many good reasons to use a bow drill.
First, it’s not reliant on an industrialised system that is killing the planet, and that is something that is important to me. I find cognitive dissonance difficult to deal with, and speaking out about the personal, social and ecological consequences of industrialisation (and the concepts on which it relies) whilst simultaneously benefiting from it causes me quite a lot of cognitive dissonance. Convenience is uncomfortable.
Second, it ensures that I have to stay alert about where I am, what the meteorological conditions are, what plants are around me and what time of day it is. The emotional, physical, mental and spiritual benefits of this are substantial and grossly underestimated. If it’s a wet day, I need to collect some tinder and kindling early in the morning, keep it close to my body as I move around all day, so that by the evening I have enough dry material to get a fire started. Such low levels of technology keep me present in the moment, and deeply aware of my surroundings. In comparison, the lighter is much less beneficial for the overall wellbeing of both the egocentric and holistic self. Convenience makes us feel less alive.
Third, the industrialised system that creates such useful little gadgets may not exist at some point in the future. Therefore learning how to create fire without them could save your life in an apocalyptic style scenario that we would all like to avoid. Likewise, if for some reason you find yourself in the middle of nowhere (like a forest) without a functioning lighter, then knowing how to utilise the natural materials at hand could be the difference between life and death. Convenience can leave us dangerously unskilled.
Fourth, it’s just a lot of fun. Convenience is boring.
Once you master the art of fire-making you’ve taken your first step on the road to knowing how to live amongst the land on which you find yourself. But it is only the first very basic step. All the skills you need are a book in themselves. Ray Mears’ Outdoor Survival Handbook(89) and Essential Bushcraft,(90) along with John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook,(91) are both very useful guides, for widely different reasons. Mears speaks eloquently about our need to walk very gently in Nature, to leave as little trace as possible (which is also a good survival skill in countries with animals who want to eat you), whilst still providing you with all the skills you will need. Lofty is much more of a survivalist, which is understandable given his military background, and his focus is on the basic survival of the egocentric self alone. I’m much more in the Mears camp, but there is so much practical knowledge packed into Wiseman’s book that makes it worth having a copy on you if you are ever lucky enough to adventure out of civilisation.
Reading about such almost forgotten skills is one thing, the practice is another. I strongly recommend doing a course close to wherever you live, with a teacher that has a good reputation and a deep regard for Nature. The longer the course you can do the better, as it will give you the experience of practising and honing these skills in all sorts of scenarios and weather conditions. Alternatively, why not organise a local group ofbushcraft enthusiasts, where you meet regularly and teach each other whatever skills you know, or run a series of Freeskilling evenings or weekends on aspects of bushcraft? It really could be an essential and valuable skill in the future.
Another crucial element to moneyless living for the purist is flint knapping, as it solves the question of how we produce cutting implements (which are central to much of bushcraft) in a way that doesn’t require a level of technology that is higher than what is necessary for us to be sustainable in absolute terms.
The art of flint knapping
by Will Lord, flint knapper, teacher
and founder of Beyond 2000BC(92)
Flint knapping is the art of creating tools (such as knives) and projectiles by chipping away at silica based stones such as flint. This skill, tragically almost unheard of now in the global West, was a very important part of the lives of some peoples for over ten thousand years.
Flint, when found, is often encased in a skin called cortex. Once the flint is broken open, either accidentally or intentionally, it will have smooth surfaces and razor sharp edges. It was these edges that were of interest to our ancestors. The colour of the inner surface can range greatly, but black is often deemed best due to its high silicon content.
Keeping this in mind, you will be looking to create a shape in the flint that is suitable for whatever its purpose will be, whilst being safe for the user.
The two ‘tools’ used to knapp flint are the:
• Hard Hammer: these are stones such as quartzite or basalt.
• Soft Hammer: these are made from deer antlers, using the heavy section (that connects to the deer’s head) as the hammer surface. This is called the coronet.
The process begins by using the hard hammer to remove large sections of the flint that aren’t required. This is only achieved with great thought given to the detail of the surface you are going to strike, such as the angle of the flint and the volume you are attempting to detach. Once you can describe the process as controlled, and you have a basic shape, then you will gently abrade the edges to tilt them and produce what we call a platform. This is then struck with the soft hammer, which produces longer and thinner flakes, leaving the edge of the item you are making sharp, as intended.
So why bother with the ancient art of flint knapping in a world full of bustling technology (and knives)? There are many reasons for this, archaeology being one. But many of us are now realising that we need to revert to a more gentle way of living on the Earth, and that we need to look at some of the examples given to us by our ancestors who lived here for such a long time in harmony with the Earth. What better place to start than with an every day skill that is required to make one of our most basic tools and weapons.
As you go through the process of flint knapping the past seems to open up to you, and you gain a sense of personal empowerment similar to the feeling you get when you light a fire through the friction process – that feeling of freedom, that you can survive without the modern world’s products and all the destruction and exploitation that comes with it.