2. The Moneyless Menu
In the traditional culture, villagers provided for their basic needs without money. They had developed skills that enabled them to grow barley at 12,000 feet … People knew how to build houses with their own hands from the materials of the immediate surroundings … Now, suddenly, as part of the international money economy, Ladakhis find themselves ever more dependent – even for vital needs – on a system that is controlled by faraway forces. They are vulnerable to decisions made by people who do not even know that Ladakh exists … For two thousand years in Ladakh, a kilo of barley has been a kilo of barley, but now you cannot be sure of its value.
— Helena Norberg-Hodge(27)
Whenever some of the concepts that make up moneyless living arise in conversation, different things tend to spring into people’s minds depending on a number of factors: their unique situation, philosophical beliefs, what they believe to be an appropriate or sustainable level of technology, their conscious or unconscious addictions to the comforts that come with industrial civilisation, and whether they live in an urban or rural setting. That’s a very positive thing, as a moneyless economy should be diverse, driven by factors such as local needs, land, culture and microclimate. But it’s also important that we can communicate the ideas behind it accurately.
Therefore in this chapter I will outline the big ideas involved in moneyless living, including some perspectives on the concept which I don’t personally subscribe to but which I include to highlight the range of options open to everyone with different philosophical beliefs to mine. In the second part of this book, from chapter five onwards, I will then describe the myriad practical ways in which you can apply these over-arching ideas to as many parts of your life as you like, regardless of your circumstances. It may be that you want to be moneyless just for food, transport or booze for now, taking on other aspects as they become appropriate for you. Or it may be that you want to go the whole hog as soon as you can. Whatever your situation, urban or rural, there will be plenty of options in the following chapters for you to choose from. Some will to a greater degree be useful to an urban setting, others to a rural setting, but almost all will be able to be applied to some extent wherever you find yourself.
WHAT IS A MONEYLESS ECONOMY?
Despite a recent renaissance of interest in alternative economics (due to a dramatic decline in confidence in the dominant economy), the vast majority of which seems to revolve around various types of exchange systems, there seems to be little clarity or unity on what a moneyless economy could look like. From anthropological studies we know quite a bit about how such economies worked in the past and these are critical for informing our future paths, but this is a book that is looking ahead, instead of backwards. We’re evolving beings, and our ways of living ought to evolve to reflect that.
The moneyless economy defined
When looking at how we define the essence of the economies of the future, it is vital that we do not look at it through the same anthropocentric lens the current economic model was built with, one where humans are on top and everything else is considered solely in relation to its usefulness to us. Such a lens is responsible for reducing the Earth’s splendour and bounty – its salmon, its magnificent ancient redwoods, its rolling hills, its generous soil, its gushing rivers, its gloriously wild creatures – and the pageantry of life into things labelled ‘resources’, assigned meaningless price tags with no intrinsic worth.
With this is mind, the following is how I define a moneyless economy that respects all life on Earth – from humans to the microbes in the soil to wild animals – and not solely human life:
The moneyless economy is a model of economy that enables its participants to meet their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs, both collectively and individually, on the basis of materials and services being shared unconditionally (i.e. no explicit/ formal exchange). Ideally (but not necessarily) these materials would be procured within walking distance of the people who benefit from them. Such an economy would be carried out in a way that considers the needs of all life (and future generations of life) in that geographical region, giving equal consideration to all, and seeing it as an interdependent whole whose overall health is inextricably linked to that of its component parts, and vice versa.
A pure moneyless economy, in my definition, is the meeting point of the gift economy and the 100% local economy, and I believe that the physical and spiritual benefits of combining both are huge. Until the day that such an economy is either desirable or possible for you, just apply the aspects of it that work for you and your unique situation, keeping one eye on the converging crises that we will all have to face, together.