In a recent interview about the digital currency Bitcoin, Stephen Colbert asked Adam Davidson of NPR's Planet Money about the value of money, sparking the response 'The problem with thinking too much about these questions is you start thinking, wait, what is money?'
But after witnessing or experiencing recent economic collapse in various countries worldwide, and with the growing realisation that bankers can wreak havoc in our daily lives and not even be held accountable for their actions, people are starting to question the value of money and the power it holds over our lives, This is leading to a growing change in the way we view the role of currency in UK society.
Of course, the value of money is set. Well, it changes, but it also stays the same. Or does it? Wages increase, renting gets more expensive, benefits go down, house prices go up, unemployment rates rise, food prices increase, but none of these things seem to correlate with each other. More than ever before, people are recognising the instability of the monetary system, and starting to look for a way out of this inherently unsustainable system.
In fact, the main problem with the UK economy is that it is so unsustainable. As Mark Boyle, who lived without money for three years, explains in his book The Moneyless Manifesto, the link between the word 'economy' and 'finance' is actually a spurious one. Boyle explains that the word 'economy' comes from a Greek word meaning 'household management', so:
'The next time someone tells you that protecting a woodland is not economically viable, remind them that they really mean it's not financially viable. In terms of managing a 'household' that has fewer trees by the minute, protecting them is probably economically crucial.'
Therefore, what is in our best economic interests does not necessarily correlate with what is in our best interests for survival. Does that seem a little insane to you?
Boyle is a former business graduate who went from being a successful consumer-moneymaker to living without money for three years. It is this unique position that allows him to make some astute observations about the current monetary system and the way we live. Boyle is not alone in wanting to take the emphasis of society away from currency, and move it towards community instead in 2007 he founded The Freeconomy Community, a popular website where local strangers arrange to share tools and skills. The sharing economy and collaborative consumption are on the rise across the world, and there has been a surge in recent years of pastimes like foraging for food, guerrilla gardening, skipping, woodworking, baking, a revival of DIY crafts such as knitting, sewing, crocheting, even looming to make the yarn, using cloth nappies on babies, and so on. People have been taking these small steps towards self-sufficiency for some time now, and due to its non-consumer and time consuming nature many money experts have been baffled by it.
But it's not accurate to call it self-sufficiency, Boyle says. That would be an illusion. Instead, he employs the term 'co-sufficiency', since people and nature and interdependent, and so too is the financial system, which we wrongly believe gives us 'financial independence'. In reality, we have to rely on strangers who live thousands of miles away to grow our food, make our clothes, provide us with cleaning products, furniture, toys, and so on. Would you call that independence?
The language of money is a powerful thing, but the illusions surrounding it may be slowly unravelling.
Land reform is also central to the issues of sustainability and economy in Britain, and discussions about it are starting to take place. Did you know that the Royal Family owns 677,000 acres of land, and Ministry of Defence owns 750,000 acres? A small amount of it is used for growing food, but most of it just sits around being owned by the powers that be, looking regal. Presumably.
What baffles the marketing zealots even more is the fact that things like knitting, foraging, and using cloth nappies, which were once the only option for clothing and feeding yourself, stopped being necessities as soon as new 'conveniences' appeared to take their place. So why are so many people going back to these supposedly difficult, inconvenient options?
Could it be that the alternative of working long hours and having a poor work-life balance so that you can afford to buy they goods is actually the much more inconvenient option?
Is the promise of 'the good life' enough to drive you to live without money?
The Moneyless Manifesto does not hold all the answers for founding a sustainable economy, and nor does it claim to. What it does do is destroy the illusion that we need money to survive. It is a rare book in that it looks at what a moneyless society might look like, why anyone would want to make such a transition from the consumer-worker cycle to one of moneyless living, and all from the point of view of someone who has seen through the money illusion that most of us are still slaves to. Most importantly, this manifesto offers a myriad of small steps that any individual can take to embrace moneyless living, which gives the worker-consumer a feeling of empowerment and purpose.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to finish knitting that jumper.