We would all be in a better, moneyless society tomorrow if everyone understood how and why it works, but the truth is that it's a very difficult idea to convince people. So why is that? As someone who has been trying to sell this idea to people for about five years now, I've had plenty of time to think about this question, and this article is what I've come up with so far.
If selling this idea to people is the main obstacle to making it happen, then we really need to understand why before we can progress.
A problem of two halves
Convincing someone about the potential of a money-free future is basically a two-part exercise. First, you have to convince them of the benefits, then you have to convince them of the feasibility. The benefits are many and most reasonable people will have no trouble accepting them: better quality of life for all, less inequality, poverty, crime, greed, corruption, pollution and waste; greater health, education, trust, respect, awareness, sustainability, community values, technological advances, etc. Most people want these things, so our problem is not really about convincing them of the benefits – it's convincing them of the feasibility. How is a money-less society possible?
I have come to realize that the reason it's so difficult to grasp is that it requires the simultaneous suspension and reevaluation of several beliefs that are fundamental to how we perceive the world.
In order to convince someone, we have to first demonstrate the misconception of those beliefs, and then supplant them with ones closer to their true origins. Of course, it's a big task of anyone in the bustle of their busy lives to devote time and energy to this kind of mental juggling, but if they apply themselves a little, then, like a wooden puzzle, the pieces will start to slot together.
And once they solve it, there's no going back.
The parts of the puzzle: Imagining a world without money usually raises the following objections immediately, each of which is linked to a particular lifelong held belief (in brackets):
a) No-one would do anything (money motivates people)
b) People would take advantage (greed is human nature)
c) I will lose everything I have (fear of loss, ownership)
d) Chaos and violence would ensue (society requires control)
e) Society would stagnate or regress (markets fuel progress)
The good news is that all of these objections can be overturned quite easily using just plain common sense and basic observations. There's no proof required, but before someone can arrive at the same conclusion as you – that a money-less society is possible – they need to simultaneously suspend and reevaluate all those beliefs.
Here's a run down through all the main arguments and beliefs, and their (I believe) appropriate responses:
a) No-one would do anything (money motivates people): People are motivated by money, yes. It is perhaps the biggest motivator of people, but the only reason for that is because we need money to live. It's linked to survival – our most fundamental instinct. This is what gives it such power.
There are, of course, many other human motivators: the desire to love and be loved, to meet people, to have children, to help others, to improve ourselves and our surroundings, to look good, to feel good, to learn, to challenge ourselves, to express ourselves, to innovate, to demonstrate our skills, etc. Every person alive is motivated by these desires to some degree. Because, after survival, these desires are what give our lives value and meaning.
So if we didn't need money to survive, and society could be better without money, then it follows that any or all of these desires would become our primary motivators. Since technology can now make the basic business of survival incredibly easy for us, all we would have to do – rather than working and earning – is to spend just a little time serving our community to ensure that the system works for everybody, then spend the rest of our time doing whatever it is that makes us happy.
Of course, this doesn't mean we all have to go and live in the forest and eat berries! If technology was not limited by a market system and peoples' desire to help, innovate and improve became their prime motivators, then our technology could be completely maximized to take in almost all jobs that no-one wants to do, and create a highly advanced culture.
b) People would take advantage (greed is human nature): Greed is not human nature – it is simply the desire to stockpile something scarce, which you need to live. Like a squirrel collecting nuts, greed makes good sense – because we don't know what the future will bring. In a monetary world, the greatest scarcity is money itself, so it makes sense to accumulate it, and, since there is no upper limit to the money and property you can have, there's no reason to stop accumulating it.
But if society can work better without money and everyone has access to everything they need, then there would be no point in stockpiling anything in large quantities. Who wants a basement full of coffee, cornflakes or tomatoes when all these things are freely available at any time?
For the first time in history, we have the technology to eradicate scarcity and create an abundance of necessities for all humans on Earth with minimal physical effort. The market system is the only thing that prevents this from happening, as it intrinsically requires scarcity to perpetuate itself.
c) I will lose everything I have (fear of loss, ownership): Any marketing guru will tell you that the most influential factor of human decision-making is the fear of loss – even more so than the desire to gain. So arguing what someone will gain living in a moneyless society versus losing their exclusive property rights probably isn't going to convince them, as the fear of loss will be overriding. It is better to just tackle the whole notion of ownership altogether.
We all need privacy and a certain amount of exclusivity, right? Who wants to share their toothbrush, or have strangers walking around their home, for example? Our normalized belief tells us that we define who uses what through something called 'ownership'. Our laws define and protect ownership, with the threat of punishment to those who disobey (ie. stealing).
But where does this concept of ownership come from in the first place? Did we own nothing before someone wrote the law? Of course we did, but in our early egalitarian days it was more like moral or logical entitlement. Moral, as in, we implicitly deserved entitlement to an object, or logical, as in, it made logical sense for it to belong to us. The point is that most things in the community belonged to no-one. Whatever items within the community that were not morally or logically entitled to anyone were used and shared by all.
So without ownership, what stops people from stealing? What actually stops people from stealing from each other is that it is anti-social, disrespectful and invasive, and people who do so are liable to become deeply unpopular. This social incentive for certain behavior is far stronger than any rule could ever be, as it is dictated by how we feel about ourselves and our position in society. Yet we commonly mistake the rule of law as being the only thing that governs this behavior.
If we understand that respect, privacy and exclusivity are, in fact, already hard-wired into our social psyche – not dictated by external controlling forces – then we can begin to move beyond the traditional inefficient limits of ownership and with it, any fear of loss.
d) Chaos and violence would ensue (society requires control): To address this belief, it's worth first pointing out that our world under its current system is already rife with crime and violence, so any argument for a moneyless society must be measured against that standard for comparison. Also, no-one is suggesting that a free world would be perfect – just a whole lot better.
Most crime and violence is driven by desperation through lack of basic requirements for living, ie. theft, armed robbery, burglary, etc. Almost all other crimes can be seen as the secondary effects of poor upbringing. ie. where parents are poor, over-worked, unemployed, frustrated, depressed or disillusioned, etc. – all factors that can contribute to an unstable and unloving environment for children, who may later turn to crime as a result of low self esteem or maladjustment.
If society can work better without money, then most of the reasons and contributing causes of anti-social behaviour will no longer exist. Society will automatically be more cooperative and inclusive, and everyone will have free access to good food, housing, education and technology. It won't be perfect or eliminate all crime, but if everyone has a good quality of life and free access, then crime will have little or no incentive.
e) Society would stagnate or regress (markets fuel progress): Many economists or entrepreneurs cite economic incentive and competition as good for progress. But since the money system is everywhere, people who make this claim really have nothing to compare it with, so are drawing a false conclusion. Are we really to believe that all innovators, inventors and artists will put down their tools the moment someone calls time on money? Obviously not, since we all know so many creative people that never achieve financial success, it shows us that they are not driven by money, but rather by their passions and desire to innovate.
We have already seen the rise of the Open-Source movement and how large scale innovative projects are becoming the optimum means of production without a monetary incentive. Many computer programs like Linux, Chrome and Android have been developed freely by enthusiasts in their spare time. The computer industry has led the way on this, but of course, there is no reason why 'open source thinking' cannot be applied in agriculture, crafts, construction or education, etc.
History has shown that, in general, our greatest innovators and artists have come from privileged backgrounds. Does that mean that they were smarter? Of course not. It means that they had a comfortable upbringing, access to good food and education, and had the luxury of time – not labouring for their keep – but spending it on developing their ideas and skills instead.
If society can work better without money, then all potential young Einsteins and Mozarts will have the optimal opportunity to exercise and advance their talents.
Now allow to simmer...For most people, taking all this new information on board is quite a mental feat, and in my experience, it usually takes some time – maybe some weeks – for the information to filter through the subconscious and back into the conscious mind.
This is why I believe it's very important not to labour the point. You may be very excited and enthusiastic about a moneyless world, which is great, but remember most people won't get this straight away, so don't expect them to. If you feel like you are not getting through, you may end up getting frustrated and angry, possibly creating a negative association for your ideas with them. The best thing you can do is give them all this information in your own, friendly way, and let them think about it later themselves.