Friday, June 19, 2015

Letter From Europe: Money must go (1982)

From the September 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following article recently appeared in the Luxemburg journal, News Digest.

Those who follow the adventures of the spacewoman Axa in the Sun will remember that when in March she arrived in the City of Artisans the following conversation too place:
Artisan: You're hungry.
Axa: Yes, but I've no money to pay for food.
Artisan: Money? We never use it! Take what you want and eat!
Axa: If your people don't use money they must be happy.
Presumably Axa based this conclusion on her experience of other planets, such as Earth, where money is used and where you do go hungry of you don't have any. In any event she raises an interesting point: would we on Earth also be happy if we didn't use money?

I remember about ten years ago buying a paperback on Euston Station entitles Who Needs Money? The book so intrigued me that I contacted the author who was called, I think, Herbert Lomas. He told me that there was a conspiracy to prevent his idea of abolishing money getting out as his publisher had not printed enough copies of his book and wasn't advertising it properly. I put this down to the paranoia sometimes associated with people who have seen the Light and found the Truth and can't understand why others don't too. After all, the publisher did publish his idea and so did help to spread his idea.

But, conspiracy or no conspiracy, Bertie Lomas at least did not have to suffer the fate of one of his more illustrious precursors as an advocate of abolishing money. Sir Thomas More, the man who inspired the film A Man for All Seasons, had his head chopped off by Henry VIII, not, I agree, for advocating the abolition of money but for remaining loyal to the Pope of Rome, though I'm sure Henry found both these opinions equally obnoxious.

More, who has the unique distinction of having a place both in the Marxist Hall of Fame and as a Catholic Saint on the right hand of God, expressed his ideas in a book entitled (some would say appropriately) Utopia which was first published in Louvain in 1516. It was written in Latin so it can't have had much of a readership at the time, but it has since been translated into many languages and must be the most read book by someone arguing for the abolition of money. In fact since More introduced the word "Utopia" into English (and into most other languages too) a money less society can be regarded as the genuine, original Utopia.

But to return to our question: would we on Earth be happy if we didn't use money? Well, one group who on the face of it would have no reason to be happy would be those whose jobs depend on the existence of money. People who work for banks are an obvious example, but they are not alone. There are also those who work in insurance, in advertising and marketing, those who calculate our wages, pensions, family allowances and all other payments, those who issue, collect or punch holes in tickets, shopkeepers, shop assistants, tax inspectors, accountants, Securicor, salesmen and buyers of all kinds. In fact in an administrative and financial centre like the town of Luxemburg well over half the population must be directly dependent on work connected with the use of money for their livelihood.

Only a minority are actually engaged in the work of producing the useful things or of performing the useful services we need to live. I'm thinking of the street cleaners, the building workers, those in the Arbed factory in Dommeldange and those making lavatory bowls and urinals at Villeroy and Boch — though in More's Utopia even these latter would be out of a job since he suggested that chamber pots should rather be made from the gold which would no longer be needed as money.

I hasten to add that this is not meant as a criticism of those employed in these non-productive functions connected with money (my own job wouldn't be above such a criticism either). I'm merely noting a fact and am fully aware that people have to find work where they can since without a job, they would have no money and without money . . .

But if there's no money, how would you distribute goods and services? "Take what you want and eat", as the Artisan said to Axa. Which seems a good enough to me. After all, you would have thought it unchallengeable that food should be grown to be eaten and not to be stockpiled as butter mountains and wine lakes or worse destroyed — which is what happens today when food is produced to be sold for money.

So the alternative to money would not be a return to barter, nor even equal shares for all, but free access for all to what they needed to live and enjoy life. As in More's Utopia: "When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to one of these shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he's allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind. After all, why shouldn't he?" Because, some would no doubt reply, there'd be chaos, it would be worse than Harrods on the first day of the sales; people would grab more than they needed. Or would they?

I once heard a Hyde Park orator deal with this particular objection to a moneyless society. He pointed out that even today certain things are free, either completely like the air we breathe or at least at the time of use like the water from the taps in our homes, yet you don't see people going around hoarding air or water; we only use water when we need it for drinking or cooking or washing.

I can give you another example. Down in Vittel in the Vosges there are public drinking fountains from which you can draw without paying the same water for which you pay a ridiculous price after it has been put in bottles. The locals use these fountains regularly nut, once again, take any one time only as much as they need. Sir Thomas More realised the reason for this as long ago as 1516: "There's more than enough to go round, so there's no risk of his asking for more than he needs—for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he'll never have to go short of anything?"

But back to Hyde Park. A heckler interjected that if things were freely available there'd be no incentive to work so that the stores could not be kept  continuously stocked with plenty of what people needed; therefore a moneyless system couldn't work. Q.E.D. I can't remember how the orator dealt with this point, but it didn't appear to be a problem in the City of Artisans. There people worked because they liked working:
Axa: You work for fun, then, in this City of Artisans.
Artisan: Stupid to work for anything else! 
Why indeed work for any other reason if you've got the choice? Today most people work at boring jobs in offices and factories not because they like the work (masochism is only a minority deviation) but because . . . they need money.

If you think about it, the abolition of money would mean other changes too and the disappearance of a whole host of problems we have to put up with today. There'd be no inflation, no taxes, no devaluations, no theft, no robbery, no muggings, no strikes, no riots, no blackmail, no corruption, no alimony, no poverty, no wars. But in case his paranoia gets worse, let's leave the last word to poor old Bertie Lomas, on the back cover of his book: "If money is the root of all evil why not abolish it and give mankind a new deal?"
Adam Buick

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