The Money-less Man

The Money-less Man

Have you read this book?  The Money-Less Man is written by Mark Boyle, who went for a year without spending a cent.  I found his book both entertaining and inspiring.  I was particularly interested in the section at the start where he talks about what’s wrong with our current system of money and why it would be better if we didn’t subscribe to it.

The example I found easiest to understand was this:

“Imagine there is only one bank.  Mr Smith, who up to now has kept his money under the bed, decides to deposit his life savings, 100 shells [the currency] in the bank.  Naturally, the bank wants to make a profit, so decides to lend out a proportion of Mr Smith’s shells, let’s say 90 of them, keeping ten in their coffers in case Mr Smith wants to make a small withdrawal.  Another gentleman, Mr Jones, needs a loan.  He goes to the bank and is delighted to be given Mr Smith’s 90 shells, which he’ll eventually have to pay back with interest.  Mr Jones takes the shells and elects to spend them on bread, bought from Mrs Baker.  At the close of the day, Mrs Baker takes her newly-acquired 90 shells to the bank.  Do you see what’s happened?  Originally, Mr Smith deposited 100 shells in the bank.  Now, in addition to Mr Smith’s 100 shells, the bank has Mrs Baker’s 90 shells.  100 shells has become 190.  Money has been created.  What’s more, the bank can now lend out a proportion of Mrs Baker’s deposit!  The process can start again.

“Of course, the physical number of shells hasn’t changed.  If both Mr Smith and Mrs Brown wanted their shells back at the same time, the bank would be in a fix.  However, this rarely happens, and if it did, the bank would have shells from other depositors to use.  The problems start when the bank lends out 90% of all their depositors’ shells.  The result is that of all the shells in all the bank accounts of this fictional world, only 10% exist!  If all the depositors wanted more than 10% of the total amount of shells at the same time, the bank would collapse… and people would realise that the bank was creating imaginary money… Recent bank crises…show the inherent instability that comes from basing our financial system on an imaginary resource.”

As Mark Boyle points out, we are using money as a tool which enables us to borrow from the future.  He also points out that one of the big rules of finance and economy is that you don’t sell off your capital to create income.  You use your capital to generate income.  But we are doing the opposite right now – using up the world’s resources in a non-sustainable way, while we should be putting them to good use to ensure our future security.

Almost every dollar that we spend comes with some kind of associated carbon footprint.  It’s much better to pay for a service (such as a massage) than than for a thing which needs to be created, using precious resources.  But even the services usually come with a footprint too.  For example, the towels you lie on are usually washed after only one use, the room may be heated to a particularly high temperature, and special oils have been purchased (usually from afar) to massage into your skin.  I’m not saying you should never have a massage.  What I am saying is that by spending money, we are generally causing a lot of consumption to happen on our behalf, and it’s worth being mindful of that.

I’ve been tempted for years to try living without money, and am mighty impressed that Mark Boyle has managed to do it for a whole year.  I can’t see myself going that route – I think I’m just not “hard core” enough.  But the idea intrigues me nonetheless.

The thing I like most about the book is Mark Boyle’s absolute belief that when you take money out of the equation, we all become happier and more giving.  Money makes us meaner, makes us look after our own back rather than those around us.  He believes that it’s far better to simply give, and to trust that you will receive in turn, not necessarily from the same person you gave to, though that may happen.

Once I would have found this very airy-fairy and unreliable, however, I have a couple of neighbours who have been very generous to me.  They never arrived without something in their hands to give me, and at every opportunity they offered me something from their garden, the use of their tools, a meal when I was lonely and so on.  The result is that when I dropped in on them, I’d take something from my pantry, and when I was cooking I’d make a bit extra knowing they’ll enjoy it.  We lost track of any score.  The net result is a neighbourly friendship where I looked for opportunities to give as much as I possibly can, and I received bountifully.  I noticed this good influence encouraged me to be more giving with others around me, and I managed to extend the circle of people to whom I gave.  Some of them started giving to me, too.  Eventually I felt like I was part of a network where I could ask my neighbours to help me when I needed it, and this, Mark Boyle points out, is true security.  Being surrounded by a network of people who will look out for you is far better security than any amount of money in the bank.  When we pay for every transaction, there’s no need to give anything more.  It’s all over; there’s no bond, no tie, no building of relationships, and no accountability.

So how did Mark live for a year without money?  He describes it in his book.  It entails living in a caravan on land owned by someone else in exchange for some labour; lots of foraging for food, both in the wild and in the bins out the back of shops, and what sounded to me like a bloody freezing winter.  I’ve read reviews in which some people say he’s sponging off the rest of us, but I don’t see it like that.  I reckon good on him for having the courage to live according to his principles, and as a result he’s managed to use a lot less than the rest of us, recycle a hell of a lot of waste (especially food waste), and build a far better community than I could imagine being part of.  It’s well worth the read, and will certainly get you thinking about money, your relationship to it, and how you live with it.

Mark has set up a website called Just For The Love Of It, and the proceeds from his book will not go into his pocket – they’re being used to set up a “freeconomy community” – a piece of land which will be a resource for people who want to learn to live without money: a place to swap skills, borrow tools and meet like-minded people.  The website is a virtual space in which to do the same.

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