Can we live without money? Colin Turner believes so, and after reading his book, I’m beginning to see he has a point
As with all things that threaten the status quo (such as protests, ideas or Jeremy Corbyn), a left-field political novel tends to attract unrelentingly damning put-downs of the author’s ‘unrealistic’ or ‘airy-fairy’ ideas. When it comes to discussing alternative economics, the media unashamedly discusses such things with relenting cynicism and condescension, stigmatising new ideas and outwardly speaking down on progressive movements, all because of the unbreakable bond between the media and the interests of corporations such as BSkyB.
A close friend of mine happens to write for a small regional paper and, on telling of the way the paper works he claims that the motto his boss uses more often than not is ‘Cash is King’, (i.e., that stories need to fit around advertisements). It also goes without saying that ‘Cash is King’ not just when it comes to the inner workings of a regional newspaper, but when matters concern the world economy and modern civilisation as we know it.
Money is defined by Google as a ‘current medium of exchange in the form of coins or banknotes’, which simplifies things just a pinch.
When we invented money, we invented debt. Which means most of us worry about money. When we began using precious silvers to trade, it was controlled by those in power. The production of money is controlled today by the banks with techniques such as quantitative easing. We live in a militarised market-based economy that protects the wealthy, and the purpose of this book’s protagonist, Karl Drayton (a subtle shout-out to Marx), is to render the notion of monetary wealth ‘obsolete’.
Reading Turner’s book got me thinking things like ‘would we be better off trading with livestock or grains?’ And, after some thorough thought about the morality of money I’m of the opinion that, it is not money that is inherently unjust (in theory at least, it seems a better medium of exchange than livestock, given that more people could partake in exchanges) but the attitudes that are promoted by our economic systems and the way it is used. Inequality existed before money, and ridding the world of money would not rid us of inequality. Albeit money is a tool, I believe that if we fundamentally change our ideas of/our relationship with money, it would serve us well. Capitalism (a politico-economic model based on the accumulation of capital) encourages greed and selfish behaviour. It also promotes self-interest at the expense of community and this, I believe, is what Colin Turner is getting at. Though you can eradicate money, inequality will not disappear.
Two ways I’d suggest to making the world a better place without completely abolishing the monetary system would be to radically redistribute the money and resources that are currently flowing through markets, and to bring all banks into public ownership. You could of course counter this with, ‘But there will still be inequality’. If money and resources were distributed fairly amongst people, we wouldn’t wish to rid ourselves of it, proving it could be used to our collective advantage. Money itself is not the main issue; but the system within which it forms the lifeblood. If money is the tool, it is the unequal economic systems (mercantilism/feudalism/capitalism) that are the self-interested directors of our planet’s diminishing health. A permaculture-esque utopia where we live off the land, do not live for profit but for community, have free food and utilities and encourage the arts, could be attained even with no money or a fair distribution of it.
It is an easy task to locate the importance of Turner’s book because it is the purest example of a reaction to the position we are in as a species. You can tell that Turner is very in tune with current affairs and holds a pretty in-depth understanding of how things operate. The story is interspersed with fictional news stories, giving it a real apocalyptic feel. He talks to people clearly influenced (even noting this at the end of the book) by whistleblowers like Assange and Snowden, as well as movements like Occupy Wall Street and Zeitgeist (labelled by Turner in the book as the Truth Movement).
The story follows a fictional version of Colin Tuner, Karl Drayton, who is a regular Irish bloke who gives up smoking, then realises that he could give up money too. He mentions he becomes vegan (I assume Turner is a vegan too) and Karl basically has an awakening to the fact that his life is dull and the way money is being used keeps inequality afloat, while sending the planet into a dire state. There is much on the ability that social media has to connect people across the globe, which in essence shapes today’s activism. Part of me wants to say that this could have been a political manifesto instead of a novel, which I guess it is in the form of the Free World Charter. Karl’s idea of a moneyless system spreads oddly fast, from Iceland and then across the world, devolving myriad nation-states from the market system. This process continues till the book’s final chapter, where the US President converts the country to what Karl calls an Open Economy (OE) with scenes reminiscent of one of Star Wars’ rebel alliance victory carnivals.
There is a period which Karl spends in a Chinese prison cell, and this touches upon some very interesting themes. One theme in particular is the US-China relationship and the ‘oh we’re not that bad, look at China’ ideology. In a post-release video, Karl says that ‘the only difference between China and America is that China are honest about it’, and this is something the philosopher Slavoj Žižek discusses in an article published in the Guardian (‘How WikiLeaks opened our eyes to the illusion of freedom’). It also highlights the connection between abolishing money and establishing socialism. How? Money ignores borders. People today cannot. In a similar outlook to Trotsky’s, in order to abolish money a worldwide movement is imperative. One cannot be a Stalinist if trying to abolish money.
Another key point raised with regard to money is the amount of democracy it has. We are bound to it, all decisions are pretty dependent on it, our upbringings and our lives are shaped by it. It is the driving force of modern history. An argument of Turner that I find maybe the most enthralling is the liberating potential of abolishing the monetary system. Imagine if you had no money issues? This is something I argue will be best dealt with by redistribution as opposed to abolishment, and brings us back to the old Marxist question of ‘Revolution or Reform?’
The line from the book that sums up the inspiration behind it, at least to my eyes, is ‘All heaven is gonna break loose, once we release control of the people’. This book is worth a read because it has the capacity to make us question the power that has been given to our species’ most popular medium of exchange, as well as the authority of those that control and enforce the power structures defending it.