In this short essay, I pose the question: Is there a better alternative to our age-old money system?
The Illusion of Money
By Fabiana Meredith
Imagine you wake up one morning and discover all of your money is gone! Bills in your wallet have mysteriously disappeared. Your bank accounts have been wiped out. Your debit and credit cards no longer work. Stock piles of pocket change have evaporated into thin air! Eventually you learn you are not alone. This has happened to everyone!
The world goes into panic mode! Basic survival becomes evident in the minds of everyone and chaos ensues until people are able to reorganize themselves.
If you have ever experienced an electrical power outage, you realize quickly how much of your life depends on having electricity. The electrical power commodity is vital in the function of our modern lives, yet the grid is fragile and can be knocked out for days on end. In those moments you realize how much of your life depends on this fragile system.
Money is no different. Money, the accumulation and exchange of it, influences everyone’s actions each day in direct and indirect ways. Think of all of the ways money influences your daily life.
Because the concept of money has been engrained into our minds since birth, it is hard to imagine any other way. It is like a necessary evil that has powerful abilities to corrupt the human race. We need it in order to survive in the modern world, but the unwritten rules that set the parameters for the current money system make it all too easy for people to become enslaved, unhappy, and partake in immoral behavior for the sake of a piece of paper.
Just like all of the brilliant minds of the past who went against mainstream thought and never gave up to discover how to make fire and wheels, that the Earth was round instead of flat, how to make light bulbs, harness electricity, transport people and goods by land, water, and air, we can shift people’s minds to realize there is a better alternative to the current money system. The good news is we are in an era of knowledge and wisdom, know-how, technology and innovation that can create a better alternative to the current (soon-to-be outdated) money system, a new system to replace the old money system, the same way money replaced the old bartering system.
In order to understand there exists a better way, one must first understand what money represents.
The Lumberjack, the Butcher, and the Plumber
Take yourself back to the days before there was money, and imagine you are living in an era where the way to survive is thru bartering goods. Imagine a community where people are concerned with basic necessities like wood to burn for heat, meat to nourish their bodies, and running water for drinking, bathing, and washing clothes. Within a bartering system, a lumberjack, a butcher, and a plumber are able to exchange their goods and services with one another in order to survive as long as each of them has a necessity for each other’s goods.
Let’s say the lumberjack needs his pipes fixed, but the plumber does not need wood, instead the plumber needs meat. As long as the butcher needs wood, the lumberjack can exchange his wood for the butcher’s meat, then give the plumber meat in exchange for fixing his pipes.
As P. Gardner Goldsmith describes in his essay The Economic Fantasy of “Star Trek,”
“This becomes complicated when myriad interests, needs, skills, and products begin to come into play. Therefore, man, in his striving to maximize convenience, gradually evolved a method to facilitate exchange: money.”(1)
The Concept of Money Seen through the Eyes of an Eighteen-Year-Old Mall Employee
When I was eighteen years old, I worked in a retail store in the mall that sold exercise equipment. On slow days, I would observe all of the random mall employees that worked their specific jobs in order for the mall to function properly. Every once in a while, I would see the mall’s general manager walk by in his thousand-dollar suit peeking in at each store making sure they were clean and presentable to his liking. Multiple times a day, I would see the mall janitors pushing their cleaning carts as they walked around collecting trash and mopping up spills. The mall employees we saw most often were mall security. They always walked in pairs and paid visits to each store. Conversations were mostly small-talk, but sometimes included updates regarding recent shoplifting incidents or dishonest employees taking money from their tills.
At eighteen years old, I remember making these observations and thinking how arbitrary our money system is, knowing each one of us was getting paid a different amount of money to do our jobs. And for some employees who needed more money, they felt that stealing it was sometimes okay.
All of us performed different tasks in order to earn our paychecks, expending energy in different ways, but the ones who got paid the least were probably expending the most energy doing back-breaking work to ensure the toilets were clean for the rest of us. The one who got paid the most that afforded him a thousand-dollar suit for each day of the week probably expended the same amount of energy as the janitors, but in a different way.
As I observed the world go round, I imagined the one thing on everyone’s mind was money as if it were the biggest dictator of all. It was as if people were conditioned to think their job is first “to make money,” second “to help people.” Most companies reward their employees based upon how much money they helped bring into the company instead of how many people they helped. People’s tendency is to justify something as good if it makes money. But when you look at a piece of paper, the only thing that gives it value is everyone agreeing that it is worth the number of units the piece of paper has printed on it. The value of money is no more than a mental perception.
As arbitrary as money is, it has been the most successful system of all imaginable alternatives to replace the old bartering system as a system of exchange.
“Money allows all participants to employ a universally recognized medium of exchange. No longer will you have to ﬁnd a third or fourth or ﬁfth party to trade your lumber to in order to get goods from the farmer. You can use money. You can hold it, spend it, and even lend it for a return sometime in the future. The ﬂexibility of money, with its ability to let disparate persons work in harmony, is one of the most glorious developments in the history of mankind.” P. Gardner Goldsmith(1)
Even though money has been proven to be the dominating currency system in the minds of human beings for thousands of years, I contend there is a better way that more accurately represents a fairness of people doing work for each other, that could also utilize the human’s natural tendency to be greedy in a way that produces good for everyone. At eighteen years old, I whole-heartedly believed the viable alternative currency system is out there, we just needed to discover it.
After leaving my mall job, I decided to go to college. Taking a year off from school after graduating high school was fun, but it was time to move my life forward. I spent the next five years attending college and playing collegiate soccer. I studied whatever I found interesting and played soccer because it was what I loved to do. I took classes in math, psychology, religious studies, philosophy, and Spanish. In my third year of college, I had to declare a major so I picked whatever I had the most credits in — Spanish and Physics — and graduated towards the top of my class.
Immediately after graduating college I became a mom. I spent the next eight years as a stay-at-home mom and embarked upon the biggest learning experience of my life raising future adults from birth. Observing children grow reaffirmed my gut feeling that there is a better alternative to the age-old money system. Children function without money, but when it is introduced into their world-view, their values change. They let go of their health, their happiness diminishes, and their greed takes over in negative ways. They become enslaved to the biggest dictator of all, but feel stuck in the vicious cycle of a nasty game called, “The Money Game,” a game that lasts until the day we die.
Everyone who participates in society partakes in the money game in some way, shape, or form. The game is virtually unavoidable and encourages people to make as much money as possible in their “working years” so that one day they can “retire” — an outrageously unique concept to a system that inaccurately represents work itself. When a body stops working, it will stop functioning. Work is vitally important for surviving a long, healthy life. When work is looked at for what it truly is, the concept of retirement then becomes non-existent in a person’s lifetime and only occurs when the person passes away.
Work — as defined in Physics
Work as defined in Physics states that a force must act upon an object in order to cause the object to move.(2) The basic equation for work is: W=F(d), work equals the force on the object multiplied by the distance the object moved. When you move your body, you are doing work. When you provide a service or product to your community, you are doing work. When you conceptualize an idea, you are doing work.
Time and Space
Another instrumental foundation to physics is time and space and their inseparability. If there is time, there is space. If there is space, there is time. Other things that are inseparable are:
Space and matter
Matter and energy
Energy and time
Time and Energy
Your time and your energy are inseparable and they are what give your work, and your life, value. To ascribe an arbitrary number to your time and energy, as we do in the money game, is an inaccurate representation of what work really is.
Trading Your Time and Energy
Money represents trading your time for pieces of paper, or digits in a computer, or something else of value (a gold nugget, for instance). But it is more than trading your time, it also includes trading your energy — two variables as inseparable as time and space. What gives your time value is the energy associated with your time that results in the quality of the service or product you deliver.
Instead of trading something that for thousands of years has poorly and inaccurately represented something else, why not eliminate the malicious middle-man, the arbitrary dollar, and trade the exact substance money is supposed to represent — the energy you output to do a task — which can also be measured and ascribed a unit that people can acquire, save, spend now or later, lend, and exchange.
In the modern times of technology we currently live in, such devices and accounting systems already exist, therefore all that is left to do is tie the already existing technology together and offer it to the world.
Since you would accumulate units by just doing something, the natural tendency would be to do what you love to do. When you do what you love to do, you live a happy, fulfilling life which has the power to reduce stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and delinquency.
Greed to have more will result in people creatively finding ways to accumulate more units, which could result in taking better care of our bodies and souls in order to be as productive as possible for an entire lifetime. Helping yourself and helping others will be considered equal to accumulating units.
Observe the history, ascents and descents of money, the history of humanity, as well as the path technology is going and ask yourself if you believe an alternative energy based trading system could happen. I believe it is inevitable to happen.
(1) Goldsmith, P.Gardner, (2004). The Economic Fantasy of “Star Trek.” The Freeman — Ideas on Liberty, December 2004 pgs 8–10.
(2) Henderson, Tom, “Definition and Mathematics of Work” The Physics Classroom. Web. 09 May 2014. http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/energy/u5l1a.cfm