Thursday, 6 May 2010

Why Do We Continue to Use Money?

My post about capitalism and greed got the ole wheels a'churnin'.

Imagine with me for a moment.

Imagine a society where cash didn't exist (a constant theme of many a sci-fi novel). Each family is guaranteed a residence, adjusted as needed to the size of the family unit. Your energy/water and nutritional needs are guaranteed as well. Basic conveniences (standard appliances) are included. I'm not advocating luddite 18th century living.

Your only requirement after your education is complete is to work 20 hours a week, two ten hour days. The male could choose Mon-Tues, the female (or other partner) could choose Wed-Thurs and the whole family unit has Fri-Sun off together. You could still specialize in a career, or choose to do general labour or change careers throughout your life. Everyone that is able contributes. Those that are not are cared for.

Money is no longer a motivator (or a source of stress). Quality of life motivates you. You try to do what makes you happy. You can still be a doctor, an engineer, a construction worker, or a lawn-mower at a golf course. Heck you be any of those at any time. The society I envision allows you to choose how you contribute. When you get bored/frustrated/dis-enfranchised at your current career, change! A happy, motivated state employee is a productive state employee.

All the social problems associated with low-income go away. All the social problems associated with debt and fiscal management go away. Society's problems are more in tune with genuine supply-and-demand (food, manufacturing supplies etc.) rather than esoteric fiscal issues that no one truly understands.

Such a society requires a central governing structure (communism! communism! communism!) that records each citizens base allocations of needs and luxuries and work performed. I can hear the squeals about lack of privacy and freedom already.

The government knows these details already (T4 slip and SIN anyone?) as well as your private sector employer and your bank. And I would argue in our society we have less freedom because of capitalism. So those arguments are illusionary.

Like many others I commute long distances to work each day. I do so not because I like to drive, but because of economics. Simply put, I cannot afford to live where I work, and vice versa. If pay was not a factor, I would take a job in Cambridge immediately. I'd start right now, this instant. But due to standard-of-living calculations that employers use when allocating salary, in the current environment any job in waterloo region involves a substantial pay cut. Most of you have heard me state this before. It is a common lament of mine.

And if I really had freedom of choice, I would quit my current career and become an electrician. But I cannot. To do so requires re-education and a long apprenticeship with no replacement salary. To make this change means that we would could no longer pay the bills and keep our home.

Money drives my decisions. What choices I make in my career affect how I live. I work to earn a living, I do not live to work. Oftentimes it is hard to make that distinction. And so when I look back I can see how I got to where I am, but I do not see any acceptable way out that does not risk the security of my wife and children.

On a social scale this need for income drives us and puts us in the fiscal and environmental mess we are in now. From a climate impact perspective, the collective actions of our individual decisions damages the environment around us. To fix this requires not just will, but fiscal ability. The will may be there, but the fiscal responsibilities hinder any acting on that will. Harper is not entirely incorrect about worrying about the economy when acting on climate change. He just ignors that inaction on the latter will also impact the former. It is damned hard to grow wheat in a desert. But income as an individual and a country's total GDP is the sole governing factor of all our lives. Look at Greece. The country is mired in debt due to poor governing and individuals shirking their responsibility to pay their income taxes. Result, over 11 million people are at risk over lack of money. Not food, water or housing. Money.

As an individual I also find myself at odds with society's desire to own, to possess. Honestly, I just want to keep and maintain what I have. A home, a family and the safety and security we have built to maintain those. While I wouldn't mind a Porsche, a cottage and a larger home, I also admit I do not need those tings and expend no effort in achieving them. I want time and freedom to try other things.

A cashless society that guarantees my physical security, would meet all my needs while also giving me the freedom that I really crave.

What would kill any attempt to move in this direction is trying to determine what standard-of-living we would be comfortable enforcing as a maximum. Such a society would have more trouble progressing at the rapid pace we have seen. Or not, such a society could still rape the earth of all its resources as an exercise of collective will.

But I'd rather believe that such a society would focus more on collective benefit rather than the individual pursuits we see now.


Ken Breadner said...

Would you PLEASE stop writing my mind. 8-)
What would stop this vision in its tracks is the current crop of haves raising bloody murder. There is this widespread perception that shelter, which last I looked was a pretty basic human need, must be earned. Thing is, under your system, every able-bodied person would contribute.
Lots to work out, though. For instance, what if nobody wants to be a "sanitation engineer" this week? Should the people who do the dirty jobs get rewarded, and if so, with what, since money's gone?

Catelli said...

Re: Undesired Jobs
Incentives could be reduced work hours or increased vacation time, or both.

Keep in mind that you still have to be qualified for education based jobs. There would also have to be some sort of quote (we don't need 20 million medical doctors for instance) so as jobs fill up, available positions would be reduced. That may impact mobility, but I also envision a general "labour force" that does odd jobs as projects come up. New high-speed rail line? Use the general labour force. Need a sanitation pond cleared, use the general labour force.

As a last resort, we could resurrect the chain gang concept. Crime will be reduced not eliminated. And since we can't collect fines, our only other option is community service, like cleaning the sewers.

Catelli said...


ADHR said...

It sounds good. But centrally planned economies, in practice, don't work. There's just too many variables to manage, even with a large and well-structured bureaucracy. A self-managing system -- a market -- is a more effective mechanism.

Catelli said...

Agreed. I've been mulling this over for quite a while actually. Running this all out of Ottawa would be horribly inefficient.

My rough outline involves doing away with provincial governments. At the Federal level the parameters of how the system functions are outlined (hours per week, vacation time, safety standards, environmental standards, etc.) At regional/municipal level management councils would directly over-see the needs/projects and help fill match jobs to applicants. It is my hope that this system would be flexible and would reallocate resources as different projects arose. For instance, if a particular region hit a sort of stability and needed more resources to accommodate leisure time activities, they would adjust the pool accordingly.

The federal level would maintain an electronic work bank that the regions would use to facilitate labour mobility. Some communities would be organized around agriculture, others around manufacturing, others mixed. But the communities would self-structure around local needs and resources.

I might flesh this out some more in further posts (or not as the whimsy strikes me). But a critical component of this structure is that the only bankable resource is time. There would be no credit or chit type system as that just would be another form of money. It would need to stay away from a system that allows a hoarding or trading of markers.

While such societies have existed on a small scale, it has never been attempted on a large nation scale. The other centrally planned economies you refer to still used cash. I'm thinking that difference is critical to success.