Could You Live Without Money?

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T
he modern ‘working’ family, whether one-income or two-income, is, by most standards, a lousy business model, with poor, fragile margins and a terrible (sometimes negative) ‘return on investment’. If you presented your household budget to an accountant without describing what it represented, he/she would probably tell you it wasn’t viable and to close up shop. For the average Canadian family (multi-person) household in 2003 per Stats Can, here’s what the ‘Income Statement’ would look like (for single-person households, these numbers would be modestly lower):

Work-
Related
Fixed Total
Revenues:
Sales
Government Aid

66,000
7,000

66,000
7,000
     Total 73,000 73,000

Cost of Sales:
Food
Shelter
Utilities, R&M
Furniture
Clothing
Transportation
Health Care
Personal Care
Recreation
Tobacco & Alcohol
Education
Games of Chance
Child Care etc.
Income Tax
Insurance, Interest
Gifts & Donations

4,000
12,000
1,000
1,500
2,500
9,000

500
3,000
1,000
1,000
300
1,200
13,000
4,000
3,000

4,000

2,000
500
500
2,000
2,000
500
1,000
500




1,000

8,000
12,000
3,000
2,000
3,000
11,000
2,000
1,000
4,000
1,500
1,000
300
1,200
13,000
5,000
3,000

     Total 57,000 14,000 71,000
Net Income 16,000 (10,800) 2,000

I have broken the expenses down into ‘work-related’ (extra costs you incur because you are working) and ‘fixed’ (costs you would incur whether you worked or not). Work-related food costs are the costs of fast-food and other restaurant meals, and pre-packaged and prepared foods. I have called all shelter costs ‘work-related’ because the average family has $120,000 in equity, and if that were invested in an all-season cottage far enough away from expensive cities, the rent and mortgage costs would disappear. In addition, if you didn’t work, you could spend time making your own clothing and furniture, providing a significant part of your own recreation, looking after your children’s education and care, and you would eliminate the cost of income taxes and insurance.

What this table suggests is that the average family has 1.7 people working (often fierce hours doing something they hate) to bring in $73,000 per year of which $57,000 goes for expenses they wouldn’t have if they weren’t working. Or, to put it another way, those 1.7 people work about 3,300 hours between them for an after-tax, after-work-related-expense return of $5.00 per hour. No wonder the average family spends more than they can afford — they figure they’ve earned it.

Yes, I know that ‘average’ numbers are nonsensical and that you could quibble with many of these costs and allocations, and that the numbers outside Canada will necessarily be quite different, but in general we incur a great deal of extra expense just because we work, and even more when both spouses work, to the point that the benefits of working so hard, and even of working at all, become dubious, especially when you start to factor in non-financial considerations (like quality of life).

Now ask yourself: How much would you have to do for your wage-slave neighbours (making clothing or furniture for them, doing renovation work, lawn maintenance, child care, driving them around in their car, picking things up for them, educating their kids, running a bed-and-breakfast for their visiting family and friends) to earn a paltry $14,000 a year (or that plus your rent or mortgage interest if you choose not to move to an inexpensive community)?

And suppose instead of just moving out yourself, you got together with nine other wage-slave families and pooled your resources and started an Intentional Community? Now you’ve got $1.2 million to invest between you, which is plenty to build an efficient and very comfortable place in the remote country to accommodate 17 adults and 8 children. Now you get some economies working for you: You can share vehicles, meal preparation, education and other duties, and the space needed for these activities (which make up much of the modern ‘single-family’ home, and which space is unused most of the day). You can wi-fi the place for the whole group. You can grow some of your own food and use solar and wind to take the place off the grid. By doing these things you could probably halve the per-family fixed cost in the table above to $7,000, and then create one or two small enterprises to earn the $70,000 per year the whole community needs to live on. Maybe work an hour a day, or one day a week each, for outsiders, and the rest of your time would be your own, to spend with those you love doing things you love doing.

And suppose your Intentional Community provided useful services to other ICs in a ‘network’ that could give you things you can’t provide well for yourselves (food you can’t grow, say, or health care, or recreation) in return for you providing things that they don’t know how to do (say, carpentry, or sculpture, or technology education). It’s not inconceivable that after trading money for awhile and trying to track who’s done what for whom, you might decide the accounting is not worth the bother, and just stop using money altogether. So now instead of your day per week working for ‘outsiders’ you spend that day helping those in your ‘larger’ community. Imagine living in a society where the value of an hour of everybody’s time is exactly the same, and where a Gift Economy prevails because the old Market Economy is viewed as miserly, nitpicky and unnecessary!

Of course it’s not that easy. My point is that it’s possible. And perhaps worth thinking about. So many of the things we aspire to do in our lives remain undone because we think they are too risky, too expensive, or impossible, when they are none of these things.

What they do require is three qualities that our modern world seems to try to crush in us as aggressively as it tries to break our individuality: courage, self-confidence, and trust in each other. If we had these things we could live without money, and without wage slavery. Is it any wonder that the politicians, big businesses, the elites of the rich and powerful, work so hard to make us fearful, full of self-doubt, distrustful, and ‘just like everybody else’?

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26 Responses to Could You Live Without Money?

  1. jonathan drummey says:

    I very much agree with your post, particularly on the benefits of living more closely together and sharing resources. I think the childcare line at $1200 is for many families way too low, either because a) paying someone else to take care of kids costs $200/month and up from there (in the US), or b) childcare (and eldercare, and other forms of care) is not considered part of the wage economy. In terms of worldchanging and community, I’m more interested in creating a world where our “family values” are that the hours we spend taking care of others (children, elderly, ill and injured) are valued more highly than work for money.jonathan

  2. etbnc says:

    I like the recent trend of highlighting things that are *possible*. Good stuff! Thanks for your effort.

  3. I agree, this would be a wonderful way to live. The problem lies with finding the right families to group together with. Far too many people just don’t know how to pull their own weight.

  4. srini says:

    i love a lot of the radical thoughts coming from your blog. i too have had a number of thoughts on my blog – in fact one of them is about ‘if there were no concept of money’ and it ties in well with this current post (though i am nowhere as detailed as you are ;) ).great blog, dave!

  5. Ken Hirsch says:

    Ummm… how do you figure that 100% of shelter, games of chance, education, and gifts & donations are work-related?

  6. lavonne says:

    let’s do it.

  7. Hugues says:

    Hi Dave, doesn’t it look like some communauties in North America, like the Amish ?

  8. A 100 years ago, most families were backing their own bread, growing vegetables… Cheap Good Diet! Look at most of us today!!! How much could we spare if we could reduce the food bill, while reconsidering an organic diet network. For example, as we’ve been doing here in Geneva with my wife, one might think of some kind of food network, allowing farmers (anyone who can produce home-made food) to directly sell cheap organic food to consumers. At that time, we were paying a fixed amount of money (an average of 10-15$) for one full bag of organic seasonal vegetables that lasted 2 weeks. We never choose what to eat, we just took what they had to offer. Another solution would then have been to exchange food/services for food. Why not?The “value of work” issue indeed is at the cornerstone of future human-centred and sustainable economics. If we say that the value of work remains the same regardless of the education curriculum or socio-economic condition, we would put the “equality” value in front. At last! Fine, but how could we be sure of the “quality of work/services/products”? And what about market anarchism, alongside the gift economy? Would it make sense? Check this out: http://praxeology.net/anarcres.htm

  9. David Gross says:

    Can you be a little more explicit about your methodology on those budget numbers? For instance: where did the numbers come from, and how did you do the work/non-work division? It seems kind of arbitrary at first glance. How can 100% of the shelter costs be work related when even people who have an “all-season cottage far enough away from expensive cities” have to pay for it somehow?

  10. Ken Hirsch says:

    A 100 years ago, most families were backing their own bread, growing vegetables… Cheap Good Diet!A 100 years ago, families spend almost half of their income on food (e.g. the U.S. in 1918).Food safety was much worse then.

  11. Zephyr says:

    I appreciate you listing the cost of living index for yourpart of Canada. I wish more bloggers would do that for the countries inwhich they live – it’s sometimes hard to find that informationon the web.I have lived in a “commune” for a summer. It was a verybeautiful experience for a young man. Young men in their twentiesreally need mentorship, and community support, as they transitionon from their years of childhood which they spent with their families.I don’t think I would live that way now. My personality typedoes better with the freedom to have my own space. Differentpeople have different social languages they speak. Andit’s important to understand yourself and your own expectationsof friendships, before you dive into this sort of arrangement.Your title asks a philosophical question: Could you livewithout money? I have once before. It requires beingvery creative, and one has to be willing to think outside the lines.

  12. Let’s focus on the $66 000 dollars in sales for a moment. This reflects the sale of your time to an employer. To be able to pay you that the employer must pay payroll tax (30% in Sweden) and on top of that the costs for keeping the business going premises, advertising, computers, raw materials (at least 100% of wage costs) That brings us to $171600. then we have sales tax (25% in Sweden) that means that consumers have to buy for 214500 from one employer so one family can live in the world of work. Compare that with just paying the POllard family $10000 to go live in the country!

  13. Ken: Great links. Sure, the food safety was worse at that time and the percentage of all expenditure of urban working families was reported high on basics like food, clothing and housing (80% in 1918). Compared to the 1988 data (50%), it proves that we’re all supposed to have more time & cash to spend in education, health, transportation and recreation. The point in my last comment is that we’re now paying a lot to get shit manufactured food within supermarkets, and that we’d be inspired in developing local organic cheap food networks in order to develop another way to consume! Heading towards personal autonomy and collective solidarity.Zephyr: The cost of living index for each part of the world would indeed be an interesting project. We would surely show how so many people struggle every month, while being salaried workers. Another idea would be to assess the real life condition of part-time workers. Earning less or getting rid of money looks just fine, as long as you’re creative and consciously choosing such alternative. Otherwise it’s called social Darwinism [aka Malthus & Co.]…

  14. Peter Bodo says:

    do you want to write about cooperatives?or maybe you did already.I am recently quite enthusiastic about this economic realisation of intentional communities…keep on the good work, Dave :)

  15. Ian says:

    I’m interested in this whole concept of communes. The idea of the “commune” got a very bad name for itself back in the 1970s – often for very good reasons. Many were based too much on sheer idealism and too little on the hard realities. Frequently, the idealism transmuted into dogmatism, which in turn created division and disunity. Communes usually fell apart for these reasons. People generally want different things at different points in their lives, and quite frankly “free love” was doomed to fail. Families raising children want a different type of commune to those who are not. Jealousy and conflict can be hard to cope with. People *need* their own space and their own ways of living, and changing oneself to fit in with a communal structure can be difficult if not impossible.The hardest bit about communal living is working out ways in which many different people from different backgrounds can live together in a shared space (and I mean a shared social economic space and geographical space). It’s not easy, but it *is* possible. I doubt however that true “communal” living is possible outside of direct family relations – the pooling all resources regardless of effort and productivity is a recipe for resentment. But some form of “communalism” is perhaps more realistic. Humans are (in my view) a tribal species – we evolved as small, autonomous groups of inter-related individuals, who lived in a world populated by other semi-autonomous groups. The extended family is (again, in my view) our natural state of being, and I feel that one of the problems we have encountered in the world is the mistaken idea that the “nuclear” family (i.e. two parents, two kids, no grandparents, cousins, strange uncles etc) is the ideal for living. This is a false reality, which has really only existed since the rise of suburbia and is not a healthy way of life – witness the tendencies to put old people into homes rather than deal with them and their needs. Look at the paranoias that develop and the fear that rules peoples’ lives as they label everything outside of their own direct family as “other”. It’s my view therefore that we must return to a tribal life – in whatever form is practical in these days.Make no mistake, though – the communalist approach is not likely to lead to an “idyllic” life free from conflict, envy, jealousy and scarcity. There are enormous sacrifices and compromises to be made if it is to work. We are all still humans after all – we will all still tend to be lazy, we will all still believe that other people are somehow getting more than their share, we will often believe that we are working harder to make things work than our neighbours are, however much we may love them. Communities therefore need (and have always had) strong methods of social control to enforce the norms that are necessary to keep the community together. People who step outside of these norms are strongly condemned, and negative things like gossip, shame, busybody neighbours and (in extreme cases) complete social exclusion and violence are all just tools that humans have used over the millenia to define and enforce essential social norms in the absence of courts, judges and policemen. My family lived briefly on a commune in the 1970s and I later grew up in small village in rural Wales. I can assure you that pettiness, gossip, rivalry, envy and even violence did not disappear simply because we were in a beautiful environment with “like-minded” people. Small communities can often be brutal and intolerant and privacy is frankly non-existent. But I would question whether these things are any worse than what we tolerate in our daily lives in the cities. How much time at work in an office is spent dealing with exactly these issues of envy and petty politics? As I said before – there are many negatives to communalist living. But at their best, these same comunities are bound together with love, support and compassion for those within their midst. Our lives may well become “smaller” by living communally, but they also become richer.

  16. Ian says:

    Gosh – sorry for the bad formatting above. I actually included line breaks and paragraphs when I wrote it. How do I put in a paragraph break?

  17. Mike says:

    Ian, use <br><br> for line breaks.

  18. Zephyr says:

    Or, you can simply use <p> between paragraphs.

  19. Dave Pollard says:

    OK, let me try this again. The reason housing is shown as ‘variable’ is that if you took your equity and invested it in a place in the country or a small town, you would no longer have mortgage or rent to pay. Education could be by home-schooling, and gifts hand-made (or provided as free services) with the time freed up from wage slavery. Philosopher Poet, you’re absolutely right. It will take time to develop ways to let people self-select their communities. I’m an optimist about lazy people, however — I think if they find people they really love and start making a living with them they’ll discover that what they thought was laziness was just lack of motivation. But I may be too idealistic about this. Hugues: I think ICs might be like the Amish in a way, but I understand Amish communities are quite hierarchical, rigid in their thinking, intolerant of dissent and somewhat cultish (they have truly disturbing ideas about animals, and, I am told, operate horrific puppy farms). I would hope that modern ICs could avoid these unpleasant and (from what Diana Leafe Christian’s research has shown, unnecessary) qualities of close community. Ken — of course food safety was poor during the industrial robber baron era, what’s your point? And yes it was expensive then, because the massive subsidies of today did not exist. Community-based agriculture will take more of people’s time to produce, but so what? The modern economies are false, hidden by $150B/year of taxpayer subsidies to Big Agriculture oligopoly. Thanks to all for your comments and links. If you want to read my other posts on Intentional Community just put that phrase in the Google box in my right sidebar. Yeah, I know, I need to get my Table of Contents up to date — it has a whole section on the subject, but is out of date.

  20. Catnmus says:

    I find it unrealistic to assume that all these 10 families would have $120,000 in “equity”. How exactly would they get that? If you assume as you do that shelter costs $12,000 per year, and add that to the $2,000 in net savings per year, they’d have to be living with mommy and daddy for 8.5 years before they’d have that kind of money. And the second generation – those 8 children you mentioned – where would they live when they grow up? Plus, there are still – in this society – a little thing called property taxes, that ain’t going away any time soon. I also doubt that 1.2 mill could purchase not only shelter but enough arable land and other raw materials – wood for replacing the roof, for example – for subsistence farming and recreation for 25 people over a long term. Also, what do you think will be a favorite activity of these folks? I’m guessing Sex. And birth control pills and condoms don’t grow on trees. So pretty soon I think those 8 kids might become 30 kids!So, I think a plan like this might work for a single generation, as long as the kids didn’t plan to stay with them forever, or have kids of their own until after their parents die, or if they can come up with a plan to get $120,000 equity of their own. Or if the rest of society collapsed such that land and raw materials were free again, the way they were 30 thousand years ago.

  21. Janene says:

    Wow… I can’t believe how many people are apparently ignorant of both the housing market and the systemic nature of the modern economy.Good Article Dave!I would question how many people in the US currently have that much equity in thier homes — not because it is fundamentally unrealistic (anyone with a brain puts down a minimum of 20% and housing has been going up in value by as much as 20% per year in some markets) but unfortunately lender policies are leading people to not only buy with less down, but also to refinance based upon exaggerated home value increases. So we find an absurd number of people refinancing thier homes at 110% of value in order to go on vacation…On property taxes… A typical, moderate farm in the US incurs taxes of maybe 5K per year. Anyone that is unable to make that much a year with farm land and free time, simply isn’t trying. (A farmstand selling produce in the summer months would more than suffice) Add to that, people are more productive when they are working at something that they WANT to do. Give them 1/3 of thier life back (rather than working apointless job) and amazing things will happen!Oh, and by the way… land and raw materials have been free for most of our existance. They were so up until 300 years ago in North America… and only stopped being so everywhere 7500 years ago….Janene

  22. Dave Pollard says:

    Catnmus: Most of the equity is due to appreciation in value, not savings. Interesting that you think the immediate outcome of the end of wage slavery would be a huge jump in family size — I’m glad I don’t see that. As for the next generation, it would work the way it does in Europe now — population is stable, so the next generation would stay in the community place — ZPG.Janene: Agreed — this has to happen before the housing price bubble bursts, or it will be too late. Mind you, then maybe you won’t need the $1.2M for the community property, maybe $200k will do it. And you’re right about property taxes, except that I do find that for retired couples I know, property tax is now their single biggest annual expense!

  23. sok try says:

    Couldn’t i start a life without money now ?please tell me more.

  24. James Whiteman says:

    World be better peace without money, credit cards, taxes; people need a place to sleep, home, shelter, food, transportation, work would be recreation, not slavery, poverty, war, we should not wait til heaven on earth to live without money.

  25. gregory says:

    Excellent article, found it just by searching the phrase “living without money”. Have you heard about all the alternative trading and “local currency” systems springing up? Chekc out Thomas H Greco’s book calld “Money: Understanding and creating alternatives to legal tender”, 2001. Also google “LETS systems” which is Local Exchange and Trading System. It details exactly how to set up a trading system that is not quite a pure gift economy, but close. I think most people Americans that is, would not react well to an intentional community (we are too hyper-individualist), but they could be very attracted to a LETS type economy. There is a lot going on in this field, Im trying to spread the word about it. Check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

  26. Rose says:

    very intelligent!!!

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