Can you imagine a world without money? Summary of the ‘credit commons’ idea and how it could be achieved

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Posted May 21 2017 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
Can you imagine a world without money?

Last week I blogged about a potentially world-changing idea that could be labelled ‘credit commons’, or the catchy ‘global mutual credit system’. It’s a system of exchange that involves no money. It’s difficult to grasp at first, but the more you think about it, the more you realise that a) it’s implementable, and b) if implemented, it has the potential to end poverty, war and environmental destruction. So worth a look, in other words.

I’m going to summarise the idea here, list some of the main questions that were generated via email, social media and the blog, and have a go at answering them below. I was advised to present the idea as an ‘elevator pitch’ – i.e. how would you present the idea to an influential person you have about a minute with in a lift? I don’t want to explain in academic terms, I want to ask you to imagine your life under this system. I’ve talked with a lot of people about this now, and I’ve managed to get the pitch down to about 3 minutes, in three sections (the idea itself / benefits / implementation). Here it is:

The idea

Imagine a system where you don’t get paid in money for your work. You get credit in an online account instead – either as an individual or as part of a co-op. And you pay for the things you need with debit. There’s a limit to how much credit or debit you can go into. There’s a tiny insurance premium on every transaction for when people can’t work – like social security, but organised by a co-operative insurance company, not the state. If you can work, but choose not to, you can’t buy anything. It’s up to you. It’s a free market, but you can’t receive credits for anyone else’s work, only your own. You can be self-employed, and try your hand at anything you like – you’re completely free. Or you can expand, by getting together with other people in co-operative businesses. But no-one can get credit for anyone else’s work. Credit where credit’s due, in other words. Members are part of a (usually geographical) group of known and trusted individuals and businesses. Transactions are secured via a blockchain, and there’s an online review system that builds people’s reputations.

Benefits

  • The free market and lack of bureaucracy should satisfy the right, and the co-operative, non-exploitative nature of the system should satisfy the left.
  • There’s no money, so it can’t concentrate in just a few people’s hands (which money always does), which means that it can’t be used to influence the political system, so we can have real democracy.
  • If there’s no money, it can’t be scarce, so there’s no poverty. Anyone can join the system via a local group, anywhere in the world, at any time.
  • And if there’s no money, it can’t be lent, and so there’s no interest. With no interest, the economy doesn’t have to grow cancerously to be able to repay it, and we can live in harmony with nature (something that is patently impossible in the current system).
  • With no poverty, there’s no economic migration, and so no need for borders, and therefore no armies and no states and therefore peace.
  • If cybergangsters bring down capitalism, we’ll be back to savagery in weeks. In this system, nothing is destroyed but an account whose overall balance is always zero. It can be started again from scratch really easily. And if the internet falls over too, it can continue on clay tablets or tally sticks, kept by our most trusted people (in pre-money times, the clay tablets with the accounts were often kept in the temple by the priests – see here).
  • It doesn’t have to take anyone’s time – keep doing what you’re doing. If the idea starts to spread, you can join it tentatively, and if it works, increase your participation.

[NB: these benefits would only materialise if the idea reaches a certain scale. We’re far from that now, so this may appear wildly utopian (which of course it is). But all revolutionary ideas have to start somewhere – it’s the potential I’m talking about, not the likelihood of success.]

Implementation

This kind of mutual credit system exists locally in thousands of places around the world. Sometimes they are called LETS systems, sometimes ‘timebanks’ and they sometimes involve alternative currencies, tokens or vouchers. Two people, Matt Slater and Jem Bendell, are linking them so that they can intertrade, in a fledgling global mutual credit system. See the Community Exchange Systems Network. Also, see here for a paper by Slater on credit commons if you’d like to go deeper. It’s quite complex, and so probably needs some backgroud reading first.

If you squint and cross your fingers, you can start to see the co-operative movement switching to this system, paying wages in credit and receiving payments in debit. You can imagine getting your food this way, from community-supported agriculture, veg boxes, wholefood co-ops etc., plus your energy from community energy schemes, housing from housing co-ops, employment from worker co-ops or self-employment (you can have a go at anything and see if people want it. You could even offer yourself as an apprentice to learn a new skill, for enough credits to live on). Remember that half the world is involved in a co-op of some sort – over 3 billion people.

Questions

These are the main types of questions we’ve received:

Q: How do you stop fraud / theft?

A: Theft of credits would not be possible, because credits only come into existence when someone else goes into debit. Credits are tied to an individual or a business’s account, and can’t be held and accumulated like cash. Being a member of a local trading group where they are known and trusted would prevent people from absconding in debit.

Q: Won’t rich people try to stop it happening, or take it over?

A: How would they do it? Their wealth would be eroded anyway; people in this system won’t need their money; the only option would be to hire thugs to beat up people participating in this system. But if it grows to the point that it worries them so much that they have to do that, there will already be too many people in the new system to beat up (plus communities could hire co-operative security companies to protect themselves. It would soon be a case of ‘there are more of us than you’). Attempts to thwart the idea with violence would tarnish their reputation more than it’s already tarnished, and probably have the opposite effect to the one intended, pushing more people into the new system.

Q: Won’t people with assets have a massive advantage?

A: What kind of assets? Money assets would be worthless. Say if someone has a large house. It’s going to need a lot of maintenance, and that can’t be paid for with money, only work. So it’s going to take an awful lot of work for the upkeep of a large house. Large houses will become a burden for single owners and will naturally get split into flats (which can’t be rented out by a single owner – because there’s no money and a limit on credit, so they’ll be co-operativised, given away or squatted. The local arbitration committee will have no problem with homeless people squatting an unused building, (and neither should they) or taken over by co-ops. People will only work for the housing they need. The same with land. If you can’t work it, it’s not valuable to you. Land will naturally split into smallholdings big enough for people to work. Say someone has a large number of saleable assets. How are they going to sell them? There’s no money, and there’s a limit on credit. So they’d have to give the assets away, or have them sit around, cluttering the place up.

Q: How do you decide how much credit a piece of work is worth?

A: The two people or groups involved in the transaction decide, in a completely free market. If a plumber asks too much to fit a shower, you can find one who charges less. It will all balance out in the end, as people come to realise the true value of work.

Q: Couldn’t lazy people freeload?

A: No, because they’d need credits to be able to buy anything. If they don’t want to work, there’s nothing to force them, but they wouldn’t get insurance payouts (credits)  if they’re able to work but choose not to.

Q: How would transactions be recorded / stored / ‘proven’?

A: Blockchain. Don’t ask me to explain, but I know people who can.

Q: Isn’t a free market a bad thing?

A: We tend to equate free markets with capitalism, but in capitalism, the state helps the corporate sector (politicians take jobs on corporate boards, corporations can avoid tax but small companies can’t, the state bails them out because they’re ‘too big to fail’ etc.). A real free market would remove this kind of subsidy, and allow people to offer or choose whatever products and services they like, based on a reasonable price (reasonable, or people won’t pay it). Exchange has always been part of human life, and if it’s not free, then who’s going to control it?

Q: What would be the role of the state?

A: Well, nothing, ultimately. The tiny transaction premiums would allow co-op insurance companies to provide healthcare and social security; there would be no need for borders or armies, as there would be no need for economic migration, and no need for attempted land grabs. This idea works anywhere – even (especially) for people with absolutely no money. Public safety could be via local co-operative security companies replacing the police, local arbitration committees overseeing the fulfilling of contracts, and no fraud because no-one wants to damage their online reputation, which would in effect put people in ‘jail’ until they could negotiate a re-write of their online profile after a long enough probation period of good behaviour.

Q: Won’t the right see it as egalitarian, and somehow socialist, and refuse to play?

A: The libertarian right shouldn’t have a problem with it, because it’s a route for getting rid of the state. And the right generally shouldn’t have a problem because there’s absolute freedom, including a free market, without the need for any of the planning / bureaucracy associated with socialism.

Q: How will we persuade enough people to do it?

A: People in poor countries would have an incentive to try it, because the alternative could be plantation or sweatshop work, or begging. If there was a way to get the essentials of life without money, why wouldn’t they try it? And in the West, there will be a lot of ‘low-hanging fruit’ who don’t like the current system, and see this as a way to get rid of it. Those people will have friends and family who they could persuade to give it a go. I believe that when people who are struggling for money (i.e. most of the world) try it, they’ll never go back. If we can get past people’s inertia and apathy to give it a try, those same qualities will keep them in the new system. Money won’t persuade people to leave it if money can buy fewer and fewer things, and your life is better without money.

Any more questions, or any comments on the answers above, please let us know below. If you think it  has legs, I’ll be blogging much more about it, so subscribe to the blog, and share. Thanks.