What if money didn’t exist?

This question idea came entirely from reading this blog post. Sorry for the shameless idea grabbing!

Imagine a world where money was simply not a factor. We could simply go and pick up as much food as we wanted, whatever clothes we wanted, spend our time learning what we wished where we wished, doing what we enjoyed without worrying about making money, living where we wanted…

My brain immediately starts throwing problems at me;

  • How do we define ownership? How can I say that this is my house, my food, my clothes when I just went along and took them? And how can I stop someone else from deciding that they want to take them from me, in the way that someone might buy them from me now?

I suppose a way round this would be to still have “shops” and similar places, with people making “purchases” by, say, swiping an ID card to register a transfer in ownership. No money or anything like that changing hands, but items can clearly be said to belong to someone.

  • How do we stop a small group of people from taking all the resources (food, clothes, houses, entertainment or whatever) and leaving nothing for the majority?

If there isn’t a constraint of “how much can I afford” on how much of something we take/how often we do something, what’s to stop some people taking as much as they can possibly get hold of? Either we allow this, in which case life would be awful or impossible for a lot of people, or we impose some limit in another way. If we could change people’s thought processes, eliminating greed and leaving everyone taking only what they need or a fair share of luxuries, that would be lovely. In the absence of thought control, we’re left with imposing some kind of rationing system, at least for necessities.

  • How do we ensure that things actually get produced? That streets get cleaned, that hospitals are staffed, that food is grown and that houses are built?

Without the need to earn money, what incentives are there for us to do the less interesting or rewarding jobs? I’m sure there are some things that would get done by people who do really love those things, or people who decide that someone needs to and they are willing to do so, but what about the things no one really likes? We could end up in a society where people will teach, or research, or play music or act, and maybe even grow food or practice medicine, but with no one willing to clean, or run shops, or grow enough food, or drive buses, or make clothes. This sounds like it could end badly.

Possibly we could impose rules forcing people to either be learning or working for a certain portion of their time, but how do we enforce this? And how do we ensure a spread of jobs are done – by forcing people into particular things? It’s not like there would be an automatic point of “well, this company can’t employ any more engineers because we haven’t got any more money to pay them” – I imagine that in general they’d be happy to have more people because even if each was only marginally helpful they would be gaining from them.

I’m not really sure how one could actually deal with most of these issues. It’s seeming to me like, unless money not existing just meant we were using some very complicated barter system, we’d have to go a fair way into communism in order to have a decent society without it. Not that there’s anything wrong with communism as an ideal, but no one has yet actually managed to live up to it, and it does lend itself to exploitation.

The only way without the controls mentioned would be if everyone was, in fact, genuinely altruistic and prepared to do whataver needed to be done to help everyone lived in a better world, with no reward beyond seeing what the impact is. And that would still need a certain level of organisation to ensure that we had all areas being focussed on by people with the necessary skills, rather than everyone dealing with a small number of problems.