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What if there was No Money?

Updated on August 1, 2012

When money disappears, people line up for goods and services

Depression-era line-ups for people with very little money - the last time money started to disappear...
Depression-era line-ups for people with very little money - the last time money started to disappear... | Source

No money, no banks, no worries?

Imagine a world where goods and services exchange hands, but through a trading or bartering negotiation exchange instead of using an intermediate measure using money. For thousands of years, coins based on gold content and then paper money tied to the value of gold has served the world as a constant measure of worth. But what if the concept of money never existed? Would the world be different? Secondly, what would happen if we awoke tomorrow to find all the money in the world had evaporated, completely disappearing into the ether of financial chaos? Both questions are interesting from a social point of view and also as a basis for great social commentary about what we truly value in life. Social science fiction in a strange land of no money.

Our World if money never existed

Before the advent of world travel, all economic activity was local. Goods and services were pooled and traded for the benefit of all, as in my goat is worth six chickens and five dozen eggs. I'll take three dozen eggs and trade for a pair of leather sandals, and so on. Imagine the difficulty in agreeing on the value of each item in relation to each other, and this is before the invention of spreadsheets! This disparity of perceived value allowed the purchase of Long Island for a few trinkets of "worthless" jewelry. Imagine how much of America you could have bought for the price of three IPhones and an O Henry chocolate bar? Given the complicated and difficult management of trading values between vastly different goods, it is easy to see how communal farms, towns and communities sprang up, where everyone pitched in to create the goods and services needed and shared between themselves, enjoying the benefits and safety of community. That is, until someone starts gathering more than their fair share. This is basic human nature, to take advantage of your neighbor and take more for yourself.

Life WIthout Money: Ordinary People Talk

What if humans were too stupid to invent money?

But let us continue with the premise that humans were too stupid to make the leap to a coinage system as an intermediate valuation step between traders. Clearly, this could only exist with local communities sharing equally and trading with neighbors in a win-win agreement. Once warfare is introduced to take by force what you cannot mutually agree upon, the whole barter system falls apart. Imagine the terror of viewing an advancing hoard of barbarians marching towards your town and having all your wealth stored in a herd of jackasses? Trying to make your escape with these stubborn beasts would have resulted in a comic death, for sure. Or you leave your wealth behind, with the comment, "If only I had some portable value measure I could carry in my pocket that is equivalent to fifteen jackasses?" Wait, is that person going to invent money? Nope, we're assuming they are as big a jackass as their valuable four-legged assets. You would envy the chicken farmer dashing past you with his cart full of fifty dozen eggs!

So, in thousands of years of trading and warfare and famine and travel, it is not realistic to imagine a world without the invention of money. Clearly, we humans are just too smart and practical not to have invented money. Without it, we'd still be living in local communes, sharing with our neighbors and peacefully co-existing with tribes across the river or across the ocean. War would not exist. It would be a world of plenty, like the fabled Garden of Eden where humans first lived and prospered without money, lasting almost one generation before being cast out for behaving badly.

Do you Need Money?

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Our World if Money Disappeared Tomorrow

Many science fiction movies (good and bad) start with our hero waking up to find the world destroyed by some plague or alien invasion or supernatural force, leaving only a handful of survivors and absolutely no need for money ever again. In a post-apocalyptic world, survivors take what they need and move on. Survive. Clearly, money is not required. However, let us imagine a world still intact except for our bank accounts. Imagine a world where we are all healthy but broke, without a dime to our name. It is as if the entire world financial system imploded overnight (and one reads the papers these days and wonder if this is not something that could be possible). Perhaps for some it would be a sigh of relief. Without money, there is no debts either. The balance sheets are wiped clean. There isn't any way to earn money, or rob anyone of their wealth. We are all equal again and back to trading goods and services with each other. One person's two hours of web development for six dozen eggs, and so on.

After the initial shock of being without cash, and if our memories were wiped clean, perhaps we wouldn't crumble into mutual destruction but move towards that communal utopia envisioned in the Garden of Eden. However, the memory of money will remain and we would struggle to regain our wealth at the expense of others and a destructive world war would most likely be the end result. That is, until the tanks and jets ran out of gas and the armed forces had no money to buy more gasoline, or pay their soldiers. Then what would happen? Total anarchy, where the strongest mob rule would dominate the weak and we would have a mass exploitation of practically everyone.

So, if all our money disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn't be a happy future for most of us. No money means total misery.

Where is Fort Knox where all the Gold Sits Waiting to Disappear?

Money Serves Us All to Keep Order in Society

As much as we hate money, or love it, or lust after it, it serves a key role in our world order. Without it, we'd be localized peasants working and trading in an unequal and cumbersome market bartering of goods and services. No one would be keeping score. Life would be hard and unfair and depressingly limited to what we could create and swap with our neighbors. We would all have to be productive and skilled in negotiation, transportation and influencing others to our value system. With money, we have our modern world where life is hard and unfair and limited to what we can create and swap with our neighbors, at the current exchange rate between world currencies. Is it any wonder that the richest people in the world are the ones charging service fees to move money around the world or across the street? There is the great secret to wealth: transaction fees and six dozen eggs!


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