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Does Money Have a Future?

Updated on March 30, 2014

A Future Free of Money?

Money, as an agreed symbol of exchange, is an entirely human invention. Other mammals don’t use it; they have no use for any complex system of bartering, relying instead only on their own social bonds to share or co-operate with each other - or not, (such as when predators refuse to share a kill.)

Humans have the ability to lend symbolic meaning to objects. And be assured that the bit of printed paper or clinking chunks of metal in your pocket are no more than symbols. In themselves, notes and coins have no value. We apply value to them, in local agreement with each other and also with our own international social systems.

Money already becomes increasingly digitalised. Rather than carry a fat wallet to tempt the eyes of thieves, many people prefer to use plastic cards, paying for goods and services digitally. Yet while this trend looks set to increasingly dominate our monetary transactions, in 2010 we’re still paying for some bills via cheque, or smaller purchases with lose cash. The two systems - one old, one new - are still used in tandem.

What other forms might money take?

But will this change? Each nation owes other nations staggering sums of money, and they charge each other interest on these loans - which can perhaps never fully be repaid without bankrupting the entire global economy. Their growing mutual interdependence provides juicy fuel for conspiracy theorists.

Already there are alternative currencies, with as Ithaca HOURS, the Liberty Dollar, Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), the Cascadia Hour Exchange, Berk Shares or the WIR Bank (a non-profit organisation which has been trading since 1934.) Will these systems thrive or diminish in this increasingly digitalised age?

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What Will Happen to Money in the Future?

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Money Becomes Extinct?

Right now, and traditionally, a person works to earn money so it can be exchanged for goods and/or services. Due to increasing mechanisation and computerisation, our social structures will inevitably change, and we will see fewer people toiling to make things - as has already been happening across the Western World, adding to unemployment which some people suspect will never be eradicated entirely as a direct consequence of this.

Such people either retrain and find other work, or they drift into a sub-class dependent of state benefits - paid for by the remaining work force. This inevitably creates resentment by workers already paying high taxes.

A future where fewer and fewer people work

When machines serve to manufacture all, or most, of what we need, many people will live in a culture where education and skills (of any kind) become valued for their own sake, rather than as a mean of exchange.

And what of those people who are required to perform whichever tasks machines cannot (yet) complete; who chooses who works and who does not?

Perhaps part of the solution is for us as individuals to simply own less. Why collect books, films, music when a click on a computer can deliver them instantly? Yet someone has to download such things onto a central database of some kind - and why should they work at this while everyone else is pursuing their own interests?

Or maybe, with vast free time on their hands, people will be able to discover - after whole millennia of toil! - their own sense of direction in life. Rather than be compelled, in order to pay bills, to put in a 45-hour working week, a person might be totally free to paint flowers, raise Highland cattle, play golf or visit every European city (for example.) Would this really be so bad?

Share your thoughts.

Written 25th March, 2010.

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© 2010 Adele Cosgrove-Bray

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