It seems to have popped again in the Zeitgeist, folks. Yesterday at the New York Times Opinion Pages blog, Anna North wrote about Trekonomics by Manu Saadia in which he examines the economics of the “Star Trek” universe, i.e. a universe in which there is no need for money because people are no longer focused on the acquisition of wealth. Instead, they are focused on the achievement of goals. They don’t need money because they can essentially provide for all their material needs with the help of a replicator — for free. Achievement will be the measurement of success, not money.
Derek Thompson’s “A World Without Work” in the July/August 2015 issue of The Atlantic takes a different approach, one that acknowledges a money and market economy but does not offer any ideas for a post-money or market “economy.” Thompson focuses his article on the development of robots and how much of the work now done by humans will be done by robots in the future. How will that affect society? How will it affect individuals? Families? We invest so much of our identities into what we do for a living, self esteem will surely take a hit, as well as how we define who we are. So, the psychological effects could be profound.
In Perceval’s Secret and the entire Perceval series, the entire world is moving toward a moneyless future. There is an international organization that has begun work on figuring out how to wean humans off money, because in another 40 years or so it will be obvious how addicted we are to it and to the consumption and power that comes with it. America in 2048 is the poster child for the money-addicted society with its gross economic inequality. China is not far behind. The economic issues between America and China not only threaten the global economy in 2048 — the global economy still functions — but also the movement toward life without money.
As I read Thompson’s Atlantic article, I thought about my work imagining the future for the Perceval series, and especially my thoughts the last 15 years or so about money, how entwined it is in human existence, and what would need to happen in order to extricate ourselves from it. The first thing I looked at, and what Thompson discusses regarding robots doing human work, is the hamster wheel we are all on in order to survive. That is, I must find a job for which I am qualified in order to earn the money I need to pay for my basic needs: shelter, food, clothing, transportation, utility bills including phone and internet, and medical expenses, and paying off my debt. In our current society, the only way to get off that hamster wheel is to become independently wealthy — win the big lottery jackpot, or win the big business jackpot and retire with millions in the bank. For anyone making a “middle class” income or below, they have little hope of ever jumping off that wheel.
But what if no one needs money to pay for basic needs because they cost nothing? At the same time, robot development has progressed to the point where robots could replace humans in the workplace. This would require a great leap in artificial intelligence in order for a robot to take over the duties and responsibilities of a CEO for example, but I see this as a possibility. If money no longer needs to exist, then what?
Humans would need to make a great leap forward in their own development, i.e. change attitudes, beliefs and ways of thinking to redefine ourselves and what we believe the purpose of human existence is. Right now, like it or not, the purpose of human existence is to earn money. Next, there would be a HUGE disruption/upheaval in the financial and economic sectors — banks and investment companies going out of business, people losing their jobs in all areas of human endeavor (all those billing departments, for example) — and if humans are smart they’ll start preparing for this far in advance of it. Another area of disruption/upheaval: labor unions, government agencies, employment agencies, and anything else related to labor.
For Perceval’s Secret, a world without money, as much as I wanted to include the transition in the series, became just too big and overwhelming. It threatened to hijack the story. So, I had to dial it back far in the background and be content with including some specific details showing that a transition has begun. I needed to find a way to challenge Evan Quinn’s attitude towards money as well as insure that he’d have enough to live on in his new life. Being a musician at any time can be financially stressful.
Although a world without money won’t be happening anytime soon, at least the discussion has begun….
(There’s a movement already working toward change: The Zeitgeist Movement. I’ve written about it before here. They are dedicated to a “no money” future…..)