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Currencies from gold to bitcoins have inherent issues, they require everything to be priced, they make money required for people to survive, they make people seek to earn money, and since money is rare it must be taken from other people which leads to robberies, scams, bankers, social classes, etc.

I'd like to know if a modern civilisation can develop an economic system where all the tasks/jobs to run the society/country are done and all the people receive what they need to live and accomplish their tasks, without money or barter. I'd like to know how such civilisation ensures that there is enough of each worker/skillset, enough of production, and how it prevents people to work too little or ask too much.

Basically if currency was to be abolished in a year, how would you rearrange your country without barter to get a stable economy and society.


My definition of the terms used in this question:

  • money/currency: is something that has little use to the individuals (such as metal coins) but has a commonly recognized value the society that allows individuals to exchange it for any services or goods
  • barter: is not money, is not a service, is a good that can be exchanged against any other good freely by individuals who agree to
  • civilisation/city state: is a society whose development requires distinct skillsets (warrior, administrator, carpenter, miner, nurse, teacher, engineer etc.)

Clarification: I was advised to ask this question here instead of history or philosophy, and I know that this site is about fictional worlds, but my question concerns the real world we live in, so please don't go too crazy ;-)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by RonJohn, CaM, Renan, Culyx, Andon Mar 14 '18 at 19:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Two basic questions: How do all the people receive what they need to live and accomplish their tasks? and: Who makes sure all the tasks/jobs to run the society/country are done? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Mar 14 '18 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ What you want is called a "post-scarcity economy". And in a post-scarcity economy there cannot be such things as "skillsets" (because that would imply limited human resources), "working too little" (because that implies that work is necessary hence there is a limitation on the availability of manufactured stuff), "tasks" and "jobs" (because that would imply that some people are more necessary than others, at least in some situations), "enough" or "not enough" (because it's a post-scarcity economy). $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 14 '18 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Staling is used misquoted as having said "death solves all problems - no man, no problem." This was actually said by Anatoly Rybakov, but it is true nonetheless. If you kill nearly everybody and leave only a handful people alive in the planet, then there is a chance that a barterless economy could thrive. $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 14 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ An interesting problem to solve is that while you could easily find people who want to create art and design buildings in this society, no one is going to want to mop the bathroom at the local Taco Bell for zero incentive. You either need to incentivize those jobs with tangible benefits, or somehow force compliance. The former brings you back toward money, and the latter makes it a dystopia. $\endgroup$ – Epicedion Mar 14 '18 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP then it is not what I want, which is confirmed by the fact post scarcity makes no mention of abolishing money. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 14 '18 at 18:59
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All the people receive what they need to live and accomplish their tasks

Specifically:

  • 500 grams of bread per day,
  • 50 grams of meat per day,
  • 1 egg every other day,
  • 100 grams of milk per day for people under 14, and for pregnant and breast-feeding women,
  • 100 grams of fat per day,
  • 1 lemon every third day,
  • 750 grams of drinking water per day,
  • 4 pairs of socks per year, 3 sets of underwear per year, 3 shirts or blouses every two years, 2 pairs of trousers (for men) or 3 blue dresses (for women) every three years,
  • 1 woolen sweater every other year,
  • 1 overcoat every fourth year,
  • A place to sleep, furnished with a blanket and a strew-stuffed mattress (to be shared with two other people in shifts),
  • Access to a common washroom (not more than three times per day, not more than 10 minutes per visit), furnished with soap or soap substitute and warm water in winter,
  • Controlled ccess to the library for those people who need to read books (to be determined by the political bureau of the local Party organization),
  • Transport to and from the workplace (in cattle waggons, obviously),
  • Tools required for their job (as determined by the Workers' Council and the political bureau of the factory Party organization)
  • Compulsory participation in the weekly political education courses,
  • And the personal wishes of happiness and professional success from the depth of the heart of Comrade General Secretary.

Ah, to dream the dream of the radiant tomorrow!

Note: Some people will complain that they need more. Such people will obviously need to be re-educated by manual labour, or, in case they prove irredeemably lost in their selfishness, shot.

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    $\begingroup$ You forgot a new copy of the leader's red/green/whatever book whenever there is a need to replace old truths. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 14 '18 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Mar 14 '18 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ You're answering "what" while I asked "how". $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 14 '18 at 19:02
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Probably not. Society is complex. Like really really complex. Currency is really convenient for storing the value of your labor, as well as for trading the value of your labor with other people for things or services. If we got rid of currency and barter, what would you replace it with? (I'm sure the black market would come up with an effective de facto currency).

You suggest, that society could . . .

develop an economic system where all the tasks/jobs to run the society/country >>are done and all the people receive what they need to live and accomplish >>their tasks, without money or barter.

So in essence you want to create an absolute tyranny where the government gets to decide what you earn (1 pound of good wheat or 2 rotten apples?) for what work you do?

This sounds like a premise that would be really awesome to explore in a story.

In the real world we have never even come close to implementing a society like this. And those that have tired to exert this level of control have either failed miserably (see the Soviet Union or modern Venezuela) or they have opened up their economy to be more free market than anything else (for example China).

Question 1 :

how do all the people receive what they need to live and accomplish their tasks?

Question 2:

Who makes sure all the tasks/jobs to run the society/country are done?

Answer 1 & 2: These questions are so complex that it literally takes every single member of society working in concert to answer them. That is why markets develop. And when governments try to limit the market they just start to go underground.

By making each individual responsible for determining both what they need to live and how to get it, we can divide up the decision making evenly to every member of a population.

References:

See this NYT artical from 1980s about the Russian economy. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/01/15/world/soviet-food-shortages-grumbling-and-excuses.html

or read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" https://archive.org/stream/AleksandrSolzhenitsynTheGulagArchipelago/Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_The_Gulag_Archipelago_djvu.txt

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There have been some fictions written about this premise. I have read The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin. The societal setup she describes is called by Wikipedia Anarcho-syndicalism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed

The language spoken on the anarchist planet Anarres also reflects anarchism. Pravic is a constructed language in the tradition of Esperanto. Pravic reflects many aspects of the philosophical foundations of utopian anarchism. For instance, the use of the possessive case is strongly discouraged, a feature that also is reflected by the novel's title. Children are trained to speak only about matters that interest others; anything else is "egoizing" (pp. 28–31). There is no property ownership of any kind. Shevek's daughter, upon meeting him for the first time, tells him, "You can share the handkerchief I use"rather than "You may borrow my handkerchief", thus conveying the idea that the handkerchief is not owned by the girl, but is merely used by her.

They are anarchists - which means not that they chuck bombs and want chaos, but rather than formal decision-making structures are made as needed, not set in stone in the form of institutions. There is no money and no property - one might call them communists in that everything is held in common. The society Karl Marx hoped for had many of these attributes and attributes you propose for your society.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto

The section ends by outlining a set of short-term demands—among them a progressive income tax; abolition of inheritances and private property; abolition of child labour; free public education; nationalisation of the means of transport and communication; centralisation of credit via a national bank; expansion of publicly owned etc.—the implementation of which would result in the precursor to a stateless and classless society.

Such a society is not intrinsically impossible. Aspects of human nature make thes societies more difficult in some respects, and the LeGuin story meets these issues headon. If such things interest you, start with her novel which is accessible and easy reading. Tougher reading are Marx and the socio-economic treatises laying out why such a society might or might work.

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The simple reality is: you can't

Star Trek is famous for promoting a future without money, where energy is so cheap and the ability to produce for our needs is so simple that everyone's needs are taken care of and each individual is able to act to their greatest potential.

It's a nice thought.

The truth is there are substantial differences in our skills and abilities, and those differences very quickly develop some very hard feelings.

For example, if the government chose to force a company to employ a weak man for a strong man's job, the company would be unhappy and the strong man who didn't get the job would be unhappy. The government is left with figuring out how to make both the company and the strong man happy without changing its employment rules. I suppose they could behaviorly change the owners and the strong man (aka, brainwashing), but that actually doesn't work well.

Another possibility is that the government forces those who excel to work at the level of the lowest common denominator. For the life of me, I keep forgetting the name of a short story. I read it as a teen. Strong people were shackled with weights. Smart people were subjected to distracting noises. All to "normalize" society. A dancer became free of her weights and began dancing with joy, only to have a monitor come in with a shotgun and blow her away. The story made its point about societies that try to eliminate the talented and capable.

Which brings me to my point

The only effective way to compenasate for the differences in our learned skills and inherent abilities is money (whatever form it takes). The more capable you are, the more you're worth, and the more you receive.

Removing the incentive of money allows people to act with laziness, dragging society down. Thus, the government must continuously force people to participate in society. This is a draconian condition.

However you develop your society, you must come up with a way to compensate people for making themselves more valuable to society (learning new skills, excelling at those skills, or simply being stronger than your neighbor). You will never control jealousy or envy anymore than you will control pride and contempt. You must accomodate them.

Life is a competition. It always has been. From the day we crawled out of the primordial ooze (if not before) we've been competing for limited resources like food and mates. The only way to achieve what you describe is to rid yourself of the reasons for competition. I can't see that ever happening.

See beautiful woman. Buy beautiful woman things. Beat crap out of competition. Convince beautiful woman it wasn't you. Marry beautiful woman, then cheat on her with another beautiful woman. Embezzle because the 3rd beautiful woman is getting expensive. ... Human nature is a harsh taskmaster. Religions and governments have been trying since the day the first guy didn't get the beautiful woman to control our behavior. It hasn't worked for society as a whole yet....

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  • $\begingroup$ I really don't see where is the problem. Everyone is good at something so everyone should do what they are good at. Those that don't do anything won't receive anything either and those who do better could receive a little more, but I think it's better to reward with a title than with goods. The new incentive will be the one of glory. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 14 '18 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @WaterBearer... If you actually believe that then you must be under the age of 18. People don't work for titles or glory (athough it's appreciated). They work for a boat in their driveway and 4-weeks paid vacation to use it. If today's unskilled \$10/hr min. wage workers get the \$15/hr they want, then the education of the skilled mechanic getting \$15/hr today is suddenly worthless. Do you actually think he'll be content with a better title? No, you must have absolutely no adult experience to believe what you just said. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 14 '18 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are still reasoning with a capitalist mind in a no money world. The reason why people want to spend 4 weeks on a boat is because they don't like the world they live in and want to escape it. A $10/hr unskilled worker won't get $15/hr, because there won't be $$$ anymore ! People will not get what they "want", they'll get what they need, and laws will be there to make sure it happens. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 15 '18 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Just imagine if tomorrow, money is abolished, are you gonna drive your boat until you can't get any more fuel ? or are you going to get an occupation that you really like and benefits your community and makes you feel good about both, and makes your country function. This is how most still traditional tribes operate, they are not civilizations but the principles are there, every member works for the common good, not for themselves. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 15 '18 at 3:41
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    $\begingroup$ @WaterBearer, you call me a capitalist in a no-money world. Somehow you need to deal with the fact that "money" came with humanity. We've been trading to provide for our needs since day #1. You seem to think a printed bill or minted coin is the problem. It isn't. The problem is how to provide meat to the guy who grows the wheat. How much meat should he get? How much wheat is it worth? And who are you to decide? You're not the first with these ideas and you won't be the last. But it will always fail, because there's always somebody who thinks they deserve/need a bit more meat. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 15 '18 at 4:08
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It looks like you want a society where everybody works to the best of their ability, and uses only what they need. There are several ways to accomplish this:

  • Small group (<200 people) where everybody knows, likes and understands each other. Ideally with people who chose that life, and had time to try living with themselves before leaving. An isolated colony, a bunker, a generation ship.

  • Mind control. Borg-style implants, telepathic hive, brainwashing (religous or ideological).

  • Total control by authorities, worse than Soviet Union or North Korea. You will have to devote half the society's resources to control, and there will still be a black market. It works best with external threat (real or imaginary), to make people feel less angry about sacrifices they make.

  • Infertile drones or clones, who understand that their only change to continue their bloodline is to support the breeding queen.

I know these are extreme scenarios, but as others pointed out, your exchange-free economy will not work in a "normal" society. Let me recap a few of those:

  • A typical person will never have "enough". They will always want more than their neighbors, or more they had yesterday, or just something different. Exchange puts a limit on how much somebody can get, and more importantly, most people will consider this limit to be fair.

  • Coordination. Making sure "all the tasks/jobs to run the society/country are done and all the people receive what they need to live and accomplish their tasks" is a highly nontrivial problem. Soviet Union collapsed because it could not solve it. Market economy does solve it: whenever demand for something exceeds supply, price increases, so people buy less of it, and producers make more of it.

  • Motivation. You can get what you need, regardless of how much effort you put in your work. So people will not be putting effort into it.

  • Variety and Luxury. You develop a new version of iPhone, but cannot make enough of them for everybody. Who should get it? It cannot be need-based, since everybody already has a perfectly functional older version. So maybe you reward the hardest workers. But one such worker would rather have a special edition of a jacket that was the reward last month. Would you let her trade the new iPhone for the jacket? And would you make her look for somebody who has that jacket and wants the new iPhone?

  • Cultural division. Each group in society feels it needs more resources than other groups. Even if you get over religion and historic injustices, you will still have old vs. young, parents vs. childless, farmers vs. miners, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Civilization implies large group, mind control implies unhappiness and drones and queens aren't compatible with humans (I was talking about humans). $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 14 '18 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @WaterBearer combine mind control with happy drugs :) Or use religion / spirituality. Look at Mormon or Amish communities. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Mar 14 '18 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ I read the second part of your answer and I must say you have a pretty bad opinion of human nature ! even though our capitalist reality doesn't give us a great example. Only some people never have enough and only in a monetized society, it's what I pointed out in my question (money is survival, so people need to increase the amount of stuff they have). Market economy doesn't solve coordination, on the contrary it entice people to work where money can be made, and prevents everyone from getting what is too costly even if they need it. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 15 '18 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ Those who put no effort into their work will have a bad reputation and will be "outcasts". But to begin with I don't see why they would put no effort if they can do what they really like. The need for variety only exists in a money economy, it's used to make people continuously want new stuff and work for it. Luxury should come from rarity and yes it should be given as a reward (I'm thinking of jewels and special items). I think cultural division only happens when there is something, like money, to divide people. If they all work for the common good they'll be happy to have what they need. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 15 '18 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @WaterBearer markets are coordination - bottom up coordination by the participants rather than a top-down compelled plan from a totalitarian dictator. Money can be made because that work is desired - money is the incentive to increase supply of an unfulfilled desire, and desires for scare goods are tempered by high prices. You've not developed a novel idea about "common good" (how do you define that? what if I disagree with your plan?). Please read up on communism - from the Soviet union back to the puritan settlements in North America - history shows you exactly what happens and why. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Mar 15 '18 at 13:40
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You might have Gene Roddenberry's 'Star Trek' universe.

From most of the pre-reboot shows, every member of the Federation enjoys a guaranteed income which is sufficient to cover most needs and wants. In some episodes they mention rations of replicator use or computer time. This is made possible by sufficient technological sophistication and sufficient surplus energy to provide most basic needs.

I would suggest this is what you need to get away from commerce and barter: the ability to provide almost all basic needs automatically.

But not everyone gets a starship, or gets the resources to build their personal science facility in deep space. In Roddenberry's universe there was a black market of people swapping replicator rations, cheating to get a Captain's chair, lying to get their science project the resources it needs. Some other species never left currency behind, and some citizens of the Federation would participate in the Ferengi cash or other barter economies to get things that their Federation allowances would not let them have.

Roddenberry, with the Q, provided a way to break through even that limitation by having every want be something that can be provided easily.

You could take a little bit from The Matrix, and provide every want virtually.

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  • $\begingroup$ It sounds like "credits" to replace money. Credit economy is worse because you don't own credits, the government does and can take them back for any reason. I see it as slavery. $\endgroup$ – WaterBearer Mar 14 '18 at 19:22
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It depends greatly on the society.

I would point out that both the concepts of currency and barter are fundamentally derived from the concept of personal ownership. A society that lacks that concept would not need currency nor barter.

I've explored a few corner cases like this, and they're fun. But at some point, we have to question what is meant by "society," because they start to look markedly different than what we typically think of when we think of societies.

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