I was reading about non monetary economies and it says that it is a kind of economy that do not have any money in the economy and all goods and services are free to everyone according to Wikipedia.

I see some advantages in such a system which are:

  • People would not need to worry about bills and housing to pay because otherwise the companies will cut the service;

  • Their basic needs are met without fear of losing their jobs and their incomes having the risk of becoming a homeless or a criminal;

  • The crime levels in this world would be much lower since most crimes are committed out of greed and the need to make money for a living;

  • The technological, scientific and artistic characteristics of this world could be much richer and more advanced than in our own since money would not be necessary to make such developments;

  • There would be no concept of poor and rich since everyone could have the same standards of living with relatively ease. So people would be only in poverty if they wanted to. Everyone would be equal.

  • Without money people would not depend financially from their families as they are today. People could abandon their parents houses and go have their own lives in a much earlier age.

However there would be many drawbacks of a economy without any money or any means of exchange:

  • Cities could be much more polluted since in theory everyone over 18 could afford a car. And the numbers of trucks and planes would much higher. However laws could be created in order to determinate who could acquire a car based on certain civil and demographic features;

  • People would probably be much lazier than they are. I read on Reddit about why money exist and someone said that humans are also animals and will do the least they can to survive and need some sort of "pressure" to be stimulated to do things. So he said that without money people would realize that they could have a good standard of living without doing anything to anyone. I did not agree with him but it was just his opinion.

  • Since food would be free health problems associated with overeating like severe obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes could soar and become far more common than it is in our world.

I am not talking about post scarcity and resource based economies like in Star Trek which they eliminated scarcity and the need to work using high technology and Artificial Intelligence. I mean a world with the same technological level as real life but without any money and without barter as well. People would work and consume without the need of any means of exchange. Would everyone accept to work for free?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ I HATE it when a 'move to chat' occurs in the middle of my writing a post. Totally throws me off balance. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ It's a little sad to ask, but I do think a good question to think about: why would a non-monetary society have internal combustion engines at all, let alone jet engines? $\endgroup$
    – Sixtyfive
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for but I suggest you check out the book "Poor Economics" by Sid Banerjee and Esther Duflo (Nobel Prize 2019). They describe (among other things) how in some rural villages in developing countries, there is a kind of economics of mutual favors and presents. People would indicate they desire something ("that's a beautiful goat you have!") and would often be gifted it, but it'd be totally clear the other person would eventually ask sth of similar value in return. Failing to return the favor could have serious consequences, up to death in very severe cases. $\endgroup$
    – srs
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ "People could abandon their parents houses and go have their own lives in a much earlier age." This assumption does not flow logically from the premise. More likely under such a system, all land would be communally owned, and individual ownership would not exist. It would be more like the aboriginal concept of 'we have stewardship of it only as long as we treat it properly.' The aboriginal longhouse living concept. Nature has always made a mockery of 'our right to ownership', as witnessed by the fires in California and earthquakes in Japan (Fukushima disaster). Ownership is such a quaint term. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 14:32

14 Answers 14


There are two possibilities, really:

  • A post-scarcity economy
    Goods are produced by automated factories, by robots clever enough to require little supervision but not smart enough to demand civil rights and their salaries. (There might be other robots who get those, but not on the factory floor or goods distribution centers.) Read e.g. the Culture series by Iain M. Banks for an example.

  • Powerful social constraints
    In theory, people are free to take what they need and only to contribute what they feel like. In practice, taking too much or working too little makes the neighbours upset, and one has no right to be invited to their parties.

We're a site for building fictional worlds, so the latter option is much nicer because it offers more adventure potential. An adventure is someone else in trouble, preferrably long ago or far away ...

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 20:28

The eternal problem of communism is that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" doesn't work unless:

  1. The concept of needs is severely curtailed in order to avoid people expressing decadent bourgeois false needs, such as being warm, eating tasty food and not walking barefoot.

  2. The concept of ability needs to be supported by a ruthless repression apparatus, otherwise nobody will agree that their level of ability is to clean the sewers.

In other words, a nightmarish world where everybody is dirt poor and lives in continuous fear.

From a conceptual point of view there are four unsolvable problems with a purely communist society:

  1. The problem of local knowledge, or, why central planning cannot possibly work.

    In a normal economy, the interaction between supply and demand works as a distributed information system which by and large makes sure that producers allocate resources to what consumers actually need.

    But in a communist society there is no money. Since there is no money, there are no prices. Since there are no prices, there is no way for production to be informed of what's needed to be produced. Since there is no way for production to be informed of what's needed to be produced, you will always have overproduction of some things and underproduction of other things.

    In principle, a communist society is supposed to overcome this problem by employing an all-powerful central planning organization, which uses pervasive (and invasive) sources of information to learn how many size A bras are to be produced in the next quarter, how many size B, how many size C and so on. Unfortunately, this doesn't work, from both practical and theoretical reasons.

    Long story short, in the absence of prices the central planning organization cannot possibly know what is the utility to be associated with each and every item that could be produced. What they will have to do is make arbitrary choices, with zero hope of ever getting it right...

  2. The problem of inherently scarce goods and services.

    Some goods and services are inherently scarce. There is only so much space available on the sea shore for houses with an ocean view; there is no way to give such a desirable house to everybody. There are only so many seats available at a concert. There are only so many tables in good restaurants.

    The point being that in a normal economy highly desirable and scarce goods and services will command higher prices, and people will have to prioritize their resources if they really want them. In a communist society there is no money, hence there are no prices, and allocating those desirable goods and services can only be done by decree.

  3. The problem of unavoidable collapse.

    Since there is no money, production needs to be commanded from a central authority. In a normal economy, each and every producer is independent of any central authority, and they thrive or fail on their own, with little risk of bringing the entire economy down. In a command economy, when the central authority fails, and it will eventually fail, the entire thing goes to pieces. The sad truth is that the State Committe for Planning is a single point of failure, and it is guaranteed that sooner or later it will fail, because humans make mistakes and unexpected events happen. And then you have a revolution...

  4. The problem of incentives.

    In a society without money it is really really hard to motivate people to do anything more than the bare minimum they can get away with. Quality goes down, progress slows to a crawl, maintenance becomes perfunctory, and eventually a point is reached where the entire economy is a heap of disfunctional rubble. And then you have a revolution...

And about that barter...

Funny thing is, in all known societies, when there is no official money, people will pick one or more commodities and use them as money. Packs of cigarettes, half kilo packages of ground coffee, something. But you will have some sort of unofficial currency, because see point 2 above: some goods and services are inherently scarce, and you must have something with which to bribe the bureacrat who allocates them.

And of course, trading favors will become pervasive. You won't believe how good people are at remembering and balancing favors.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Got a source for point 1? Google knows exactly what I need and I never give them a penny. It is transaction volumes that matter, and they can be measured without cost. $\endgroup$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @SeriousBri: Local knowledge problem. (And it appears that at least in this case Google failed you.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ My question was more what that has to do with requiring prices, all it requires is information. $\endgroup$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ @SeriousBri Prices are a way to elicit reliable information. No other technique has matched them even closely. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ @SeriousBri, you barter your eyeballs with google when you seek information. They will have displayed Ads to you. They in turn, sold the the eyeballs to their advertisers, the advertisers know the price of your eyeballs. $\endgroup$
    – crobar
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 15:47

These societies exist, but scaling them beyond Dunbar's Number is difficult.

Within a small group, social bonds are sufficient to have everyone contribute in some way, and groups will expel members that refuse. In such a setting, micro-accounting with money is overhead that brings no real benefit, as it requires assigning prices, a tax-like system for redistribution towards communal projects, an insurance-like system for redistribution if someone becomes unable to work, and several other institutions to manage the system.

There is no point in status symbols in such a society, these would be looked down upon by the group as a waste of communal resources.

Trade with other groups can be organized similar to exchange within the group, as basically a gifting economy where individual transactions aren't accounted, but people have a general sense of whether the relationship is fair (which can still be unbalanced, e.g. if one group has a bad harvest).

  • $\begingroup$ I wonder to what extent language changes in order to alienate freeloaders... $\endgroup$
    – Dagelf
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Dagelf, in the places I know, people use the words "class consciousness" and "bourgeoisie" a lot, but correlation is not necessarily causation. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Dagelf Indigenous Melanesias are a good example of this system. To them, social status is based on how many gifts you can give vs how much help you need to receive. They have a phrase that basically translates to "rubbish men" that is used to refer to freeloaders. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I was thinking more "having it easy" that freeloading- for example, between the Dutch and Afrikaans language, many common Dutch words are particularly vulgar in Afrikaans, and vice versa. I think this was done by design, so as to make it more difficult to move between the two worlds, and so as to create more exclusivity for the perks built by the Afrikaans government, for the Afrikaans people. Similarly, buzzwords serve to keep people out of certain corporate circles. Just a theory, perhaps its not by design, but maybe it's a subconscious or evolutionary thing. Maybe both. $\endgroup$
    – Dagelf
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 8:58

The Queen was in a mood again. Drone 751-b-5 could feel the slow-down pheromones on his feelers.

While b-5 knew perfectly well that the food supply was perilously low, he couldn't stop from slacking off a little in cultivating the mold gardens. And even if the Queen ended up starving them all with her (mis)guidance, there were other colony-cities. 851 was doing quite well, or so he had heard. And, besides the other '51' communities, there were also the '48' and '52' groups. And, he supposed, some surviving '49' colonies. As much as b-5 didn't like to think about the 49's.

The slow-down pheromones were great for making sure the community did not overwork itself, but what sort of Queen kept sending it out in the middle of a famine? When everyone was aching so much to work harder?

Daily life in a civilization without money or barter may be possible, but only if your civilization is not composed of humans

  • $\begingroup$ Although I do not disagree that your fictionalized drone colony will work, I do disagree that it's impossible for humanity. It would be much different than your bleak scenario, but in a world with infinite resources it would be possible. Granted, those infinite resources would likely need to come from expansion into space, which is well beyond our technology at the moment. $\endgroup$
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @mkinson, what you describe is explicitly outside of scope for the original question: "I am not talking about post scarcity and resource based economies like in Star Trek which they eliminated scarcity and the need to work using high technology and Artificial Intelligence. I mean a world with the same technological level as real life but without any money and without barter as well." (emphasis mine) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @EiríkrÚtlendi Yes, you are correct that my comment goes against the OP intent. However, you had stated that "only if your civilization is not composed of humans" as a generalized statement. Today we do not have civilizations that do not use money or barter in some form, even in so-called primitive tribal settings or Quaker/Amish communities. But, I do reject the idea that it would be impossible because I can envision a future where it could exist. $\endgroup$
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @mkinson, just for the record, I am not Jedediah. 😄 $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ @mkinson, the problem with pos scarcity is that it ignores that whenever humans can produce more than they current need, they will update their needs to want more of something else. The way all humans societies operate (from the US, to China or 39 people tribe in polynesia) involves money or barter, simply because, given that we are not entitle to each others time and efford, we have to offer something in return. When you alleviate or eliminate the material scarcity, you will just aggravate the "social scarcity", thus "social capital" becomes the new currency. $\endgroup$
    – LuizPSR
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 3:32


Please note that I came within an inch of voting to close this question as opinion-based. I'm only answering it because your specific question, "would everyone accept to work for free?" has, IMO, only one plausible answer.

There has never been a civilization on Earth — at any time in history — where someone walking down the street wouldn't see something they want... and want it.

And therein ends the discussion of "would everyone accept to work for free?" So long as anyone has something someone else doesn't have, there will come a time when that someone else will want it — and while it's nice to believe that an economy can exist that can provide every need, every luxury, every whim to anyone and everyone at any time, the truth is (and it's a truth far too many people won't accept) is that it's impossible to do that.

"We shall execute our king instead, sir, and exalt our tailors," said Chauvelin in Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. To which Sir Percy replies, "More's the pity. Then your tailors will rule the land, and no one will make the clothes. So much for French fashion, and French politics."

The only way for such a society to exist is for nothing to be available to anyone that isn't a subsistence need. Except that isn't possible, either. As soon as someone's job allows them to use a pickup truck, someone whose job doesn't allow it will want a pickup truck. As soon as someone is given a new car, someone with an older car (no matter how new) will want a new car. And you can't have red cars and blue cars because someone with a red car will see someone with a blue car and want it. You can't have people with curly hair and people with straight hair because... Is this making sense yet?

Training humanity to accept the lowest-common-denominator when it comes to living would require training them to accept the drudgery of effort without finding the joy of life. As soon as someone tells a friend across the country that they saw a beautiful butterfly, that friend will want to change locations because (true or not) they will believe there are no beautiful butterflies where they live.

Publius Ovidius Naso wrote "Fertilior seges est alenis semper in agris" (the harvest is always more fruitful in another man's fields). Which is where the modern proverb, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" is believed to have come from. What both mean is that it's human nature to believe their life would be better if they have something they don't currently have.

In other words, the very concept is inhuman. Worse, it depends on the removal of innovation, curiosity, the drive for improvement... (it makes Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World look like paradise). In fact, it would require whoever is in charge (yup, something someone who isn't in charge is going to want...) to give up the very technological basis that allowed them to have the society they have. Keep in mind, such a society would require a ruling class that enforced the condition of equity — not equality, that's impossible in such a society, but equity.

Which means no one can fix the machines when they start breaking down... because that depends on the innovation your society cannot have that would permit even the possibility that everyone could work for free.

And anyone who doesn't believe this should read Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron.

So... no.

While getting my dinner this evening I was reminded of the comments of a friend about a month ago. He's a plumbing contractor — and the people who work for him... won't. When he asked one why he wouldn't come to work, the response was, "why should I crawl in attics and crawlspaces when I can stay home on unemployment for the same amount?"

My thanks to @CodesWithHammer for helping me expand that example. At the time I posted this answer, the U.S. government had created an artificial condition where a skilled laborer refuses to work because all his/her needs are met without labor. Whether or not the employer could, should, or would pay more to overcome the "economic inertia" created by that artificial condition isn't relevant to the question. What is relevant is that the workers could have easily returned to work "for free," contributing their skills for the greater good of society as there were (and there were) people in need of those skills. Given the choice to work "for free," they chose to stay home - thus making my point.

So... no.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps everyone wants something they don't have. Let's say they get it. What happens after that? What if accumulation could be eliminated? You get what you want, you use it, then give it back, pass it around. People get bored even at the beach condo. :-) (Doesn't work well with consumables like food, though.) $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @PabloH It doesn't work at all. Otherwise no one would buy new books, they'd just use libraries. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 6:38

There is only one way to make this work on a large scale, and that is extensive slavery. Otherwise there are always many very important jobs that no one would do without getting a significant reward. Sewage work and waste treatment are gross for everyone, woodcutting or such are too dangerous to do them without immediate need.

If slaves produce all the required goods, the non-slave population can live in wealth and splendor, free of the worries of money. They just do the prestigious stuff, research, art, architecture and such, whatever they feel like on the day.

The slave caste needs to be so suppressed that they don't even think about revolting, either through the incentive of becoming free if they work hard so that they can be on the other end of the master-slave relation, or through so much terror over centuries that their will to be free is essentially non-existent. They just do whatever they are ordered to without question. Since slaves in such a society are essentially dehumanized, they don't count into "everyone". Everyone (who isn't a slave) has everything they need.

It's similar to a society where robots/machines produce everything, except that there are already many goods that modern machines can't fully produce without human work and slaves would fill that gap.

If someone wants to create a new product, he goes to the slave slums, grabs a few of them and has them do it. If he wants to provide more of those products, he grabs more slaves. There might be specialist slaves which live in slightly cleaner slums, which can build machines to aid large scale production.

In essence, it would be a utopia for the ruling class and a dystopia for the slave caste. Similar things could be observed in "communist" societies like the USSR, where many "apparatchiks" lived without need for anything while most of the population lived to essentially serve the whims of their superiors.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 8:50

Money is very useful

Bartering or paying in kind (like I'll give you a dozen eggs for working on my farm) are really only used in smaller community settings, or less developed societies. The problem on a larger scale is that it is very hard to quantify just how many eggs a house is worth.

Money is so great because it isn't some product or service that is produced, but a means of assigning arbitrary values to very different things. It makes things more organized and efficient.

Further, lack of money does not reduce greed or crime. In a world without money, someone will just steal valuable items instead. If there is a reason for lack of crime in non-monetary societies, it is because of extraneous factors, whether it be a smaller community, strict cultural beliefs about theft, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ "Money isn't some product or service to be produced?" Tell that to the Federal Reserve... or to the IMF when it issues SDR's. Oh wait, that's not money. Dollars aren't money. The only real money today is....... $\endgroup$
    – Dagelf
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ Dollars (currency) are an implementation of money (a medium of exchange, a measure of account, and a store of value). Money is an idea. To be fair, this isn't ECON 101 material; it's ECON 102. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ This response is counter to the OP's question and does not provide an answer imo. $\endgroup$
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @mkinson - that's because large societies always have some form of money. If it doesn't, we aren't operating on realistic terms, but some kind of fantasy world. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct that eliminating money will not necessarily reduce crime, it will only re-focus it. In reality, 'money' only gives crime a 'focal point'. Crimes of passion and crimes of power do not need money. In fact. it would seem to me that monetary fines are the main reason crime is held in check. Speeding and drunk driving fines, for instance. Monetary punishment, not financial gain, is the main motivator for NOT committing an infraction., $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:16

Would everyone accept to work for free?

If 'work for free' means 'without being paid money', then the answer is yes.

I did not find even one research paper that would suggest that money is the only motivation to make people work. Most research suggests that correlations between salary and job satisfaction and between salary and work engagement are almost negligible. Internal motivations (like curiosity, interest in a specific topic, self-improvement, self-challenge, and so on) are much better predictors not only of job satisfaction and engagement but also productivity.

It is also worth considering that for the most part of human history, people worked without being paid any money. Salaried jobs (with salaries paid in money) became common only after the Industrial Revolution. And even with salaried jobs being the norm today, a significant amount of work1 is done without being paid: Domestic labour, child and elderly care, volunteer work, hobbies, and so on.

A lot of work is done not because it is rewarded monetarily, but because it needs to be done. For example, I clean my toilet not because I am paid to do it and definitely not because I enjoy it. I do it because it needs to be done to avoid future problems (and because I hate dirt more than I hate cleaning toilets).

Some other work is done because it relates to social or personal responsibilities. In modern societies, social responsibilities are often fulfilled by public agencies (e.g. maintenance of public property). In traditional societies, either some members do this work of their own volition or the community will achieve some sort of agreement on who and when does this work. Caring for children and the elderly is often a personal responsibility (although, some traditional societies consider it a communal responsibility) and all work done to fulfil this responsibility is done without pay.

And, of course, there will be a lot of work done because people enjoy it, receive social approval and respect, achieve self-fulfilment through it, and similar reasons.

There is a caveat. If we suddenly remove money from today's world and ask people to work without being paid, there will be a lot of people who will refuse to work, at least, initially. The number of those people will be most likely higher in cultures that assign high value to money and tend to see money as an indicator of personal success and fulfilment. I am talking here about cultural views and stereotypes, in other words, the perceived role of money in human lives. Whether this view is correct or not is a different topic.

If 'work for free' means 'without being rewarded in any way at all', then the answer is no.

What I mean by 'without being rewarded in any way at all' is that a worker does not receive any benefits, tangible or intangible.

There still be some people with a strong sense of responsibility who will work because they believe that it is something they ought to do. There will be some people who work because it is the lesser of the two evils (I hate dirt more than cleaning toilets). And, of course, all those people who work because they enjoy it, find it personally gratifying, fulfilling, etc. will continue working. However, there will be quite a few people who do not work at all because they are not being rewarded.

To be frank, I cannot imagine a situation where workers are not rewarded at all. Even housewives whose work is often undervalued, unrecognised, and looked down upon, receive at least some reward from friends and families complimenting their cooking, smart arrangements in the house, the aesthetics, and so on. Although, I do admit that this kind of reward can be insufficient motivation for many people.

Some additional notes

1. Culture and society

Even Marx, whose work Critique of the Gotha Programme made the slogan 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs' popular, was admitting that a direct transition from a capitalist to communist society is not possible. In the same work, he suggests that this transition will happen in two stages. At the lower stage, labour contribution to society will determine how much workers receive from this society. The transition to the higher stage (i.e. communism how it should be) becomes possible only when society and its members are completely free from the values and traditions of capitalism:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! (Critique of the Gotha Programme. Part I)

Whether you agree with Marx or not, he makes a very good point: Moneyless economies require different cultural values and behaviours compared to money-based economies. I think that a moneyless society will put great emphasis on:

  • collectivist values

    Collectivist cultures are more concerned with society's needs and goals. For example, collectivism was one of the best predictors of mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individualistic cultures tend to prioritise personal autonomy and may lead to the politicisation of questions, actions, and activities related to the public good (which could also be seen in the US where mask usage during the pandemic became a political issue and at the same time resulted in a higher number of super-spreaders compared to more collectivist cultures).

  • civic duties and social responsibilities

    Civic duties refer to the responsibilities of citizens, e.g. voting and jury participation in democratic countries. Social responsibilities are responsibilities as a member of a group. There are a lot of things that people do not want to do for one reason or another. However, these things still need to be done. A person with a strong sense of duty and responsibility will be much more likely to do unlikeable but necessary things.

I also want to note that money is one of many reward mechanisms. Fame, recognition, respect, special treatment, and so on are examples of other reward mechanisms. In addition to rewards, societies employ coercion mechanisms to make their members perform necessary work. The social stigma attached to those who refuse to work can be used as coercion. So, while a moneyless society may not have one of the rewards mechanisms it will still have all other reward and coercion mechanisms. And even if people are not willing to accept working for free they might be forced to do so. The specific use of coercion and reward systems determines whether your moneyless society is a utopia or a dystopia. The absence of money does not automatically lead to any of these two outcomes.

2. Innovation

It is a popular saying that capitalism stimulates innovation. I also read and heard many times that any non-capitalistic country will always and inevitably lag behind in innovation. I am not sure that this is entirely correct.

The USSR achieved remarkable success when it comes to space exploration or weapons despite being a socialist country with no free market. In all countries, capitalistic or not, most basic research is done using public funding (the state pays for expensive long-term research). Public funding is also essential for research in the fields that do not yield quick profit or will never be profitable.

Private business frequently focuses their research on consumer products that can bring profits and increase the company's value. They are not concerned with the public good and even if they are a responsible company and they have some considerations it is not their top priority or primary goal. It is even possible to argue that while capitalism indeed led to the increase in the quality of life short-term it is also responsible for the massive decrease in the quality of life in the future due to the harm caused to the environment.

A moneyless society can potentially be even more innovative than a capitalist society because theoretically people can freely choose their jobs and can unleash their full potential. At the same time, they can be more responsible when it comes to the public good and long-term effects of innovations because they are not concerned with profits.

I would be sceptical of anyone who makes any definite statements when it comes to innovation because we do not have any points of reference and/or data to support our conjectures. As a result, most predictions are based on ideology and assumptions about human nature2.

1 While some people equate work with paid labour only, this is not accurate. For example, according to OECD research, unpaid care work is one of the important factors explaining gender gaps in labour outcomes (participation, wages, and job quality). Across all regions of the world, women spend on average between three and six hours per day on unpaid care activities, while men spend between half an hour and two hours. Even if we disregard the gender implications and focus on unpaid labour only, we will see that on average families spend between five and seven hours per day on unpaid care activities, which is only slightly shorter than a typical 8-hour workday.

Unpaid care work is defined in the cited document as 'Unpaid care work refers to all unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including care of persons, housework and voluntary community work (Elson, 2000). These activities are considered work, because theoretically one could pay a third person to perform them.'

2 If you visit discussion sites for US conservatives and US socialists/progressivists/communists this point will become very obvious. They use the same facts (or lack of facts) to come to completely opposite conclusions.

  • $\begingroup$ You missed a very crucial point. Humans are, by genetics, DRIVEN to 'be busy'. Without constant activity, our neurons, muscles, and bones deteriorate, Unlike cats, humans are almost always active from infancy (have you EVER seen a totally sedentary 5-year-od? Even the bedridden ones are 'antsy' to get moving). Humans can't NOT work, the presence or absence of monetary incentives or otherwise. Coinage has only been around since the Lydians in 700 BCE. Humans work, because working is innate in us. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ The concept of "paid labor' in essence, is all about doing something for someone ELSE'S benefit and wealth advancement, so we can spend the rest of the time laboring at what WE want to do. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 1:50

Would everyone accept to work for free? Yes!

There are much more incentives to work than just personal material gain. Despite popular claims, people are not rational beings - we do not make decisions based on cold-blooded rationality, and othen choose actions which are not the most profitable ones, at least materially. Without any kind of money or property, the majority of creative jobs would remain unaffected. The incentive of the artists, scientists and thinkers is not money, but the need of progress, self expression, social respect or self devepolement. Rich people hardly ever decide to fully give up on any work. Even if they do not need money to survive or improve their situation, they still run up a fundations or govern the companies - had the material gain be the only reason for any activity they would remain idle after obtaining certain level of wealth. Also, a lot of non-creative, but essential, workers are also not driven by the greed and desire of money - in many countries teachers and nurses are amongst the worst earning professions and yet people are willing to take these jobs despite the requirements for higher education, long working hours or a lot of work to be done in home after the working hours. In many cases these people would earn much more by working as a shop assistant than by remaining in their profession, but are still unwilling to change their job. Even in cases of the jobs like physical workers or other blue collars, the money is hardly ever the main incentive. Majority of people prefer to have a hard and poorly paid work, than to be unemployed even if some social security is guaranteed by the state. In the situation of forced unemployment when money is not needed to survive, like in prisons, the possibility to work, even for very poor wage, is highly desired. Additionally, one has to notice, that a lot of the most needed work is currently done for free - volunteers, housewifes or activists are performing huge amount of free work, often in the most crucial areas. They care for poor and sick, they fight to counter the actions of corporate lobbyists, they push the society toward the future - in term of human rights, climate or equality. There are enormously important, they may be the most important tasks in the modern society, yet are done mainly for free.

Multiple experiments with a basic income showed that alleviating the material incentive to work do not make people less likely to seek for employment.

One could argue, that the material incentive to work in fact discourage people to work efficiently. Karl Marx said, that the alienation caused by the need to perform work which one do not enjoy, leads to the dicrease of one's possibilities and thus hinders the progress of the society. One who perfom his job only to satisfy his most basic needs will never be an efficient worker.

Clearly, one could be afraid that if we remove the finiancial incentive and move toward removal of workers' alienation, some jobs would be vulnerable to extinction. But currently a lot of working positions are the so-called bullshit jobs which are in fact pointless, or even damaging to both the workers and the society. It is hard to make a claim, that disappearence of such jobs would be a bad thing.

But there is much more to discuss in your question!

The disadvantages of society without money which you mentioned are only valid in the society with money. Would anyone desire to have a car, had he work just in a walking distance from his home or had there be free, comfortable and fast public transport? Would anyone desire to be stuck in the traffic instead of using well designed underground train? In the society without property (or with everything being a public property) the public services would be of much higher priority and quality. Occasional use of car for entertaiment (like holiday travel or just enjoyment of driving) would not cause much pollution. Would anyone desire to eat unhealthy garbage food had he have an access to high quality, tasty and healthy dishes with enough free time to prepare them and enjoy them in the stressless life? I don't think so. One could say, that people just like garbage food - like fast food or kebab. But even a kebab or burger can be made from high quality meet, on fresh oil and with healthy ingredients. It is lack of money, not its abundance, that cause people to eat unhealthy food and pollute the enviroment.

But is it even possible?

The society which you described in your question is basically a communist one - a society in which not only money is removed, but a property as a whole do not exist. If we allow property to remain and remove only money the barter will emerge as a substitute. To remove the barter, the property as a whole has to be removed and everything has to be public. I will not discuss here whether this is achievable in the real life or whether it is a good goal to struggle for. But let me draw attention to some aspects of such society.

The greatest advocate of the communist society, Karl Marx, himself emphasised that such society is possible only is some kind of post-scarcity world. He claimed that social structure is a result of material conditions and posession-free society could not emerge in the medieval times when even the food was scarce. He claimed that capitalism is a necessary step toward the communism because it creates the means of production necessary to enter the communist stage. But with time, the capitalist regime becomes obsolote, as it is no longer suitable to control these forces of production - in the same way as medieval nobility was not able to control the industrial forces of early capitalism. One could say, that we in fact already observe this situation, as competition between small capitalists (what is a definition of the capitalism) is currently replaced by monopoly of huge corporations. Marks believed that is will be replaced by property-free comunist society. The most importat aspect here is the fact, that Marks was seeing the capitalism as a force which creates this post-scarcity society which will be able to satisfy the needs of the people without the rule of the capitalist bourgeoisie. So whenever you speak about society without money, you have to speak about (at least in some sense) post-scarcity society. One could argue whether we are already in this stage - current food production is enough to end the world hunger and the wealth created is enough to eliminate the global poverty.

Another notion is that creation of society without a property would require enormous change in the way we see the world. Change in such society would not be only cosmetic, but it would require the modification of the basic principles of the society. The goods would not be distributed in any way between the people, there would not be any central commitee which gives food to everyone. It would just be free. One could just walk out of the work in the middle of week, enter a plane on the airport, travel to the other side of the world and ride a bike standing on the road and noone would consider it strange or wrong. The change would be fundamental.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 4:21

Most armies of the world operate exactly like your economic system, where the nutritional, clothing, health care, and other needs are provided by the 'organization' and the soldier provides 24/7 as-demanded service in return. A central commissary dispenses as available and as needed, according to regulations. Supply and demand are governed by central stores.

An economic system whereby the entire society is structured hierarchically like an army, with no outside economy, would be equivalent to your concept. I suspect bartering would still occur, but it would not be a 'barter economy'. I have even seen domesticated dogs cats 'barter' between themselves.

The ISS operates by the same principles. The astronauts do not 'buy' their food while on board the station.

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    $\begingroup$ Soldiers are paid, in addition to being provided for while in service. (Sometimes the pay is largely plunder, lands when they retire, etc, but it's pay.) Astronauts are paid, in addition to being provided for while in orbit. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ @ Jedediah They are paid only because they must re-enter the 'money' economy. My point was, a society that is STRICTLY designed under such a scenario. That is, the entire ECONOMY designed as a regulated, structured system akin to military, like the Spartan society., where it is expected to have your life 'administered' by a central authority or system. The Roman Catholic Church monasteries were a similar system with the clergy and nunnery. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ They are soldiers in the first place (in part) because there's something in it for them beyond the next meal. Otherwise, why wouldn't they rebel? But more generally, do you imagine that a centrally planned economy could reach and maintain a modern level of technology? (Part of the question.) $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ (Even the USSR had money, as does communist China, so don't give those as examples of modern centrally planned economies. And the USSR collapsed, and China had to loosen up economically. ) $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Jedediah I would feel more confident in your response if it did not seem to be an attempt to prove the 'narcissistic supremacy' of the 'American way' as the 'only way, the right way, the final way' vs China and Russia. Communism is completely antithetical as a system for military structure and discipline, and neither Russia nor China were 'communist' except as seen by the Western perversion of the term, any more than America is 'democratic' except as defined under the Western perversion of the term. The question has absolutely nothing to do with 'communism' or 'democracy' or 'capitalism'. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 14:18

Given a technological level roughly equivalent to today’s, no such society can exist with humans.

In order for there to be no money and no barter, there has to be no scarcity. Which means vastly higher or lower technology.

Money exist to solve the problem of barter, which is that to a drowning man water is useless and to someone dying of thirst nearly infinite in its value, and both of them would sorta like to have eggs tomorrow morning. Money is just barter on a humongous scale (also why you want your money to be as nearly worthless as possible).

You need a species that is motivated by something other than personal wants, one with a shared desire/goal that is so powerful that it overrides anything else and doesn’t tolerate competing desires — someone that expresses a desire for a personal benefit that interferes with that goal isn’t a leper but leprosy itself, killed without thought.

I’m not sure how such a species would rise to our level of technology, doing things more efficiently has to an acceptable part of their goal, while allowing for inefficiency in the inevitable mistakes. Perhaps they only became that way after achieving a given level of technology and it has gone up or down since the goal was established. I guess there could be another species on the planet from which they acquire all their technology.


My previous response did not take into consideration that the OP explicitly states our technology level and available resources would be what they are today in their fictional scenario. That restriction severely limits the possibility for such a society, but I do still believe it would be possible so long as it was done sustainably.

The basic premise would be that each person living within the society would need their own plot of land, they would be limited in how many children they could have and it would require that the entire multi-generational family would remain on their given plot with the exception of spouses moving to other established plots. Each family would grow their own food, manufacture their own clothing, and in all ways be self-sufficient.

In short, the society could be as large as available land allows, but there would be absolutely no need for exchange or trade. Whatever you grow, harvest, sheer, etc. is what you have to work with. No governments, no laws, just honest farm life basically like what the USA had during the great western migration.

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    $\begingroup$ Some people would be happy with that and go along with it. Many more would not. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ @coppereyecat The Amish communities in the US almost live this form of lifestyle. They do purchase cloth to make their clothing, among other dry goods, but generally they live off of their own means and try to stay out of other modern societies. $\endgroup$
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 10:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The problem with expecting each family to stay on its own plot of land is population growth. During the "great western migration", each family had to have a lot of children to get the unpaid labor of the children in the fields. However, when they grew up, they had to go somewhere. The Amish communities have that problem today. They are spreading west to find new places to buy farms to set up new communities because kids are growing up and the existing farms can't be subdivided up to be able to support a family in the next generation. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidR Correct, which is why I included "they would be limited in how many children they could have" in the answer. That's certainly the biggest challenge. $\endgroup$
    – mkinson
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ Try to make the economics of a good sized farm work with limited children. It is almost impossible. China has small farm families and small farms that need only a few people to farm (and the farms are not owned by the farmer - big difference in economics). Farms in Iowa (which are larger) historically used lots of teenagers for detasseling corn or to walk and hoe the beans. Small town teenagers would work in the fields around town. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 17:05

The themes explored in the descriptive text associated with your question reminded me of a description of communism in Russia, during the earlier days of the Soviet system, that Ayn Rand described in her book Atlas Shrugged:

Each receives according to their needs, each gives according to their abilities.

It's why she wrote Atlas Shrugged, to explain egoism and objectivism and to counter communism.

Communism failed, as will the society you are describing.

If society gives everyone everything they need, where is the incentive to do anything?

If someone gets enraged one night and smashes their television set as a result. Does society immediately replace it? What if the same person repeatedly smashes their replacement television sets on successive nights because they repeatedly become enraged over other issues. Are they entitled to continually receive replacement television sets?

Is there no responsibility on people to care for items and not smash them because they become enraged?

Would a system of rationing be required to prevent this and also to prevent people from eating excessively and becoming obese? If so, how is a fair ration determined?


My interpretation of your question: "How would life look like, if it's even possible, in a society where people aren't paid anything that serves as a medium of exchange?'

IMHO, such society is possible even now and the people will be willing to work without becoming hardcore altruists (it's a different question if such society will be viable in the long run).

I imagine following scenario: The whole economy is organized as a planned economy, with no money. Instead of paying people with money for their labor, the government pays with sets of personal, specialized, one-use coupons. These coupons are personal because each coupon has personal ID number of a person to whom it was given, you can't use a coupon that has ID that is different from your ID (unless you a spouse/caretaker/child of the person with given ID). They are one-use in sense, that once you spend given coupon, the other party that received it is prohibited from giving it back to you under any circumstances, these coupons will be destroyed. They are specialized in sense, that each coupon allows you to get specific amount of something specific. Like you can be given a coupon to get 1.5 kgs of beef (no more, no less, and specifically beef). You get a set of many different coupons, like 1 coupon for X kgs of beef(central planners think, that you have a need to eat meat of cows), another coupon for Y number of condoms (central planners think, that people like you have at the least somewhat active sexual life), yet another coupon allows you to visit a theatre for Z times. Basically central planners decide what needs/wants of people like you are, and compensate your labor accordingly. If it's something big (like a car), then you will need to receive and collect (it will likely take several years) certain amount coupons to get this things (like maybe you need to collect 100 coupons to receive a car).

These coupons wouldn't be money, as money serve as a medium of exchange, and these coupons don't serve as medium of exchange. It's often said that money serve as a medium of exchange, but the whole concept of "medium of exchange" was invented in context of solving "double coincidence of wants" of a barter system. Like if I have a bag of rice, but I want to have some beef, then I need to find a person who wants to get rice and give some beef in return. If I have some kind of medium of exchange (like dollars), then I can just exchange my bag of rice for said medium of exchange, and then exchange said medium of exchange for some beef, which give me much more flexibility. But this flexibility is gone if I have, say, food coupons for X loaves of bread, that only I can use. Thus this version of coupons can't be considered to be a medium of exchange, at the least if rules are properly enforced.

Now let's think about things, that will be different in this society.

1.People will be still somewhat motivated to do their work, but to lesser degree, as central planners have less nuanced understanding of their needs/wants. Like maybe I'm a vegetarian, an asexual, neither meat nor sex interest me. And I don't like visiting a theatre. Thus coupons for beef (and other kinds of meat), condoms (and other kinds of sex-related things) and theatre are just wasted on me.

2.Such system works worse if people are diverse and complicated in their needs and wants. Which will encourage the authorities to try to make people more standard in their needs/wants. The easiest way would be for the Government to get rid of non-standard people, to bully/brainwash them into behaving like the general population, or just left their needs/wants unfulfilled. Like chronically ill and disabled people will have needs/wants that are different from needs/wants of an average Joe, so the government can decide to heal them once and for all, ignore their problems, or even to kill them. Such society will see being different as deeply problematic, people will feel ashamed/depressed for being different.

3.More cumbersome personal finances. You don't get money, instead you need to keep track of many different kinds of coupons.

4.Heavy use of censorship and primitivization of culture. The government will likely to actively shape culture, and it will shape it in a way, that will make people less diverse and complicated in their wants/needs.

5.Stealing/robbing/scamming people out of their money will become a thing of the past, as there are no money and you can't use a coupon that belongs to other person anyway. But stealing/robbing/scamming people out of their things will be increased.

6.No fines, no money compensations, as there are no money.

7.No taxes as we know them, as no money needed to pay for wages. Not a problem at all, since the State is the sole employer and owns all resources and enterprises.


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