I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living.”
– Thomas Jefferson

I am not much of a fan of science fiction, but there is one book I can recommend wholeheartedly: A Door into Ocean, by an American biologist and writer Joan Slonczewski. It imagines in great detail a planet all covered by ocean, where the humanoid inhabitants live on clusters of living rafts within a social system of radical equality. They are called Sharers, both by themselves and their planetary neighbors. As one reader comments:

The [main] planet is a largely traditional human society; capitalist, patriarchal to a large extent, traditional forms of government, and physics based technology. The inhabitants of the aqueous moon are females who reproduce via parthenogenesis, have a very egalitarian society, and rely on sophisticated biotechnology. The book is about the clash of these two cultures.

The author bravely tackles the attempt of the nearby planet of humans much like us to colonize and dominate the Sharers. The usurpers are unsuccessful in the end. Sharing proves to be not only a good way to live in a challenging environment, but also powerful enough to deflect would-be conquerors.

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the need to not only share power but also to share the Earth, if we are to have a saner, durable future. I used to prefer communities where individual financial independence was stressed because I felt that there are too many complications in sharing socio-economic systems. But more and more, I am tending in the direction of another way of doing money and economics altogether. Apparently, I am not alone. In one of the recent discussions on Orion Magazine, Susan Meeker-Lowry commented:

Unless people are willing to actually come together (in the words of John Lennon), to be willing to experiment with sharing not only ideas but land, houses, “stuff”, gardens, responsibilities, and money (yes, even that!) we won’t get far because we’ll still be stuck on our own, in our own little enclave wanting to come together but afraid of the changes involved. Don’t know if this is a “woman” thing or not, but that’s what I have to say about it right now.

Indeed. Watching the global financial system self-destruct under the weight of fraud and bogus theories, the times are ripe for daring experiments. One such bold step into the unknown is the uniquely visionary Freeconomy Bristol Village. For several years, some folks in England have been tinkering with minimizing their use of money, reducing their needs and scavenging for discarded food and other necessities. The Moneyless Man book describes one year in the life of Mark Boyle, an Irishman living near Bristol, who decides to live without money altogether. Mark also created a web site that connects people who are interested in what he calls freeconomy, and who offer their skills and used items to others, entirely free.

Mark seems especially good at garnering publicity for his projects. His book is selling well and is being published in several languages. He has dedicated all profits to a trust fund that will purchase rural land within 50 km of Bristol where the village will be located. It is an ambitious undertaking, perhaps not so much on the level of financing, but because of the various rather difficult challenges the initial villagers pose themselves, not the least of which is to supply most of their basic needs (including clothes!) from the land. Nevertheless, if not now, when? Mark has gathered around him a group of people who know how to make things happen.

The villagers intend to phase out all use of money within a short time following their land purchase. They plan to outfit themselves mostly from local and waste materials, and if Mark’s example from his year without money leads the way, they will rely on foraging and growing their own food supplemented by scavenging out-of-date foods in surrounding communities, and keep their living conditions and comforts simple, spartan, almost primitivist. The community will attempt to use permaculture design for all its aspects, nearly eliminate waste, and resort to recycled and natural building materials in constructing shelters for the permanent inhabitants and visitors. But let the founder describe it himself:

…a parcel of land where humanity evolves beyond the need for money and lives again like it did for 95% of its time on earth, just with more understanding. This first moneyless village will become an experimental society, a model we will constantly refine and which I believe will not only show a truly ecological way of living but one which will liberate humanity from the chains of economic and cultural slavery. This model can then be replicated by anyone in the world who wants to go down the moneyless path, tweaking it for climate, culture and the value systems and needs of those who want to live in it.

A particularly agreeable feature of the community is its emphasis on sharing skills freely, not just among the villagers, but also with and among all the visitors coming to experience and learn. One of my personal pet peeves has been the yuppification of permaculture with its typically expensive courses offered to dreamers rather than focusing on making the learning accessible to all, especially to young people and farmers whose incomes may be limited but who are ready to apply what they learn. No such problem will attend the Freeconomy Village. All workshops and skill sharing will be free to everyone who shows up. A gift economy at its fullest; any sense of obligation on the part of visitors can be discharged by applying the “pay it forward” principle which, as Mark sees it, spreads the circles of sharing wider and wider.

Myself, I tend to think that money can be a useful tool, provided its role is confined to being a medium of exchange, while deleting its current use as a store of value. Designing the money to “rust” (lose small amounts of value over time) also helps to keep it circulating. But I am fascinated by the moneyless experiment because such steps can illuminate for the rest of us what can and cannot work to provide alternatives to the present crashworthy system. So far, the various local money schemes have not been very successful and it may well turn out that the Freeconomy Villagers have something that will be. At least within the confines of the village itself, they may succeed in creating a deeply communitarian economic system. In any case, my hunch leads me to say that the Freeconomy Bristol Village bears watching.

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