Book Review – The Moneyless Man

Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten pretty good at not buying things. But what if I couldn’t buy internet service? Bus tickets? FOOD? That’s exactly what Mark Boyle tries to do in his book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.

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This wasn’t the first time I had heard of money-free living, but it’s the first time I really listened.

“Money is a bit like love. We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is.”

Boyle begins with the story of money being introduced into society which he leads naturally led to banks and the practice of lending out money that wasn’t theirs. Let’s say five people each put $50 in the bank. Then the bank would loan out $50 to someone else even if none of the money they had was their own. (It sounds great at first. The bank and its customers get some interest as the borrower pays back the $50, and the borrower was able to get the cash when he really needed it.)

“For most of us, money represents security. As long as we have money in the bank, we’ll be safe.”

What I had never considered before reading this book is that banks are strongly incentivized to loan out as much money as possible, making the foundation not only shaky but also pushing loans on people and encouraging them to buy things that they could otherwise do without for a while. This process leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer buying things they can’t afford and paying interest on it all the while. Taken in that perspective, money-free living finally makes some sense.

So Boyle decides to see what it would be like to live without even touching money for a year. He spends months in preparation figuring out how to live without money. Oddly enough, he starts by buying some supplies like solar panels. Other things he acquires for free, like a caravan that someone didn’t want. He finds a place where he can put the caravan and live in exchange for his labor, and learns about humanure and rocket stoves for moneyfree defecation and cooking respectively. And finally, it’s time. He sells his houseboat, gives the proceeds to a charity he set up, and embarks on his new life.

Boyle recognized from the start that to live without money, he’d also have to rely on community. His charity is all about skill-sharing so he can have more skills to barter with. He performs odd jobs in exchange for foodstuffs or other goods. He relies on strangers to give him a lift while hitchhiking to visit his folks for the holidays. He goes dumpster diving with acquaintances, and even brings in the whole community a couple of times to throw and enjoy feasts created from food that would otherwise have been disposed of.

One of the common complaints about this book was that Boyle is still using money fairly regularly, just not his own. Using a phone line that someone else paid for. Living on land that someone else is paying for. Relying on someone else’s trash to eat. It wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone were to suddenly embrace his way of life.

But I’ve got to give him credit for purifying his water, doing manual labor when he could have opted for a lazier option, rescuing food from going to landfill. There are some ideas in this book that anyone interested in green living can learn from. And most of all, it promotes the idea of thrift.

“When you produce anything of your own, you don’t waste a drop.”

While I’m still not sold (ha!) on the idea that money is inherently bad, I may do a bit more research into what banks I do business with. Perhaps I should also donate more instead of aggressively planning for solitary retirement?

As for Boyle, what’s he up to these days? Well, he’s still living mostly “moneyless”, but not quite. If you’re really interested, you can find out more from his articles for The Guardian.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, though, because it’s something I at times need to be reminded of myself:

“Activists often talk like they ‘want to save the earth’. The earth will be fine, in time; it’s humanity that may need saving. But who do they want to ‘save’ it for? Only other activists? Only for activists and the working classes? Or for everyone: executive bankers, environmentalists, police officers, human rights activists, and politicians alike?”

 

Book Bites

It’s a good thing I ride the bus to get places, because I like to read a lot and the bus is a great place for that. I usually read a couple of books per week. Sometimes I mean to review the books on here but most of the time I just dig right into another book instead. So, in case anyone’s interested here’s a quick summary of some of my recent reads. Let me know if there are any you’d like to know more about and I’ll make time for a more in-depth dive.

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It’s a good thing libraries exist!

Now or Never: Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future – Tim Flannery

This book was the focus of last month’s Talk Green To Me book club. It came out in 2009, and at the time he stated that the earth was between a tipping point and a point of no return, where we would no longer be able to prevent catastrophic climate change. It’s so weird reading something like this because in the book world there’s this impending catastrophe, but in most people’s day-to-day lives this doesn’t come into play at all. An interesting read, but most of the solutions proposed are on a governmental level, which warrants reading a more recent book on this topic instead.

Trees of Texas Field Guide – Stan Tekiela

I’ve often heard that one of the basic nature skills everyone should learn is how to tell apart different types of trees. I’m working on that, but it’s hard. With this guide, I’ve determined that the big tree in my front yard is an American Elm, and one of the trees near the creek is likely a Pecan which is a type of Hickory. The leaves are too high up to get a good view, though, so I’m not 100% on that one.

A Year Without “Made In China” – Sara Bongiorni

Making things in China is getting expensive these days, and more countries are sourcing their production in even cheaper countries with laxer regulations. But in 2007, living without goods made in China was nearly impossible. This book is about one family that tried to do just that, and realized that most things aren’t made locally at all anymore because it’s just so much cheaper to offshore it. It’s a bit ironic at times where it’s obvious that what they really want is cheap crap, like when they’re shopping for presents for other kids’ birthday parties. There were times in this book where I wanted to scream at them to just not buy anything, but that probably wouldn’t be very helpful. 🙂 This book did raise a lot of attention to where goods come from and why they’re so cheap, so I’m grateful for that.

Make Do and Mend

British pamplets from World War II. It’s really interesting how war can encourage whole countries to embrace thrift, saving every bit of scrap fabric, not wasting the least bit of food. But I also know that as soon as the war was over, consumerism was rampant. So war may not be the best way to convince people to embrace thrift again.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less – Barry Schwartz

There was once a time (before my time) where you could go to the store for a pencil, and there was one option so it was a straightforward choice. Now there are two-packs, ten-packs, twenty-packs. There are mechanical pencils and wooden pencils. They come in multiple designs and styles. I used to try to do the math to guess how much usage per dollar each option would offer me. Although in some cases, more choice really is better, Schwartz explains how in situations like this it is much much worse. There’s a limited threshold to how many decisions we can actively make in a day, so sometimes it’s nice to just make decisions on autopilot or to let someone else decide. This is a great read if you’ve ever had the unpackaged organic produce vs. plastic-wrapped conventional produce dilemma. And it helps give you a bit more understanding and sympathy for the fact that people don’t always make the best choice available.

You Are Now Less Dumb – David McRaney

This was pretty much a direct follow-up from the previous book. It contains a lot of the psychological manipulations that companies use to convince you that what they have to offer is better than the rest. Many of these manipulations could also be used in your day-to-day life to convince other people of your own opinions. Am I crazy in the hope that mankind is smart enough to make intelligent decisions on our own? I’m not sure, but here’s our back-up plan.

The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living – Mark Boyle

Moneyless living has never interested me much, but then again I never thought about it. In the intro to this book, Boyle describes how the existence of money actually hurts people. You put it into the bank, and then the bank is incentivized to loan it out. They’re so incentivized that they sometimes convince people to borrow money that they won’t be able to pay back. Or they siphon interest off of people their whole lives by keeping that balance carrying forward. It’s a thought that makes you consider that maybe any extra money is better donated to a charity straight off rather than stored in the bank and “invested.” Living totally without money isn’t easy, though. Boyle is able to score some necessities free but mainly because no one else is out there trying to do the same thing. His employer lets him live on their land, have his own garden there, and keep coppiced wood for his cooking and heating needs. And even with all of that, there are still troubles. But he makes it through in large part to his contributions to the sharing economy and development of skills to be bartered.

Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front – Sharon Astyk

Asytk is on a mission for her and her family to use only their fair share of resources on this planet. Of course, this means family planning to prevent the fair share from being stretched further. It means knowing how to use the resources available in disaster scenarios. While this book discusses how in the future we won’t have as much access to oil or other imported goods in general, it’s also a disaster handbook for scenarios where you need to live off of your land. She advocates having a six-month supply of food in your pantry, a good home library to be able to teach children when no schools are accessible, ensuring you’ll have access to water and the resources to clean it for drinking. This was a hard book for me to swallow because I can’t maintain an “impending doom” mindset for too long and there was a lot of that in this book. Maybe I won’t be in as good a situation to survive as Astyk and her family, but I have some faith in necessity being the mother of invention.

The Waste Makers – Vance Packard

I’ll be starting this one on the bus ride to work tomorrow. It was written in the 60’s about consumer culture about the shift from goods that were made to last to goods that are meant to be disposable. Sounds like the perfect read for me.

Oh, and I have one book waiting on hold for me at the library–Wendy Pabich’s Taking on Water: How One Water Expert Challenged Her Inner Hypocrite, Reduced Her Water Footprint (Without Sacrificing a Toasty Shower), and Found Nirvana. Whoa, that’s a long title! Anyhow, that’s our book club book for August and very appropriate during the dry summer months here in Texas.

So much great stuff to read! If you have any recommendations, please share those also. My To-Read list can never be too long.