By Enrique Lescure
Since 2008, the terms “post-monetary future” and “resource-based economy” have been floating around the web, appearing on comments to articles, youtube videos and blog entries. I am writing this entry partially to – as we say on Swedish – “bone out” what should be meant with post-monetaryism. I do not write this to define Energy Accounting as the only
or ultimate formed of proposed post-monetaryism, but rather to create some broad basic definitions of what a post-monetary system, as opposed to a pre-monetary or monetary system could be defined, so a flexible agreement on the definitions can finally be reached.
I have meant to write this article for a long time, and the reason why is that I have observed on Facebook and on other places of the Internet a lot of individuals who are either putting forward new age and conspiracy-related proposals on how a post-monetary system would look like, or people who in the 00’s would have defined themselves as “anarcho-primitivists”/”green anarchists” and claim that we can establish a post-monetary system through gift economics, passive technology or “upgrading” to a hunter-gatherer society.
This post is not meant as a critique of anyone else than those individuals.
Pre-monetary systems have been the dominant systems for most of the existence of sedentary human civilization, and also dominated during the pre-civilizational era. Even until the 19th century, most of the economy of advanced civilizations such as Europe, China and the Middle East existed on a pre-monetary level – the farm, the village, the local town. Most people consumed what they produced, and could not trade their surplus because there was no surplus. Prior to industrialization, most people simply had to use most of their energy (in terms of their physical energy) to endure.
The local village economies were most often built on gifts, sharing or barter. We should note that most goods produced – tools, clothes, herbs, food – was goods that could easily be entirely assembled in their raw components and produced by one individual or a small group of individuals. The materials were most often collected from the immediate surroundings, and there was not much trade with the wider world.
With arising cities, division of labour came into being. For comparative benefits, different trades started to arise 5000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and the Nile Valley. This led to a gradual increase in the amount and number of goods, and thus to an increasing complexity in the systems. Since humans are adaptable, gradually one good, no matter if it was beer, salt or any form of metal (whatever there was more of than needed in the system) arose to become a sort of interim good for individuals to obtain what they desired. In 13th century Sweden for example, inter-county trade was conducted with salt as the dominant currency. Thus, even without money, currency regimes arose naturally.
Money as legal tender is a method of institutionalising a currency and centralising the control of the issuing, minting and/or printing, to secure the pre-dominance of institutions. Such institutions have often arisen a long time after the currency system in itself has been established.
The two characteristics of monetary systems, which can be summed up here, is that money allows for increased trade and for market economies to establish themselves, and that money allows the accumulation of wealth. This later aspect has led to a massive divergence in wealth between different social groups in most developed and developing nations. However, the establishment of national and international trade and national currency regimes can also be said to have contributed in a greatly positive manner in the matter of technological development and increasing access to water, housing, food and medication (though the increasing inequality also contributes vastly to destroying the conditions of life for perhaps a majority of the human population).
Eventually, monetary systems reaches a point in economic growth where human labour is increasingly replaced with automated labour, and where the exponential growth moves over a tipping point where the planetary eco-systems are starting to become exhausted. We are living at precisely this juncture in time at this point in 2014 CE.
The truth is, there are probably countless theories floating around since at least the 19th century on how post-monetary systems could or should be arranged. Most of these proposals are stemming from convictions, opinions and aesthetic tastes amongst philosophers and pseudo-philosophers alike.
What I would like to offer is a definition of a post-monetary system which can – in a broad way – set it apart from a monetary system. The first marker is that a post-monetary system does not exclude accounting. On the contrary, it must rely on accounting.
Even the RBE concepts of Jacque Fresco must (theoretically) rely on a type of accounting. The main difference is not the non-existence of accounting or calculations, but the idea that these functions should be relegated to AI’s, which work within a cybernated planned economy. While some RBE followers will disagree on this, it shows more that they should read more about the theories which they are proselytizing.
As for myself, what I would like to offer to this discourse is a simple definition which can be read like this: A post-monetary system is an advanced system of economic calculation where the unit of exchange has transformed into a unit that cannot be accumulated over longer periods of time, and/or where other functions of the thing which we used to define as “money” has transformed beyond recognition. It is not moving back to barter or pre-monetary/pre-civilizational models. It exists within the context of a society that advances towards automation, and is based on the needs of such a society.
This definition is in my opinion more beautiful, broad and inclusive than either the both vague and sectarian RBE definitions, as it is including concepts from time-banking, ParEcon, RBE, to Energy Accounting and Labour Accounting. It also purposely excludes the New Age and Anarcho-primitivist definitions.