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Is any form of money/currency compatible with anarchism?

+6 votes
Is it possible to have without conflicting with the opposition to hierarchy? Someone with more money could use it as a means to assert domination over you or hire others to do the same. But it's also an effective means to distribute resources. Is trade & barter considered a form of currency?

Also, how do you think resources can be distributed without any form of currency, where everything is held in common? Not saying you should know, just looking for ideas.
asked Jan 22, 2012 by anonymous
I've now given this enough thought to fully reassure myself that I'm open minded about it. While I can respect your positions, I choose the economic lens because it allows me to admire phenomena both real and beautiful. I would say the dominant lens I use is an ecological/biological one; I cross-analyse what I see using a lens of universal, objective life-level ethics; I systematically look for dialectic and multiple, contradictory truths (ie, same and different); I am glad to also have the economic lens in my tool kit. Myopia? Nah, doesn't stick.

You might not like what you see through the economic lens. I regret I can't help you see the beauty. Look: I want to help (some) other organisms achieve their goals; I want the freedom to help who I want how I want. My foggy understanding of what I refer to as the universal ethical guidelines requires that to be "good" I "should" do things differently, avoiding competition through creativity and marginally-risky innovation.  To maximize my importance to others (subject to obvious constraints) in unexpected ways I need good, reliable information. I need to understand the objectives of the things around me. I don't want to guess or project my own ideas, I need clear signals. Value exchange can be an excellent means by which others can communicate to me what use of my resources (especially time) and unique attributes would be helpful to them, ranked in order of relative importance. Extremely reliable information because it imposes costs.

Yes, money (by which I mean any kind of units employed in a "discussion" of the exchange value of the fruits of productive activity), like any other means of communication can be used to hurt. The fact that people lie, however, doesn't mean words are useless. Actually, language is fascinating; words are beautiful.

(gotta go take the kids to school; to be continued when I get back !)

I offer myself as proof that money (as measurement of exchange value) is completely separate from capitalism, property, competition, hierarchy and other nasties I, as an anarchist, judge unethical.

Property, ownership, etc aren't real; the emperor has no clothes. I know this because these notions are meaningless in interactions between humans and insects and plants. I can tell a leaf-beetle: "This is mine." The beetle will just say "pfft, whatever." I can use force and kill the beetle; I can rationalize and attempt to justify that action with a religion where property is sacred. Pfft, whatever.  I'm not saying it is wrong to kill beetles; I do it all the time. I'm not saying we should let strangers into our homes, that's stupid. I'm saying, like dotnetspec, i like to distinguish the real from the imaginary. 

I don't own anything, I should expect no respect for anything called "property." On the other hand, my actions are real. I know this because of the feedback loops and cascade effects. My intentions are real, even if I don't understand them. I know this because my actions defy physical forces; I'm not simply moved around by external pressures like a dead log.

To the extent my actions can support your intentions they create exchange value. THAT is the true basis of exchange, nothing else. Every pollinisation event in a field... a plant "wants" its pollen transported (not necessarily consciously). The plant, because its lifestyle requires a large surface area, is relatively immobile and could use a little help from a bee. It converts sunshine, water and minerals, at great expense, into nectar and advertising.

Hey, if a flower's activity results in something of value to bees, it has "earned" the ability to influence bee behavior.  Not all flowers' work will be of equal value to a specific bee; relative values suggest the possibility of measurement units. 

I can't possibly judge money as good or bad; it is just a tool. I can't judge the actions that led to the value measured in money as good or bad because the the effects are extremely complex and contradictory, too often both good and bad depending on the point of view. To judge another being's intentions moral or immoral, they must first be inferred from observed actions in a fully understood context: basically impossible, so I rarely bother trying. Assuming the intentions are obvious (like in the case of authority) we must then have some sort of objective ethical framework; not easy I'll grant, but whatever it is cannot be human-specific. 

When the state tells me I can't use my money to communicate my likes and dislikes with whoever I want however I want, we have clear restriction of my ability to express myself. That prevents others from clearly knowing what they could do in order to maximize the meaningfulness of their lives to me. The whole, beautiful, dynamic, system is crippled. The state wants to control. I don't. I want to dance.

edit for clarity: when I use "my money" above, I mean the power I have earned to influence others through value-exchange. I know it is confusing; not the idea - the idea is clear in my head. It is my own struggle with language and words that makes the communication difficult.

"My intentions are real, even if I don't understand them. I know this because my actions defy physical forces;"

your actions prove your intentions - which you don't even understand? you must be the most "consistent" human being that ever lived.

while i appreciate your more personal, less technical perspective, you seem to be getting just as repetitive as dns. all your plant and insect anecdotes sound good on the surface, yet they all do nothing but project your beliefs onto other forms of life. i'm sure i do that at times myself, being very connected to the living world around me. i just don't then use those fantasies as evidence of the validity of my ideas, which is what you seem to be doing over and over.

whatever. to each their own; think what you will. i guess this discussion has run its course for me, i have nothing more to say in response. but i would still have a beer with you if we ever had the chance!

syrphant, at your best (what i like the most), i feel like you're talking about relationships. at your worst (what i like the least), i think you're talking about economics (a specific type of numerized exchange--with the added baggage of capitalism that i can't or don't much care to remove from my definition of economics).

the fact that we learn to talk about relationships in economic terms, i see as a problem, and you seem to have accepted.

does that seem to you all to get at a crux of the disagreement?
dot: "the fact that we learn to talk about relationships in economic terms, i see as a problem, and you seem to have accepted."

i like that way of putting it.

2 Answers

+3 votes
your first sentence seems to be missing something?

first paragraph:
i think that the issue of money isn't about hierarchy - plenty of cultures have not had money and had hierarchy - the issue (i think) is more about the relationship to what we make and have. money is an abstraction. it requires a consistent quantification of stuff. if i have a loaf of bread, and you have a pile of yams, we can barter based on how important those things are to us. it might be a kind of bread that i really like a lot, but you're not so excited about. i'm arguing that money (as a concept) takes away from that, it leads to false generalizations, false equivalencies, and massificiation.

second paragraph:
what does it mean to "hold everything in common"? i don't know that i have ever heard of people working that way (depending on what you mean). but in small groups, i have heard of people distributing things based on both who provided it and who has greatest need. and gifting, of course, which entails a completely different relationship to stuff than we have (for more information look up the gift by mauss), and as stated already, trade/barter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gift_%28book%29
answered Jan 23, 2012 by dot (50,780 points)
edited Jan 23, 2012 by dot
oh im not saying that a moneyless society is guaranteed to be free of hierarchy. i guess my view is that as long as there is money or some form of currency, then someone with more of it could use it as coercion and/or establish some form of hierarchy with it.

i should have been more specific, but by "hold everything in common" i mean everyone having free access to whatever they need or possibly desire, as long as its not someones personal property (as explained by Proudhon). do you think this kind of society on a large scale is plausible, and what are some ideas on distributing resources without a form of currency? im being very presumptuous here, but it would come as no surprise if most people wanted the best quality things: the best tech devices, the best vehicles, the best exotic fruit, etc. normally, money would work to gauge how much someone wants something by how much they are willing to pay (or they just dont have the money), so what are some ideas on how this would work without a currency?

and the gift economy is a great idea, thank you!
Your assessment regarding the concept of money leads to false generalizations and equivalencies is interesting. I would say that a unit of account allows for more accurate comparison of heterogeneous goods. It certainly helps solve the problem of divisibility. For example, if all I have is a young goat, that is worth 3 hens in both of our subjective value scales, I would have to trade my whole goat to get any of your hens. If I only want 1 hen, I will have to forego the exchange with you because I cannot give you a third of a goat. Unless, I could find someone else who wants hens (2 or less) and has something else I want. Then I could trade you my goat for your 3 hens and 2 of the hens for other items from other actors. The 2 hens that I obtain for their use in indirect exchange become money. They are money because I obtained them not to use them directly, but rather to use as a medium of exchange for some other goods from a different individual.
hey, mister an-cap, you completely lost me with this sentence and I don't think it even makes any sense:

"I would say that a unit of account allows for more accurate comparison of heterogeneous goods."

?

dot: "plenty of cultures have not had money and had hierarchy"

yes. 

which led me to think....have any cultures that had money, not had hierarchy?

none that i know of. 

–5 votes

Here's the way I see it: people ofttimes wish to converse about the relative importance of things or actions. In fact, being able to communicate notions of preference, to explain them and argue about them (and mislead each other) is awesome ! It should be cherished and developed.  Money is like a grunt or a smile or an odor one party emits, on a scale of weaker to stronger, to tell another party: I think this is only worth X; that is worth 2X and that is worth 3X...

It would be nice and helpful to be able to non-verbally "discuss" the relative values of EVERYTHING quickly and clearly, with pretty much anyone or any thing. We need a standard of measure. Somehow we unconsciously settled on using what most people would agree on as the most valuable limited resource: time.

This is worth 20 minutes of my life. I would exchange 3 days of my life for that.  Can you achieve this objective in 5 weeks or 5 years? If you can do it in 5 weeks, whereas it would take me 5 years, then maybe you can do it for me and I can do something for you (that takes me less than 5 years) in exchange?

I don't care if it is gifting or whatever. Ultimately it boils down to communicating relative importance using human life, measured in time, as the yardstick. We've gotten good at that, as a society. Where we really fail is in our actual ideas about the relative importance of things and actions.

answered Mar 24 by Syrphant (580 points)
I would argue the instinct to measure and commodify isn't as benign as you seem to think.

Not only that but you seem to fundamentally misunderstand the use and effect of currency. Whilst to some extent currency does have something to do with individuals valuing things, the key difference between currency and a system of measurement is that currency becomes an object; you can't 'have' a millimetre the way you can a dollar.

i enjoy misleading and using numbers during games and play....

but for life and death, birth and illness, my and others' ability to eat, to have shelter, to move about the earth and water, caring for the health of people and places and animals, for sharing music and stories and creative expression, to get warmth when cold....among many other things......i don't want that (misleading, measuring, attempting to out-negotiate) at all....i don't want to "exchange my life" for something - i want to live based on my desires and the mutual desires i share with others. i don't want my entire life turned into a battle of numbers, time measuring, buying and selling. you may need a standard of measure, but "we" (if we includes me) do not. but i agree with you that "as a society we've gotten good" at doing just that.

basically, no, to this....

syrphant: "I don't care if it is gifting or whatever. Ultimately it boils down to communicating relative importance using human life, measured in time, as the yardstick."

"gifting" (by my definition), does not measure human life in time.

question for syrphant - what does "it" represent in your sentence i quoted?

edited for grammar and clarity

Dood...a standard of measure? You really think it's even possible to make an all-ecompassing, totalitarian standard of measure.

If yes, I would be very curious about it. I think you are just as capable of making one as anyone else.
I had to cut my answer short yesterday; I detected a high and relatively immediate return on my time-investment elsewhere, in terms of general importance.  Still, the half-ass answer did get me some downvotes, evidence that my time writing it was not without value.

What I would really like to say to the asker of the question is this: We are going to have money/currency in any society. Barter is not a form of money; money is a natural, inevitable development from barter. Remember, barter arises naturally from diversity and allows for greater diversity. Who would argue against diversity?

We will use seashells, gold, beans, dollars, likes, bitcoins -  whatever we can - to tell each other what we want and how much of our own precious time we are willing to dedicate to its pursuit. As communication tools, specific currencies will probably always get out-of-whack and supplanted by others. Currencies can and will be used voluntarily.

Being forced to do anything - including using one form of communication over another, or communicating what I don't mean or think, or spending my time in ways I wouldn't, or being effectively silenced - is incompatible with anarchy. But that has nothing to do with currency per se.

@syrphant you assume a whole lot.  You seem to rely heavily on stating your thoughts as facts to get all the heavy lifting done.  'We are going to have money/currency in any society.' This is plainly false.  Many, many people have lived and thrived without money, and many still do in some parts of the world; almost all of these people lived in tight-knit communities.

'Remember, barter arises naturally from diversity and allows for greater diversity'.  I remember no such thing.  'Who would argue with greater diversity?'  Me, if the cost is the measurement, commodification, and eventual sale of my life and experience.

*You* might use beans and bitcoin to tell other people what you want; I tend to use words, body language, but I guess thats just me.  I don't know about you, but I try really hard to not keep tabs of what I have done for my friends, and what they have done for me.  Relationships are not transactions.  At least, they don't have to be.  To paraphrase Bob Black; 'If you think that there can be no bread without bakeries and no sex without brothels, I pity you.' (almost from Smokestack Lightning, a very amusing read).

syrphant: welcome back!  lol!!!! some things don't change, eh? and none of those downvotes was even mine! yet...

others have already said much of what i would in response to your answer. of course, individuals "value" things. what they value, and "how much" value anything has to them, is completely contextual. if what they value is something that they must interact with another in order to get what they want, and the other also values that thing, then they can determine between them, subjectively and solely in that particular situation - without any unit of measure - how they can each come away feeling good about it. it may be a gift, it may be some exchange in that moment, it may be something that happens over time, it might be anything they can think of.

sure, a system of "objectively" valued currency - how can that happen without an authority, exactly? - might make such situations go smoother in the eyes of some. i'll take the former scenario any day - i find it far more liberating.

i find it somewhat interesting (though i'm not sure why) that while both you and dotnetspec seem to believe in value exchange as an (the?) unavoidable, necessary aspect of human existence, the two of you appear to have dramatically different perspectives on life otherwise, from what i can discern from what i've read on this site.
@Shinminmetroskyline: Yes, when what I want to say isn't even clear in my own head, much less in my words, I subconsciously compensate by taking an authoritative tone. On the other hand, if I only get to have an opinion on stuff I fully understand I won't be much fun at cocktail parties.

You can't "have" a milimeter, and you also can't "have" a dollar. People who think they do are fooling themselves; illusion. You can have a debt or a credit with someone, and maybe claim or repay it indirectly, and the bigness of the credit/debt can be measured in dollars.

@bornagain: "it" refers to monetary system or the use of currency, take your pick. The value of a gift can be measured in the time it took the giver to earn or make it and the time it would take the receiver to earn or make it. That time can be measured in money. I think... or maybe not, I'll have to try to come up with some challenges to that statement. I know that when I think about any activity that takes time I think about its opportunity cost in myriad alternative scenarios.

@ Nihlist: Most recently I've been playing with the idea of time as a totalitarian unit of measure for the value of all things done by or made by humans. Maybe also non-humans.

@Shinminmetrosyline again: relationships are about giving attention, listening, etc; Takes time, can be valued as transaction. I think that when relationships break down it is usually because one person considers the transaction is unfair -- that they are getting ripped off.

@Funky: I agree that value of a thing or action - of one's time - is wholly context-dependent, and "prices" cannot be uniform, much less fixed by law from above.  Can a currency exist without a government? It seems to me that governments have never been very successful fixing prices or values: black-markets emerge, maybe using cigarettes as currency...
@whoever wants a subject for a daydream:

I think the ideal currency system would be one where EVERY individual prints his/her own "promisory notes." Like, a signed mini-contract saying "Syrphant agrees to do X or Y or Z for the bearer of this note. Valid until end 2018."

I may not have anything or any service of value to my barber in exchange for a haircut, but I can give her a few of my Syrphant-bucks, she can maybe use them in another transaction, and eventually some stranger will contact me to redeem the note for X. If I don't do X, or don't do it well, my notes won't be worth much - my time won't be worth much to others.

This system would have the merit of keeping transactions very local and businesses very small and temporary. I like that vision.

syrphant: so it seems you boil all "value" down to "time". i can see that in an economic world where one must sell their time to survive. but time is only one factor that might play into how i "value" something in any given context. the extent to which i value something cannot be directly correlated to time. you are turning time into a currency, or unit of measure. and even though in today's world there is a fairly objective measure of time - though i'd disagree strongly while tripping on acid - how one "values" their time is completely subjective and contextual (are those redundant?). you, and so many, seem to have a need for some objective measure with which to define transactions. i guess it is a symptom of seeing life through an economic lens.

btw, your syrphant-bucks scenario is not unlike the "local currency" movement that tried to take hold in a few places in the u.s. over the past couple decades. i have to admit, it is imo an improvement over the current monetary system, for the "keeping transactions very local and businesses very small and temporary" aspect. though not sure how that scenario keeps businesses temporary? regardless, it is still a currency, in a value-exchange economy. i want out.

@syrphant you wont find argument from me about 'having'; i dont think you can 'have' anything.  and yet in todays society people commonly talk about 'having' a dollar, and people act like other people 'have' dollars.  the same is not true for millimiters; in what way are people deluding themselves in one but not the other?  indeed your example of 'promisory notes' is predicated on 'having'; i.e. having promisory notes, having debt, etc.  it is also pretty heavily predicated on some sort of binding contractualism, which seems very un-anarchist to my mind

and yes, you /can/ model relationships as transactions.  but you dont /have/ to, and /i/ dont want to.  you can also model relationships in terms of thermodynamics, but that doesnt necessarily mean its profound or universally desirable.  and bare in mind i concede only as far as relationship scan being /modelled/ as transactions; a transaction does not exhaust or encompass experience of that relationship.
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