Found On A Forum: Why are humans the only animals that need money to live?

moneytoliveThread Title

Why is it that after 3.8 billion years of evolution on Earth, human beings seem to be the only animals that “need” money to live?

My response

Money has been around as long as civilization. There is strong evidence that a standardized, non-perishable currency (obsidian, salt, precious metals) has existed longer than the written language. Chances are, currency and civilization were born almost hand-in-hand. Writing and money were also born hand-in-hand.

At this point, no other alternative is at all viable. I keep hearing people talk about going back to the barter system, but there’s a reason that most of humanity has moved beyond that, regardless of culture, history or geography. The barter system is absolutely ineffective and relies heavily on a double coincidence of wants. What happens if I have apples that you want, but you don’t have a product I want? What if nobody has a product I want? Do I just let my apples rot? Do I give them away hoping that my fellow humans will return the favor? How do I give people my apples without devaluing my labor? Or should I just give my labor away for free and trust in humanity to do right by me? What happens if I gave my apples away hoping that when my neighbor’s harvest comes in she returns the favor, but when the time comes she doesn’t? Doesn’t trading with money just make it a whole, whole lot easier?

Currently, it is perfectly viable for someone to live without money – declare yourself Freeman, go to the woods, build a mud hut and live like the people that survived without money. The problem is, people believe they should have the technology, quality of life and available services that a currency-based system offers without the infrastructure that the currency provides.

Please offer me a viable, scale economic alternative to currency that doesn’t involve the whole of humanity becoming “better people” or something like it. In the US, around 2% of people are in agricultural production and the majority of people don’t want to be in the field. (pun fully intended) How do farmers get that food to people in a way that allows them to maintain their standard of living without currency? In a barter system, they would have to build warehouses to store the products they trade for until they could turn around and trade them again for something they find useful.

Around 5,000 years ago, the shekel was developed because the old currency, grain, didn’t work. Grain is perishable; if you don’t trade it or eat it you end up using it as compost. The shekel wasn’t developed to create a whole new economy; it was developed to make the existing economy (based on perishable trade) work for everyone and not just those that had grain available.

Currently, we have both a monetary and non-monetary economy. The monetary economy is the primary economy because it has to be. Nothing else would work on a wide scale.

The problem I see with the “let’s get rid of money argument” is that it comes from (usually) one of two perspectives. The first is that all humans should get whatever they want whenever they want. Apple shouldn’t make money; they should just give everyone that wants one an iPod or iPad or whatever. This is just completely unreasonable and comes from spoiled, privileged teens and twenty-somethings (again, usually) that don’t think they need to do anything to be happy. They want everything handed to them and human nature would cause that to turn into a majority sitting around on their asses watching movies and playing video games while the minority does all the work. There’s a reason the idle rich are idle. There’s also a reason why the idle rich were a boon to the Middle Ages.

The second perspective is usually “humans had it better before money; money is the root of all evil,” which is also complete crap. Nobody knows how humans had it 10,000 years ago, but I’m pretty damn sure most of the people that think this way wouldn’t last a day. The proof is in the pudding, because for all the game these people talk, they still haven’t bothered to give up modern amenities and live like the wonderful, peaceful, healthy humans that struggled to find food, clothing and shelter on a daily basis. If life was so great back then, why aren’t more people going for it? The answer is simple – they don’t want to give up their toys. Additionally, the idea that money being the root of evil is as naive as those that say religion is the root of all evil, or whatever. Humans are the root of all evil and the only way to change that is to eradicate humanity. It might not be the most positive thing, but it’s the truth and anyone that believes differently is fooling themselves. Those people need to understand the idea of Utopia a little better.

Neither is a good argument and neither bothers to think about the problem beyond “I hate money so let’s get rid of it.” Both choose to take an idealistic stance, which is great if you’re writing a Greek tragedy but completely unreasonable in an actual discussion on economics, especially a worldwide economy to support 6 BILLION PLUS people.

The question itself is absurd. It points out that humans are the only animal that needs money to live, but that isn’t at all true. Humans don’t need money to live; they need money to be a part of a civilization that includes education, literature, fine art, travel, cuisine, mythology, advanced tools, agriculture, and on and on and on. Sure, monkeys don’t use money, but neither do they put on an exhibition at the MET. Unless, of course, they have a human doing the production work. Monkeys also don’t build homes with gardens in the back and fences around the lot to keep other animals from eating all the food. Other animals don’t use money, but I’ll consider that apropos if anyone can name another animal that also practices agriculture and animal husbandry, understands and uses basic mathematics (simple addition/subtraction is fine), and uses a written form of communication.

Is there a viable alternative to money? Possibly, but nobody has found it yet. Until we do, I would rather use money to trade goods and services than try to barter or use an alternative currency like salt or wheat.

Honestly, I’ve read about different economic theories, many that eliminate currency, but I haven’t seen one that I think would work. Idealism is good for theory but almost never stands up in practice. My favorite was an idea that we should stop using money and switch to a merit system based on a person’s work, with goods being allocated based on the work being done. The funny thing is, that implies that there be a regime in place to decide what every type of work is worth, including artistic endeavors, based on the regime’s valuation. It also fails to take into consideration that adding value to labor is essentially the point of money. Taking the money away and replacing it with goods doled out by virtue of labor value is just a less efficient, more arbitrary and somewhat totalitarian way of doing things.

I’m very open to changing my mind, though.


Found on a Forum is a series of articles based on different discussions the writer has had somewhere on the internet. Being a writer for a web magazine and a long-winded ass, that content is often long enough to make an article, so why not? As such, remember that FOAF content should be read as a conversation and not a polished feature, and no editorial fact-checking was done before inclusion on the website. Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!

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