Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Matter of Economics

When I was in college I had this rather unique professor.  He wasn't a great guy, in fact he was rather slimy as an individual.  He wasn't super smart, but he did know his subject extremely well.  In fact he lived his subject with every pore of his being, in all aspects of his life.  He was my forestry economics professor.

The first time I met him was in my Ethics of Natural Resources class, which in addition to attempting to instill ethical principles of management and interdepartmental relations in the students, it also introduced us to upper level professors and a bit about each of their specialties.  During this day when we learned about forestry economics, many of us only just enrolled in basic economics, the professor gave us a few examples from his personal life about how he applies economics to everything.  One example dealt with why he has no money problems at all, the other was much more personal, opportunity costs.  You see, to him, everything was economics, even choosing a wife.  To him the opportunity cost of his current wife was simply his previous wife, another blond, and a brunette.

It is this idea that economics can be changed from simply a way of comparing and analyzing options and ideas in a monetary sense.  What if we could make decisions using economic principles without money as the driving factor.  What if we could set up an imaginary world where money wasn't the principle factor within economics.  What if our economic success was determined by how many people we could employ?

For the sake of our imaginary money-less world (not unlike Star Trek), and to avoid being side tracked by ideas such as commodity bartering, which is still, in fact money, let's say that a job equals a modest home, sufficient food, and a bit of extra.  Not much, but some sort of access comparable to the "average family lifestyle".  We'll place our society in a modern setting, with much the same things we have now, although without money as our primary objective and the accumulation of wealth and objects, society undoubtedly would look much different, still just go with me.  In this reality it's not so much that money doesn't exist, but that the priority is not to accumulate wealth as it is in our society, but rather the overall goal is to achieve maximum employment.

Now, instead of a company manufacturing a good or providing a service for a profit they are doing it while maintaining the highest level of employment they can.  And the employment they provide compensates the individuals in such a way that they can live a comfortable, yet modest existence outside of work.  This compensation is not necessarily money, remember, it's a house, adequate food, and family time and leisure opportunity.  Money if it exists is simply a tool to ensure employment.  People are the most important factor in this system.  Providing work is the equivalent of being a millionaire.

In this economic realm the company still has to balance the amount of product made with the want for the product, but instead of trying to do it for the least amount of money, it tries to do it while maximizing employment.  We're not just talking about frivolous positions either, these are real honest working jobs.  Each employee would need to contribute the appropriate 40 hours per week standard to receive the full benefits of the jobs (that standard of living again).  However, in this case overtime would be frowned on, because it would indicate a failure to employ and would be disadvantageous.  That's not to say hard working isn't rewarded.  Maybe they get a greater reprieve time to be used later (like more vacation), or they get a perk for work well done in the form of some sort of entitlement.  Maybe even the ability to hire their own personal employee, or an additional personal service.

So what would keep people from free loafing?  People could still be hired and fired for failure to perform, but any job will provide a living wage and you there is incentive to provide all people with some kind of job.  Loafing about will make the options for work available to you less as other people will be promoted away and receive greater benefits, just like happens now, but in the worst cases government retraining could step in.    So no, a company wouldn't have to keep worthless employees, but the idea of having so many people working means that there is no culture of not being able to make it.  And there is no dishonor in having a lower position after all that job is needed as well.

What about at-home parents?  Since the average work week is all that is needed to provide a comfortable living for the average person, families can split that, or one parent can work the full 40.  By having flexible working hours greater employment is permitted AND greater parent involvement is available while children are in the home.  After all parenting is work and in this society would be as valued.  In fact permitting additional hours or greater home time flexibility could be incentives that offset the idea of financial or commodity gain in the economic system.  More efficient workers are rewarded and are able to be the parents they want to be.

Still with me?  Still trying to think of what all this would cost?  It's hard isn't it?  Money is so entrenched in our society.  Yes commodity exchange still takes place, but for entirely different motivations.  It doesn't help when I bunny trail into non-essentials, I apologize.

By taking money out of the consideration, by insuring that work equates sustainable life, by rewarding good work with preferred opportunity, we do not eliminate competition or innovation.  In fact most people are naturally motivated to gravitate towards a job that they enjoy doing and do well at.  Therefore, as long as the hours are balanced with their other life goals they will pursue those jobs in preference over an entry style job. However service incentives are still a possible motivator, even item incentives could be a motivator although their cost will become greater than most services in this system of economics as most physical items are the product of multiple workers.

Do I think just changing our economics from monetary to a system of employment will solve our problems, no.  Do I think it's even realistically possible at this point in our existence, not really, it is a change that may never really be possible, but it is something that I think is important to think about.  I think that by doing this mind exercise we are forced to contemplate the matters within the way we conduct business and the way in which we choose products that are truly important to us as an individual and as a society.  It forces us to look outside of that which we have always accepted as the way things are done, without even questioning why.

Would I love to see this tried, sure!  Maybe when we colonize Mars or something we could abolish the concept of money and move to a non economic economy.  We could also add it as a supplemental economic system, much like Gross National Happiness is in Bhutan.

Please feel free to offer any critiques, thoughts, or observations of topics you would like me to expand upon.  I have spent much longer than you probably realize in trying to find wording to succinctly explain this concept without going back to the idea of monetary value of an hour of labor or a person's life, because even if a type of money is used for ease of exchange, the acquisition of money is not the objective of the economic system, and as such  would actually be displaced by the desire to employ as many as possible, which would provide status that once came from hording money.


  1. While the idea looks good on paper, sadly in a fallen word where sin is the reigning force, I don't think a money-less society would ever work. Once in heaven (or heaven on earth someday) I think we will be happy to work in our redeemed bodies with no thought to competitiveness or greed; truly a return to Eden.

  2. I agree that a moneyless world would fall in a sin filled world, greed is simply too powerful, however; this isn't a moneyless world, it's exchanging our point of value from money to employment.

    So that the true bottom line of a company is measured not by how much profit it turns, but how many people it employees at a living rational rate. Since this rate would vary based on what it takes to live in the area and is currently measured by money, I tried to avoid talking about it in a money sense, because the idea would be to change the system so much that money if it exists at all is merely for facilitating transactions and instead of being weighted against a GDP or gold or market standard, money would equate to employment.

    Additionally, as I state towards the end, I'm not suggesting this as a system for fixing problems, more as an academic study in adjusting out thinking. Can you stretch your mind to reject the assumptions of a monetary based society to envision an alternate system where employment was the most important and greed would be a hording of skilled labor, instead of money. Greed would still exist, I did not rule it out, as much as I would love to see it eliminated.


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