! – A World Beyond Money?

A recurring theme in studying the commons is how to prevent the market economy from dictating what and how things get produced, how people will relate to each other, and how a given community will be organized. That's a big and complicated topic, but a good place to start exploring it is!, an Austria-based website dedicated to exploring the possibilities of life beyond money, or at least, the money economy as we know it today. 

This theme has far more currency, if you'll excuse the pun, in Germany and Austria than in most other parts of the world, yet it is the surging subtext for dozens of commons-based movements from food sovereignty to free software to free culture:  How can commoners protect the value that they create from the coercive appropriations of markets?! explains its general philosophy this way:

The dynamic principle of the money economy is capital: money begetting more money. It turns human beings into sellers of labour time and consumers of commodities; it pits them against each other; it splits the world into value and non-value, enchaining, exploiting and deforming what it valorizes and destroying what it defines as worthless; it sorts people according to competitiveness and subordinates “the female” to “the male.” The economic and socio-ecological crisis of our times is its result.

Demonetization, by fostering conscious self-organization of producers, is the way out of it. Demonetization is the first prerequisite for a free society. Money is the means of generalized exchange of “equivalents” in terms of abstract economic value. To transcend money is to transcend commodity exchange, replacing exchange by contributions.

Not all of us aspire aspire to a money-less existence, and some of the projects featured on the website are on the visionary fringe. Still,! does an admirable job of broadening the discussion about inalienability -- what should be "not for sale" and how do we assure that? points visitors to a rich array of resources for exploring the topic further. For example, the site hosts a bibliography of books and articles, and projects that are exploring variious types of gift economies. There are links to the Freecycle movement, the BeWelcome website that is an alternative to CouchSurfing (which recently accepted venture capital money), the BookCrossing project that encourages the sharing of books worldwide, and a world map of moneyless initiatives

The site also points us to downloads of Christian Siefkes' book From Exchange to Contributions: Generalizing Peer Production in the Physical World (pdf document) and mentions a new book, Life Without Money, billed as “an introductory field guide to contemporary non-market socialism.” (Oddly enough, it costs $29.95.) also features a blog that has periodic postings, such as a recent a call for papers (in English or German) for the March/April 2012 issue of the Austrian journal Streifzüge.  The journal invites writers to address the following kinds of questions:

"Is a global revolution necessary or is it possible to construct demonetized zones? Or is it only possible to make progress by applying both strategies? Is it necessary to promote social struggles against the rule of money and its beneficiaries or can demonetized ways of living only be supported by attractive best practices without involving struggles? Or is there again a third way, i.e., is it necessary to link struggles and practical alternatives? What is the logic of money? Where does it start to structure our way of thinking and to form our way of acting? Are we human beings so deeply structured by money that we first have to change ourselves before demonetization could be possible? Or can we only change psychologically if demonetization makes progress?"

As the conventional money economy becomes highly concentrated and markets become a political force in their own right, we need more discussion about how money structures our lives, often in negative ways.  However, I personally like to differentiate "money" from "capitalism," and I think the real action in the future will be in complex hybrids that combine markets with communities that assert authority over them – commons-based markets, so to speak. That said, it's important that we probe more deeply into the principles of demonetization and the strategies for rendering certain human activities inalienable.! shines a bright spotlight on this much-neglected topic.