Money robs us of life and freedom

[this essay was published in German in the newspaper “Der Standard”, 13. July 2012, online here]

Kéllia Ramares-Watson

People invented money to make their commercial transactions easier. At first, money was a medium of exchange and a unit of account. Money was a symbol. What mattered were the things being exchanged or accounted for. But then money began to take on a life of its own. As the writer EM Forster said, “One of the evils of money is that it tempts us to look at it rather than at the things that it buys.” Money has become the über-asset that buys all other assets: materials, such as food, clothing and shelter, services, such as education and entertainment, and psychological well-being, such as status and security.

We  hear daily about the scandal over manipulation of the LIBOR rate, the interest rate at which banks loan funds to each other overnight. Several of the world’s largest and most famous financial institutions, including Barclay’s, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase, are implicated in this scandal. In reporting on it, Washington’s Blog noted:

[A]ccording to the CIA’s World Factbook, the global economy – as measured by the world’s gross domestic product – is less than $80 trillion.

In contrast, over $800 trillion dollars worth of investments are pegged to the LIBOR rate.   In other words, a market more than 10 times the size of the entire real world economy is effected by LIBOR …[T]he derivatives market is approximately $1,200 trillion dollars.

This means that trading in pieces of paper or computer pixels is vastly more important than engaging in real activities, such as building houses or growing crops. We see today desperate efforts by governments and financial institutions around the world to keep this monetary system, which is a system of debt and interest, going, no matter how many people suffer as a consequence. Thus, while the European Union tries to keep the Euro afloat, and certain banks in the United States call themselves “too big to fail”, suicides motivated by financial distress are increasing all over the world.

In 2011, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice of the NYU School of Law reported that more than a quarter of a million Indian farmers had committed suicide in the last 16 years, that in 2009, the most recent year for which official figures were available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide, and that this striking figure was an underestimation because it did not including farmers who did not have title to their land. (Women typically fall into this category). The report also said that a great number of the victims were cash crop farmers, particularly cotton farmers. These are the people drawn in to the so-called “Green Revolution” by the promises of greater yields and more income from genetically modified crops, only to end up under a pile of insurmountable debt from crop failures and the vastly higher costs of inputs.

Suicides are increasing in Greece and Italy as a result of austerity, despite the fact that these two nations are stronglly influenced by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, both of which forbid suicide. On April 6, 2012, published an article titled “Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece.”The articlestated that “according to the health ministry data, the suicide rate jumped about 40% in the first five months of 2011 compared with a year earlier.”

In the United States, poster child for the havoc the monetary system wreaks on individual lives, student loan debt has now exceeded $1 trillion. Students burdened with excessive educational debt and a few job prospects are taking their lives. In an article on student suicide titled, “The Ones We’ve Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides”, author Cryn Johannsen quotes this statement from the American Association of Suicidology (APS),

“There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide. The peak rate of suicide in 1933 occurred one year after the total US unemployment rate reached 25% of the labor force. Similar findings have been documented internationally. At the individual level, unemployed individuals have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed.Economic strain and personal financial crises have been well documented as precipitating events in individual deaths by suicide.”

The need for money also curtails our freedoms in many ways. We lose the freedom to be ourselves, to let our work be a true expression of our personalities, talents and interests rather than an indication of how we can best fit into an often manipulated market that may change its tastes or needs for certain skills while we are in the middle of our education or sometime   thereafter. How many readers of this article are working a job that is really not suited to who they are?

A monetized world robs us of our dignity as human beings. The desire or need for money makes us engage in behaviors that are not authentic to ourselves, but will gain the approval of people who are in a position to give us money for performing those behaviors. How different is that from the plight of a circus animal who is trained to do a trick for a morsel of food and cruelly punished for refusing to cooperate with the trainer?

People often stay inunsafe, discriminatory, or otherwise exploitive working conditions because they cannot afford to quit.  Recently, there was a  scandal over the exploitation of Chinese workers by a contractor of the Apple company. We in the West get so many over-priced, shiny gadgets at the expense of people’s lives in the East.

Money interferes with our freedom to learn. Education has become so expensive that adults who want to return to school often cannot.

Money has cost us our political freedom, too. True democracy means one person, one vote. But, especially in the United States, where the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people with constitutional rights, including the right to free speech via spending money on elections, we are under a new golden rule: those who have the gold make the rules.

Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on? Why must we “earn a living”? Aren’t we already living? Who has the right to deny another human being access to the means of survival because he or she does not have the money to buy those means? I believe very strongly in the great words of Thomas Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” But if you are subservient then you’re not equal.

David Korten, cofounder of Yes! Magazine, wrote that: “Money is a system of power. The more our lives depend on money, the greater our subservience to those who control the creation and allocation of money.”

Yet, here is the fundamental truth that money hides: we are equal despite our many superficial  differences. We come into the world naked and helpless from the womb of a woman;we all go through the same maturation process: crawl before we walk, walk before we run etc. Rich or poor, we all die and you cannot take it with you! He who dies with the most toys still dies!

Money creates scarcity, much of which would fall by the wayside without money to enforce inequitable distribution. Where there truly is scarcity, such as with certain natural resources, we must learn to distribute according to need, not according to money. Despite the claim of some that money is needed to ration scarce resources, we know that the rationing by price is often ineffective. A person with money and the will to waste a resource will do so because he or she can afford the tax or fine placed on the wastrel. A person who truly needs a resource but does not have the money to pay for it will not get it. Under demonetization, rationing of truly scarce resources can be done first of all, according to need, and secondly, if people are of equal need, by mutual agreement to share.

Some people believe that without money there will  be no incentive to work. Indeed, money is a great incentive to the work of warfare. But, for peaceful pusuits,  Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We  all have the right to work in passion instead of in fear that if we do not do what other people want us to do, we will lack the money to survive.

Honoring the diversity of human beings, not only in terms of things such as race, gender and religion, but also diversity of interests and aptitudes, will assure that each society has a good mix of products and services that suit their both their individual and societal needs and desires.  What we have now with money, and especially with globalization, is a growing economic monoculture that does not need everyone’s products and services, yet still demands that everyone be a producer (or the family member of a producer) in order to acquire survival resources.  Those who are unwanted by the marketplace and unrelated to a producer get little or nothing.  Throwing people away is cruel, unjust, and immoral.

End money before it ends us!

Kéllia Ramares-Watson is an independent journalist living in Oakland, California, USA. She is working on a book about demonetization. Her website The End of Money ( She is a member of the platform



From: demonetize.itBy: Andreas Exner