1970s >> 1971 >> no-798-february-1971

Editorial: Let’s have free access

“Abolish money? That’s impossible.” Is it? Surely all we need to produce wealth are human beings who are prepared to work and materials from nature. So if it is impossible to abolish money, it cannot be because money is an essential ingredient of the production process.

Before we go any further let us establish what money is. The metal discs and coloured paper which people carry around with them are not money. They are only almost worthless tokens for the real thing— gold. Gold of course is itself wealth in that it is the product of human labour on nature-given material. This is an important point since many people assume that money itself is not wealth, but merely a voucher entitling a person to so much wealth of his choice.

Money is useful wherever wealth is exchanged. Exchange is a simple word whose meaning should be clear —when things are exchanged one is given in return for the other—but it is commonly confused with distribution. When things are distributed they are not exchanged; they are merely being taken from one place to another. The work involved in this is strictly speaking part of the process of producing wealth. Money, then, does not distribute wealth. Wealth is distributed by men loading and driving lorries or trains or ships or planes.

Perhaps this confusion arises because the word “Distribution” means sharing-out as well as dispersing and so fits in well with the mistaken view that money is a voucher entitling a person to such-and-such a share of the wealth that has been produced.
Historically, the most common kind of exchange has been that of equivalents and this is the only kind that need concern us now. So much wheat would be given in return for so many sheep or so many pots in return for so much cloth. This process of barter is cumbersome and becomes impractical when exchange grows to any extent. At this stage the need is felt for something that can be exchanged for anything else — money, for that is what money is, an item of wealth that can be exchanged for any and every other item of wealth. We can now see why money is itself, and must be, wealth. For, with the exchange of things of equal value, nobody is going to give his wheat or sheep or pots or cloth in return for something that is not worth the same.

Exchange implies something else, too. It implies that the wealth to be exchanged is owned by different people. After all, if one person or one community owned all the wheat as well as all the sheep, the question of exchanging them just would not arise. Exchange presupposes the private ownership of wealth.

This is why the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production and distribution will mean the end of exchange and so the disappearance of money. All the wealth that is produced, as well as the means and instruments for producing and distributing it, will belong to the whole community so that the problem will be simply to distribute it to where it is needed. This is just a question of organisation. When the wealth has reached the stores then people can freely take of it what they need. This — free access — is our alternative to money.

We are witnessing how the other alternative works in the present upset over the introduction of a decimal coinage in this country. The official propaganda, a vastly expensive advertising campaign, has been directed at getting us to understand the new system and to accept it. We have seen the photo-strips of the crotchety old lady being won round to a decimal enthusiast. We have had, coming through the door with the detergent coupons, the booklet from the Decimal Coinage Board.

And we have been told that it is all to do with efficiency. Decimals will be easier to work, the system will save money in the long run. It will bring the British currency somewhere into line with those of other countries and, as we point out elsewhere in this issue, is a step towards a common European currency. What this amounts to is that decimal coinage is an efficiency measure designed to benefit British industry and commerce, by which is meant the owners of industry, by which is meant the British capitalist class.

It has yet to be demonstrated, how “efficiency” helps the other side, the people who have to bumble through the shops with the unaccustomed coinage, the people who have to worry about whether they are being swindled in the changeover, the people whose lives depend on the wage which comes in the form of money. The interests of these people — the working class, the vast majority of society — are not concerned with “efficiency” or export drives or international trading tie-ups or rearrangements of currencies.

What the change to decimals does show up is the basic inefficiency of capitalism. The apologists for the system tell us that money is itself an efficient thing, that it oils the wheels of production and distribution. Yet here we have had a situation in which those same apologists have been telling us that money is a hindrance, that the different currency systems lead to inefficiency and we need a huge, expensive, time consuming propaganda campaign and a mighty upheaval to adjust it all.

Yet if we are interested in efficiency (as we are) there is something which is of top priority. If we want a society where wealth can move around the world freely, where it can be produced as human beings need it, we must think about a system which excludes money. The capitalist social system hinders distribution and restricts production. Its priority is not efficiency but profit for a minority. It must be swept away and replaced by Socialism, the world of free production and access.