If money is the problem, can it ever be the solution...?
















INTRODUCTION............................................................................ 1

WHAT IF GREED WERE ILLEGAL?............................................................. 3

WORLD WEALTH DISTRIBUTION............................................................... 4

WHAT CREATES THE 1%?.................................................................... 7

A PREDICTION OF WEALTH DISTRIBUTION..................................................... 8

CRIME OR SIN?........................................................................... 9

RETURN TO BARTER....................................................................... 10

WHY BURN MONEY?........................................................................ 12

THE PROBLEM IS MONEY, THE SOLUTION IS MONEY............................................ 15






The prevailing view of money is that it is a neutral invention.


For an opposing example, take Nuclear Weapons.


We cannot un-invent Nuclear Weapons, but we all hope they will never be used and so we prohibit anyone but the leaders of the country from doing so. We’d like to go further and prohibit their very existence, through the TPNW. We could go even further than that and prohibit nuclear  power stations for the same reason. Nuclear reactors are necessary to create tritium for nuclear weapons and was the reason they were first built.


Guns are a similar example. In all the countries of Europe, guns are not viewed as neutral. Although existence is not prohibited, strict ownership rules deny gun-owning to the majority of everyday Europeans. In North and South America - in two out of the five continents - there is contrarily a culture of gun availability and ownership. This is diametrically contrary to European and Asian cultures.


A final helpful comparison is alongside drugs, I think. Strict ownership rules also deny recreational drug-use to the majority of not just Europeans, but across the whole world. Even more so than with guns or nuclear, this is not merely a political decision, it is cultural. Not everyone agrees with these cultural attitudes about drugs or about weapons, and change is possible. The ‘counter culture’ of the sixties has seen its position on Cannabis legitimised by states like California even though federally in the US, Cannabis is still illegal.


In the sense that drugs and guns, if not nuclear weapons, are commodities which can be bought by money, is it right then that money should be considered wholly neutral? I cannot  pass an explanation on to you because I’ve never seen a reasoned explanation of this viewpoint in the face of of objection. Without that, it falls  to me to address the question. In plain terms, is there something wrong with money?


I’m going to imagine, for the purposes of discussion, that a foreigner from another world were to visit here. The alien might or might not be (the equivalent of) an economist themself and might or might not care whether I was an economist, but assuming they were at a similar point in their evolution, we'd be most curious about practices on their homeworld in comparison to those we have evolved.


“Well” I’m going to imagine them saying “We pride ourselves on being a fearsome warrior race – much braver than your so-named 'Klingons'”


(I am assuming the alien has been here long enough to learn our language and therefore has some knowledge of things like our Internet and our TV. Also for the purposes of discussion, it is worth pointing out that we cannot simply ask the alien what we want to know. He (?) or she((?) - I think perhaps, ‘they’) - are not here to give truth away. This emissary, or ambassador, or envoy, or whatever they are, is not here to make us like them.


They are here to exchange truth.  In point of fact, given that we have no guarantee of  who they are or where they come from, but they have learned everything about us, about our world, even extending to how to use ‘Google’, we might find ourselves in rather a weak negotiating position...)


In response to questioning, the alien continues,

We do not imprison people for theft or robbery or murder or rape at all because those acts, illegal and reprehensible as we all agree they are, are committed by the most violent, aggressive and reckless of us.”

We don’t send those people to prison because we need those people. They go to make up our army and are encouraged as our most elite fighting warriors.”

Really?” we Earthmen might say wide-eyed at this picture.

No, not really,” says the visitor. “In fact, we have laws against greed as well”.


I like to imagine at this point there is an awkward silence as the reality sinks in. They already have laws against greed; and they know we do not. If we are to learn anything useful we will have to find something to offer in exchange. We must have something useful to offer, otherwise the alien would not bother with us at all, we just don’t know what it is.


It will be something the alien does not or cannot ask about, directly. Firstly for fear of weakening their own position and second, because one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know.

Let’s see what they react to, what they are interested in, as we follow our own interest. It is in their interest as well.




Earth, 2021: we are reaching a population of ten billion. This order of magnitude is the maximum the Earth can hold. We are using up precious resources, as we are meant to, but these resources must be put to good use. We are just beginning to step away from war but also we are reaching an edge in scientific advance (progress into space) at the same time as seeing the physical limitations of our planet.


The wealth of nations has historically come both externally and internally; first from the geography of natural resources and second from the modifications and inventions of technology. We can both realise this wealth and ‘create’ it.


Earth is an interesting mix of competition and cooperation. Although the extreme of war is less likely for many of us, the gap between rich and poor continues to be ever-increasing. Most countries of the world are not now controlled by the military, but they are controlled centrally, with the primary aim of preserving the status and position of those in charge.


The next advances will likely not be in scientific theory since our framework of knowledge is largely now established. This must mean that the pace of technological innovation will slow, alongside the pace of resource realisation. We are likely to be entering a new era, continuing the advances in engineering which put the science to use; but also breaking new ground in design; in refining and rethinking what had previously been taken for granted.


From the vantage point of our imaginary alien, perhaps we appear more like a younger cousin. We may be beginning to grow up, as a race, but have we been teenagers? Are we now the equivalent of young adults in terms of our shared destiny?


This is the second version of an essay I self-published about five years ago, in 2015. This is what I had written then:


One's fear is of something interfering at a crucial point with that maturation; some natural disaster such as an asteroid, or 'super-volcano'. Currently, there is a real fear of pandemic in the 'Ebola' virus which is proving as virulent as Aids. It is not hard to imagine one effect of a catastrophe. If, Heaven forbid, the pandemic were to wipe out say, two-thirds of the current population, then we'd see a radical reversal in all our situations. I suggest that the previous era, with all its plenty, would soon come to be seen as the great 'golden age' that the rest of us would all be looking back upon.


And if that happens then all opportunity to question the waste and greed of capitalism might be lost for good. The discussion before it even got started would be dead in the water. Maybe that is why I feel the urgency to table it for us now.


It was, then, a pandemic which was the outcome, and at the time of writing this in 2021 we are right in the middle of it. It is already clear that the Covid 19 pandemic has only greatly increased wealth inequality. After decades of ‘austerity’ our UK economy this last 12 months has seen the creation of nearly £1 trillion in QE   which could not show more markedly the importance of cultural attitude to money. This money has been doled out unequally, arguably even, unfairly. A tiny part of it, at most, has gone to the bottom. Most has gone to the top instead, by inflating asset prices such as housing.


That is why the question I ask, in front of our taciturn witness/judge from far away, is this: is the problem money, itself? I ask for my own interest, in the hope that asking, or some aspect of asking, will reveal what is most of value to both us and them.




Imagine with me, for a moment, that greed had been outlawed in the same way as bombs, guns and drugs.


I don’t mean that we send the rich to jail.


I don’t mean that we voluntarily deny ourselves riches.


Do I mean that laws are passed against the excessive accumulation of wealth by an individual which mean, not that he or she will go to prison, but that the state will step in and seize and redistribute their wealth, Robin Hood style? I am not sure that kind of ‘nannying’ would suit anyone, either. I think more likely that if an individual accumulates too much wealth then the state creates additional money to dilute the holding, and this money is distributed to everyone equally, bottom and top.


In other words, it isn’t individual wealth that is illegal – you can still own a trillion times more than me. It is your grouping that can no longer own a trillion times more than my grouping.

To put this a whole other way: as soon as there is a trillionaire, then there needs to be a national lottery that can create a trillionaire, overnight.


This does not mean that there is not an imbalance of wealth any more. Bezos, Gates et al are unaffected by these rules – they still have unimaginable wealth. One could still hide it away. (I’m not too bothered by Swiss bank accounts). Making greed illegal is not a change in the law, like nuclear weapons, it is more like a change of culture: like drugs. Other aspects, like making money ownership visible is a matter of enforcing existing laws against tax havens. The government deliberately diluting individual wealth is a political, cultural change not a legal, economic change. All it requires is the measurement of wealth, and we already do that.






Our Alien visitor has been rather unimpressed by us so far. They are not volunteering too many details. As the host, it is for us to “break the ice”. How can we explain our idea of money to them? It is rather complicated: housing, stocks, CDOs, Currencies, commodoties, bitcoin? Where do we start? So far, the only time there has been even the flicker of interest has been when I mentioned bitcoin. They’ve said they want to learn about us. That’s why they are here. So where do we start?


They can find out the statistics from Google: size of the world economy; GDP of top fifteen countries; Forbes top 100 wealthiest individuals; top traded commodities, etc. I’m going to start by telling our guest about the distribution of money, and why that matters to me:


I will total up the entire world's money supply into one single figure. Then I will take intervals of 1%/99%, 10%/90% and 50%/50% of this figure. Then I do the same for the total number of people in the world, again taking intervals of 1%/99%, 10%/90% and 50%/50% of the world's population. Now using the internet, I answer the following 3 rhetorical questions:


1) What percentage of the world's poor population owns the least amount – 1% - of the world's wealth?


In round figures, in 2020:


a) 1% of the world

shares 1% of the world’s wealth?

Individual wealth (Max)

78 million

<3.6 trillion

< £33,918



b) 10% of the world

shares 1% of the world’s wealth?

780 million

<3.6 trillion

< £3,392



c) 50% of the world

shares 1% of the world’s wealth?


3.9 billion

<3.6 trillion

< £678



Answer a: 1% of the world’s wealth is the smallest unit we can measure, so if 1% of the world’s poorest owned that, then we would have a world which would be 100% fair.

But answer a is not right.


Answer b: If 10% of the world’s poorest population owned 1% of the world’s wealth, then we would still need charity and aid to even out the imbalance but on balance, the world would be fair, at least for the great majority, the 90%.

Sadly, answer b is not right either.


Answer c: Answer c is correct. 50% of the world's population owns <1% of the world's wealth according to UN figures published in the Guardian in 2004.


2) What percentage of the world's wealth is owned by the richest 1% of the world's population, between them?



a) 1% of the wealth

is owned by 1% of world’s pop.

Individual wealth (Min)

3.6 trillion

78 million

> £33,918



b) 10% of the wealth

is owned by 1% of world’s pop.

36 trillion

78 million

> £339,180



c) 50% of the world's wealth

is owned by 1% of world’s pop.


180 trillion

78 million

> £1.695 million



Answer a: If the 1% that is the world’s richest people owned 1% of the world’s wealth, then everyone else would also own exactly their share. By definition this would be 100% fair.

Sadly, answer a cannot be right.


Answer b: If 10% of the world’s wealth was owned by the richest 1%, then it would be less than fair but perhaps temporarily so. As we used to have Kings and Emperors in the past; as a Company gets rich when it has a good idea; perhaps it would even out over time. There would likely be some pockets of poverty, but it is unlikely we would see the 90% banding together. It would depend - we might need more figures.

But we don’t need more figures, because answer b is not right either.


Answer c: Answer c is the closest to being correct, since the richest 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth according to the Guardian in 2004, and it has increased since.


3) Taking a cutoff point of £1/3 million from answer 2b, what part of the world's population am I in?



a) I own more than £1/3 million. I am in the top 10% of the world's population by wealth.


b) I own less than £1/3 million. I am in the bottom 90% of the world's population in terms of wealth.



Answer a: If this is you, you are in the top 10% of the world’s population, like my Mum. Between you, you own a little under 90% (85%) of the world's wealth.


Answer b: I am in the bottom 90% of the world’s population, along with most readers.


This explains the distribution of wealth to the Alien, as I wanted. Similar numbers can easily be obtained for the wealth of particular countries.




The Alien has laws prohibiting greed, but we don’t. The average holding of the poor is £678 while the average holding of the rich is £1.695 million. It isn’t yet a trillion, but the rich are getting richer, while the poor are staying poor. But would prohibiting greed work, on Earth? Is it simply greed that creates the 1%?





In 1900, an Italian economist, Pareto, first observed the unequal distribution of wealth in all societies across the world. Pareto’s Law of nature says that 20% of the people will own 80% of the wealth.


100 people start off with £100.  100 years later, all are dead, but they've all had one child. So now, 20 children have £80 each and 80 children have £20 each, because Pareto's Law has had time to apply.

This generation of children is now going to be given £100 (just like their parents). Given their starting wealth, will we then end up with 40 children with £160 (and 60 children with £40)? No,  because this violates Pareto's law. That would be a 60/40 split.

OK, so do we just apply Pareto's law again, to give the same result, but double the figures: 20 children could now have £160, while 80 children could now have £40?

(Notice that it does not have to be the *same* 20 children as before. It could very well be a completely different 20, with just a handful of big winners and big losers.)

No, because in practise, this is not what Pareto's law says either. Pareto's law does not leave the 20 children with £80 alone, during the 2nd generation. It does not say to itself "I have done you once so I need not do you again."

Look at it another way: are the 4 greediest children careful to take their wealth only from the rich 16? Or do the rich 16 happily give up their wealth to make Pareto's Law come true?

On the contrary, the 2nd generation are no better at evading Pareto's Law than the first. Pareto's Law does not care whether people are rich or poor.  Pareto applies to the population, not individuals, so at the end, the rich are richer than when they started and the poor are poorer:  4 children have 65% of the total £200 wealth at the end: £130;  whilst 65% of the people share just 4% of the wealth: 130 children end up with £8 between them. Pareto's is not distributive: it is *anti-distributive*. That is, it is  negatively distributive (hypothetically, based on the observation of the 1%).

Some will likely be left with too little to count: nothing. Unfortunately, most of the ones who have nothing will continue to have nothing.


When we picture a greedy person, we might think of someone who is fat. So, if I were on a see-saw with a fat person on the other side, I might need a child on the same side as me to balance out their bulk. If they are really obese, then I might need a whole other person on my side of the see-saw. A very few people are even fatter than that, true, but they are unlikely to be mobile.


But Pareto's Law says that you would need four other people on your side of the seesaw to match the one person who is practising greed – he is not one or two times greedier than you, he is four times greedier than you. Pareto observed that his law of distribution pertained not just across Italy but across the whole world.


It is far from clear why Pareto's Law causes this result. He did not himself know. His Law arose through  observation not theory and it has not been made clearer since. An important point though is that the principle is not re-distributive: if the split is 90/10, Pareto's will not re-distribute it to be 80/20. Pareto’s Law keeps the poor so and makes the rich richer: only outside intervention will cause redistribution. Only taxation will do that. And taxation is a political choice, of course.


Because Pareto’s Law has applied for 150 years, it has actually become worse – 10% of the world’s population owns 85% of the world’s wealth. Pareto himself lived well before the first World War which wiped out three Empires and redistributed their wealth. Since the Second World War ended, of course, there has been no such redistribution.


If Pareto’s Law is left unaddressed what happens? What are the consequences of it? Well of course it can only be that Pareto’s Law applies to itself. That is, the 20% richest form a mini-population in their own right – which then divides again according to Pareto’s same Law. If the split is 10/90, this only has to happen once more to create 10% of 10% i.e. the 1%.


What does this mean? It means there is no global conspiracy or sinister Oligarchy needed: Pareto’s Law creates the 1% automatically. To repeat: when Pareto is strictly applied, it takes only three generations of application (20% x 20% x 20% = 0.8%).


Pareto only guarantees unevenness, it does not govern how the change is made. This is what we see around us in a 'lottery' society. Instead of a meritocracy, we have the lottery outcome where fabulous wealth can be yours – but it is fabulously unlikely. A handful of film stars, or footballers, or IT startups will be 'lucky' enough to join the bankers and politicians and 'old' money, but, 'it could be you'.


Pareto's Law applies to the money not to the people. In other words, it guarantees that the money will be divided unequally among the people, but it does not guarantee which people. So, of the 80% who lost out first time round it could very well be one of those who wins next time round.


As stated, this means inequality is not the result of a hidden ‘illuminati’ engineering the existing world order, but a natural outcome of money, itself. The extremely rich are not even a cohesive group, as we know. They are more like islands, whose only shared characteristic is the defining one: that they are not sea. This we already know: the rich are different from us: they have more money.


In that case, why does it matter? The problem is how much more. Has not something gone wrong when the players at the Casino own more than the ‘bank’.




The most recent estimate of Jeff Bezos’s wealth in Wired Magazine was $200 billion. That is one fifth of a trillion dollars, putting Bezos on course to become one of the world’s first trillionaires. In fact, we could even predict when. If Pareto’s Law remains unaddressed then we can predict the final distribution of wealth.


This is a remarkable thing, yet it follows automatically from what has already been said. At the moment the 1% owns 40% of the world’s wealth, and we know that Pareto’s Law creates the 1%. In that case, how much wealth do the 1% end up with? Just as we calculated the 1% from applying Pareto to itself over generations, we can calculate the wealth transfer by applying Pareto to itself over generations.


If the split is 10/90 then two applications of Pareto will create the 1% - and they will end up with 90% of 90% - 81% - of the world’s wealth. If we assume the split will be exactly as per Pareto, then in three generations we end up with 0.8%, and 80% x 80% x 80% = 51%. If 0.8% has 51% then, pro-rata, 1% will have 64%.


In other words, the rich are predicted to own very, very much more than the 40% that they owned when the Guardian first brought the figures above to my attention, nearly twenty years ago. The rich are actually getting richer – staggeringly richer, by these figures. Pareto’s Law would ultimately result in the transfer of a further 20% - 40% into the hands of the super-wealthy, from everyone else.


If Earth does nothing to address greed, the 1% will end up owning 60% - 80% of the world’s wealth.


At that point, we will be moving to the creation of ‘the 0.1%’.






Greed is certainly a sin. Although ‘Sin’ is slowly becoming a historic, if not yet outdated, concept I was brought up at a time when lust, sloth, envy, wrath, even pride (or arrogance) were seen as the equal of avarice and gluttony. Is it really fair to describe the rich as greedy? Gluttony historically is a different category to avarice.


Children who overeat can't realistically eat enough to cause other children to starve. Besides, greediness in children will often make them physically obese for which the rest of us can naturally feel sympathy. Unfortunately, greediness in money makes us admire and envy the greedy. As a result, there is no limit to how much one person is willing to accumulate. (In fact, this makes it harder, not easier, to give money away.)


Our response to obesity is certainly not to see it as a crime. Instead, we rightly view it as an illness, or in sympathy as a weakness, more deserving of skilled medical intervention on an individual basis, than of societal disfavour. Obesity is becoming recognised as an outcome from poverty not from gluttony, in certain cases.


Looking back across history, it is the Roman Empire’s notorious Vomitorium that stands out as an example of the height of practise of gluttony. Perhaps gluttony was a feature of early society which led to its place as a primary sin, before this. Perhaps it was the 1% of 2000 years ago that finally had the chance to take it to its extreme. Possibly, from then on, it was greed-for-money, not greed-for-food which became the focus for dark ambition, bringing us to the present day.


Let’s compare this with the tradition regarding the other sins.


Lust is certainly a focus for dark ambition, in the present day. We’ve seen that blow up in our faces over the last decade – not just #MeToo with Harvey Weinstein but Saville at our own  BBC. The Weinsteins and the Savilles aren’t enabled by money, they are arguably enabled by the faceless executives who ‘know’, but whose inflated salaries depend on them ‘not understanding’.


Our love songs in the charts at the moment have become about sexual disappointment (Lily Allen) or betrayal (Amy Winehouse), about hooking up and moving on (Dua Lipa, et al). Family planning has exploded centuries of tradition, where lust was dealt with by evolved rules and laws and the debate was about appropriate behaviours, not criminalisation. That we are all now on new ground travelling fast through unexplored terrain is shown by the newspapers in late 2021, which discuss an epidemic of flashing, harassment and outright violence against women, which the (female) home secretary wants to deal with through law, blocked at the time of writing by the (male) PM.


Wrath: Racism is already termed a ‘hate’-crime.


Envy: Theft has long been a crime, punished by long prison sentences in the UK.


Pride: I’ve wondered myself if pride is not so much a cardinal sin, as a cardinal virtue alongside humility. As a computer programmer, my industry leader Larry Wall has proposed  the three cardinal virtues of computer programming are laziness, hubris and impatience. He may not be entirely serious, but he finds it a useful way to raise the subject seriously.


Sloth: I’d be  a strong advocate of legalising all drugs for all adults at 65 because I think the law on this badly needs changing.


There is a real point here, because the arms trade, the drugs trade, the corruption and oppression from political leaderships, even the casual corruption of my mother paying her cleaner ‘cash in hand’, is it not arguable that all of these are enabled and, in fact, exacerbated by the inability to resist avaricious greed-for-money?




I confess my title header here is pure clickbait. I’ve no intention of proposing a return to barter, but I do want to discuss an alternative to money.


When the whole world runs on money, and billionaires are lauded and feted universally, it can be difficult to imagine any alternative in a way that is realistic. Money seems inevitable. In point of fact, there would be no ‘returning’ to barter because it still has its place alongside money – for instance, in connection with our currently-imagined alien visitor.


In seeking alternatives, I have come across two which have protected me from a closed mind in this respect. The first is gift, and the second is LETS.


When we think of gifts we inevitably think of Christmas as being the time to give and receive gifts. Let me ask you though to think of this now as merely the giving and receiving of gifts of money. And to think of this as completely different from gift-giving.


To understand how, recall that we use ‘gift’ in reference to artistic skill. When someone has a  talent for singing or acting or painting then we sometimes say they have been given a ‘gift’. Such a gift has not been paid for, by means of any value exchange. Though it may have been earned, it does not have a set value either, since it is for the receiver to make the best or the worst use of it they can. Both we, the group, and the individual receiver, fully celebrate the wise use of the gift, but the gift cannot then be given away. It dies with the receiver.


These elements of a gift: that its value is unique to the receiver; that it is entirely given, with nothing received in return; and that it dies with death of the receiver; are all elements that make gift-giving a totally different concept than money. I hope we will realise that this would be true whether the gift was an abstract immeasurable like ‘the gift of singing’ or a concrete measurable, like a table.


That is to say, we could apply the principles of gift-giving as easily to an item as mundane as a table, as we do to the most priceless abstract.


There is  no ‘exchange’ as such in a gift-based economy. The recipient of a gift expresses their gratitude by finding or making their own best gift to give away, and their own best receiver for it. They ‘pay’ forward or onward, rather than ‘paying back’ the gift, and the ‘payment amount’ is itself a created rather than a fixed item. It is an idea more fully explored in Lewis Hyde’s book ‘The Gift’, available from Ipswich Library for those interested. (The book was itself a Christmas gift to me from my mother.)


For the spiritually inclined, as I include myself, there is a saying that at least refers back to Roman times: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's; render unto God that which is God's. I have found it a valuable principle for respecting money without ever loving it; perhaps even whilst even resenting it, a little. If that which goes by the name Caesar represents any authority then the price of authority is tribute and it has ever been a price worth paying in return for law and order. On the other hand where the gifts of God are both infinite and free, the principle is beyond mere ‘payment’; as in: to offer one's own best gift, or gifts.


Under Communism, one says: to each according to his needs; from each according to his ability. A gift economy goes further even than this: One seeks to give a particular gift to the person most deserving of it – even if that person is not especially liked by the giver! It is from each according to his needs, and to each according to his ability. This is important because just the ability to conceive of an alternative to money is itself an intellectual strength. One of the dangers for any economist is loss of perspective, and having a prefigured alternative gives us perspective. If money is not inevitable then it is only the greed that is inevitable.


I was one of the founder members of Ipswich LETS. Though others have fallen away in the seven years since (at the time of writing), at the time when I began this writing, I still produced a monthly newsletter and offered a regular monthly meeting. LETS stands for Local Exchange Trading Scheme. People often describe it as 'virtual money' or 'local money'. I have the suspicion though that it is not quite that. I wonder if it is a first step away from money. An attempt to use the idea of money as a tool of co-operation primarily - rather than competition primarily – because that works better, locally.


There is no long-term value held in the Tokens that are the basis of trading under LETS, yet we are so used to money that we can still use it for a transaction – where the basis of the value is the combination of the transaction and the relationship, itself. If you need the grass cutting, you might as well pay someone. It is easier. But if you need the grass growing, ah then you might need an expert. And then you might want one you can trust. Walk into a shop and pay £X for an item and part of the promise is that you might never need to walk into that shop again. Money obviates the need for a relationship. With LETS it is quite different. Over time; over many transactions, there can be no cash accumulation on either side, but over many face-to-face transactions there can be an accumulation of value in the (local) relationship. This means that, from the start, the value of the transaction can be whether it builds a relationship.


In this way of looking at it, value is a long-term accumulation of relationship, not physical wealth. And unlike many ideas the idea of LETS cannot be facilitated by technology. Indeed, it cannot be ‘monetised’ since there is never any measurable, objective (global) accumulation of value.


When I attended the Anarchist Bookfair for the first time, in 2011, I noticed a fellow sporting a T-Shirt with the legend ‘Let’s Ban Money’. Naturally I approached him at the first opportunity to find out more. We talked about LETS and he posited the idea of a 'white market' - that is, as opposed to a black market, or a grey market.


Both black market and grey market have specific meanings already, but Economics has also introduced the ideologically-spun terms 'free market' and 'perfect market' which I would like to avoid here. Let me then propose our definitions, starting from the bottom with 'black market'. For this purpose, a black market is one which does not effectively outlaw violence. (We're familiar with this of course from tales of the mafia and organised crime.) A 'grey market' is then one which does not effectively control greed. In a grey market, there might be no controls (the equivalent, some might say, of the so-called ‘free’ market) or there might be an ombudsman to oversee fair play: a light grey market, I might say. A ‘white market’ would then have this difference: in a grey market, wealth remains hidden, but in a 'white market', everyone knows what everyone else owns. It does not prohibit a greedy monopolist, but neither does it facilitate such.


Most people love money. I say this, not in anger but in wonder, knowing how much the thing they love hurts them, and in full knowledge of my own weakness. I cannot claim to be free of money-love – I have many of the habits it acquires. The one difference is that I have known that I did not want to love it, and so I have actively and vigorously sought practicable alternatives. Unfortunately, mostly I have met with failure. As such I did with Ipswich LETS.


Many LETS groups fall in to non-trading, as ours did, and as our rival-town Norwich did also. Even many thriving and long-lasting groups, such as Cambridge LETS, fall to what I would call trivial trading. This is natural when they work alongside money; they don't represent an attack on it, as I have always felt LETS should be. I am reaching the point now where I am thinking that this is not really a failure but just an indication that the time was not then right. It was too soon.


The power of LETS would be the power of local cooperation in the face of centralised control. As we know, China, Russia, America, the UK, Europe, the Middle East, across the entire world, government is centralised, and these governments trade in dollars, and bitcoin. Meanwhile, in the years since my LETS group folded I have continued to pursue the question central to this essay: what can one person do about money? Can I as an individual step away from it? Could I opt out? Could I, for instance, burn my own money?




We said above that there was a principle of destruction built in with the idea of gift-giving and that this could apply just as much to the physical; like a table. In theory, someone else in the village might make an affectionate owner for an item they see value in, but realistically, across the country, house clearances routinely sweep away roomfuls of possessions.  A percentage of used tables may be responsibly disbursed by diligent relatives willing to undertake the administrative overhead, but most will lose provenance and build-history to become waste in either landfill or the incinerator.


What if we had ‘creative destruction’ rather than waste? The possessions of the deceased should receive, rather than a positive, but minor worth, a negative worth, so that the first act of relatives would be to ‘destroy’ anything contributing to this negative bill. That could be by burning a wooden table or it could be as now, by listing and selling it. The remaining negative bill would be paid by any monies in the estate, and it would indeed go to fully destroy what was left. Those. Like my friend Helen, wishing to make a business out of realising some of this destroyed value would need to offer their services before the bill was due, but otherwise could operate as now.


‘Creative destruction’ applies not just to tables. It would apply equally or moreso to creative works. Instead of being able to sell the copyright on indefinitely of the deceased artist’s work, there would come a point where the work would be, not free of copyright, but destroyed at the end of its copyright. Imagine seeing David Bowie’s back catalogue erased at some due point of time in the future. Thereafter, you’d see a single with the song-title ‘Space Oddity’ but it would be locked up while on display in the museum. You wouldn’t ever be able to hear exactly how it went or know exactly what the lyrics were, although if it were this century lots of people might think they could tell you.


In our past, we used to have a tradition of sacrifice to the Gods. We voluntarily gave up that which was most valuable to us, out of reverence and through ceremony, to honour that which we thought was most important. To give up that which we most value ‘makes room’ for the new, even more for art than for a table, so does the principle of destroying artwork to create the necessity for new artwork apply equally to Michelangelo’s ‘David’ as to David Bowie’s back catalogue? The answer is simple: we think nothing of ‘bombing our enemies back into the stone age’ and indeed, have always thought thus, in times of war. There is no ‘Geneva Convention’ on Art or culture. If ‘David’ had been lost in the 2nd World War, it would have been the enemies fault, not ours. But perhaps if we sacrificed ‘David’ coolly in peacetime, in an appropriate ceremony, we would value the art of sculpture more, not less.


What does burning money actually do? What does it really mean to burn a banknote? Does it take the food out of the mouths of the starving, or does it burn sheets of paper which have zero inherent value? Does burning my own money pauperize me without any effect on you, or does it free me from ‘Mammon’ and inspire others to do similarly? By burning money, could I step outside of the world of money? Can an individual simply ‘opt out’?


I certainly would not be the first to do it. In the early nineties, the KLF were the biggest band in the world. [1] In 1991 they burned one million pounds of their own money in £50 notes. I remember seeing the original story in the Guardian, at the time.


The KLF didn’t burn the money in public. Originally their idea was to ‘creatively destroy’ one million pounds of their own money by ‘crucifying’ it: they nailed the money to a framed board intending to exhibit it in a gallery. When this idea found zero takers, they went with a reporter to a distant island and burned the money in private while their roadie filmed them. They then released the film as an artistic, not a political, statement and have stood by it ever since.


My burning money was a political not an artistic statement so I felt I was treading new ground compared to the KLF, even though it was only £100. at an ‘open mic’ event not far from me I duly turned up with five £20 notes and a box of matches. In time-honoured style, I asked the audience to examine the money so as to verify it was genuine and I then proceeded to burn each note individually whilst talking about the ideas you have been reading. In fairness to them,  the presenter didn’t prevent me, although modern notes are not paper and do not burn at all well, and they at least heard me out. I could tell they hated it though. When I came to the last note, I asked if anyone in the audience had £10. I’m sure they guessed what I had in mind so the lack of any enthusiasm made it clear how badly the talk had gone down. Eventually one person did  volunteer and I was able to finish by swapping his £10 for my £20 and burning that.


For years after, I sought a way of building on this experience and taking it forward. Even now, I have £1000 in £50 notes put to one side ready to be put to the flame. Over time though, I have come to believe that there is no forward step to take, there is  going to be no second act to this play. Here is the conclusion I have reached.


First, burning my own money is not only not taking from ‘worthy causes’, it is in actuality contributing to them. By burning a pound note (and unlike by destroying a bitcoin) I am letting the Bank of England off it’s promise to pay me a pound ‘on demand’. I am, I suggest, voluntarily paying extra tax. It has the same net effect, I suggest, as giving to charity.


If I were to burn enough money to impoverish myself, all it would do would be to make money more important to me, not less, since I’d have the immediate problems of what to eat and where to live. I haven’t affected money by doing this. I could take a ‘vow of poverty’, as people have in the past,  but I wouldn’t have any effect on the money system by doing so. And if I were to try and burn thousands of pounds of cash in public whether on a one-off or regular basis it would create problems of security I don’t think I  could solve.


I cannot think of any way to ‘opt out’ of the money system. I conclude that there is nothing I can do or anyone else can do that would effectively register as dissent. This is not the same as opting in to the money system of course. I, and others, still do not believe that every pound has the same value as every other pound, no matter how dirty. I, and others, think there are many things that money cannot buy. Most of all, I and others still think that money has no inherent value of any kind. The objective worth is zero, it is the subjective worth that we, the people of Earth, value so highly...


To illustrate what I mean one final time, beyond gift-making or LETS, let us consider the example of that signed promise on the banknote.


A banknote, as we know, is a uniquely numbered record of a promise. The number is a way of keeping record, it is the promise that is important. That is what we are really trading in: promises. If we wanted to supersede money, one way to approach doing so might be for us to make our own promises, of different types.


Imagine if I had made a promise when I was young that I, personally, would never get rich: never have a fortune of £1 million net worth say, or never be richer than my parents, or never be richer than the poorest 90% of the population. I could have led my whole life exactly the same with no loss of hope or expectation. But if that promise had been made at the time, if it  was a matter of public record, it would say something about me that other people could use if they wanted to. It would say something about me that I might have been able to use.


Such a promise made now would have no value: it would have been made then as a promise drawn on the bank of my future potential. It would have been a promise with no legal backing needed, because my honour is the backing. I can imagine other promises that I might equally or better have made in public. Some would be like this one; the kind of promise that anyone might make. Others would be the kind that I alone might make, and those would require self-knowledge as much as future potential. A braver promise would have been to ‘promise to prove Plato wrong’. I perceived a hole in Plato’s reasoning that I believed I could address from my thirties onward, but it was much easier to ‘go undercover’ in doing so. Imagine such a ‘currency of promises’.


The inability for anyone anywhere to opt out of the money system,  combined with the inability of anyone to destroy value by destroying money leads to a third and final conclusion, which is that, if the value of money is subjective then one also cannot destroy value by creating money.


Destroying money moves the value from me to the Treasury, it does not destroy it. Likewise creating money moves value from the treasury to the recipient, it does not destroy or create value.


If the richest woman in the world has a trillion dollars, creating a quadrillion dollars and giving it to the richest person does not create or destroy any value. It just distributes the value differently. And so does giving the money to the poor.


“if an individual accumulates too much wealth then the state creates additional money to dilute it”


That is what I said right at the start in the opening paragraphs of this essay as the way to resist greed. If the value of money is essentially subjective then creating more money does not have to be ‘paid for’. We already practise this using Quantity Easing. The difference is that that money is given to the rich. The solution to greed is quite simple, it is to give money to the poor, and so dilute the holdings of the rich.


How would this work? Let’s be clear: I am not talking about UBI.


We are already familiar with the idea of a Universal Basic Income from the game “Monopoly”. In this game, every time players traverse the ‘Go’ square, they receive a sum of money. It is like a salary and as long as everyone is paid the same, it is ‘fair’: that is, the wealth of the richest is preserved. That is not what I am proposing.


My suggestion would be to calculate the wealth of the richest (as we did above) and then to give a percentage of this to the poorest: the young; those under 25, on a regular basis.


I propose that everyone under the age of 25 receive a single sum of (at today’s prices) £40,000 to do with entirely as they see fit. Then, in 25 years, exactly the same thing would happen for the youth. If the figure was done on world wealth, rather than UK wealth, it would be £400,000.


How realistic is this proposal? Well, I calculate that the larger figure would cost about £800 billion. QE in the year of the pandemic, 2020, was close to a trillion UK pounds. That means in 2020 we already did the equivalent of giving the richest woman in the world a quadrillion dollars, and we did it instead of giving that money to the young.


We did it because we wanted to move that extra (future) value out of the Bank of England and into the UK economy. We could have met exactly the same goal by giving that money to the your (not my) children.


I don’t think UBI is a solution. I think wealth creation for the young initially, followed by for the marginalised, and ultimately and finally, for the poor. I think that genuinely could be a solution as it is a natural expansion of the existing role of money into an area where it is not, but obviously should be. UBI is inevitable, I think, but it will make no difference. Creating ‘free’ wealth is not inevitable and will make a difference both economically and politically.




Politically the policy of direct intervention in money creation makes a difference because it is finally something that could get the left elected.


Throughout my lifetime, I have watched support for the left in the UK slowly collapse until now, in 2021, the principle opposition is not only unelectable, but wouldn’t even receive my vote, partly through a series of disastrous compromises and partly through the lack of effective policies.


It is not me, it is the poor, and the young, and the marginalised; the powerless, that have lost out. I don’t think that is going to change in the medium-term. Unfortunately I do not think there is much hope that a policy of QE for the poor will be initiated by a left-wing government in the UK. It needs to be initiated and proved a success in a country that can support a left-wing government before it stands any chance of being supported here.


Notice something else: it is not going to happen in El Salvador, either. That isn’t necessarily because El Salvador would not support a left-wing government in the medium term, it is because El Salvador has Bitcoin as its national currency.


Bitcoins can only be created by mining. There is even a limit on the total number of Bitcoins that can be created. Even with universal agreement, it is not possible for Bitcoin to do what I have proposed we do with our national currency. To think of this in another way, understand that as in the past, when money is tied to the value of gold, with bitcoin, the value is tied to the value of bitcoin at the moment when all the bitcoins are ‘minted’. This has an objective value, not a subjective value; whether arbitrary or true, and it cannot be changed.


Because Bitcoins cannot do what a state currency can do, there is to some degree a timelimit on the decision of whether to implement a policy of giving to the poor to address the problem of greed. At some point in the future the decision will be made about whether to transition to Bitcoin as the world’s main currency or not. And that decision is made up of all the decisions along the way, including El Salvador’s decision which is, I think, unlikely to be reversed. 


Well now, I see that the alien visitor I have invited is putting on his coat which, it turns out, is very much easier with tentacles.


“Yes, I am” they reply. “Thank you for your gift.”


And with that, they are gone.




My spoken question throughout was: If the problem is money, how can money be the solution...?


The question may now have become more urgent if we want to solve the problem of money and we can only use money as the solution; and if we don’t use money as the solution within a limited timeframe, we then cannot use it.


Of course, this wouldn’t in itself be a complete solution to money, but it would show a willingness to tackle the problem, a willingness which I see as absent currently.


I was forty in the year 2000. For the first half of my life during the 20th Century I thought that money was fairly distributed. The rich were rich, the poor were poor, but HM Government in the UK, and its equivalent in other countries, was clearly the richest of all. This assumption was completely overturned at the start of the 21st Century when the Guardian national newspaper published Oxfam’s figures on wealth distribution.


Call me naive, but I’d volunteered for Oxfam in the nineties at the end of the 20th Century. I’d worked as a fundraiser at the regional HQ in Southampton and received training at the Oxford HQ and I had been given no idea of the true economic facts. I’d read most of John O’ Hara’s work. I knew that US politics was rancid at the local level, but not UK politics, surely? Not all politics?


My assumption was completely reversed by the figures quoted at the start of this article. The poor are not only dirt poor individually, we are dirt poor en masse because government has been divesting all of its assets to vested interests, in the service of money.


From that day to this, for the second half of my life throughout the 21st Century I have felt a commitment  to fighting not the rich: not the 1%; but the enablers of the rich, the 9% whose goal it is to increase poverty on their behalf.




[1]         The KLF were the biggest selling singles act in the world in 1991, according to Wikipedia.