I find the constant coining of new terms tiresome. But in writing Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy, I felt the need to re-define my nonmarket socialist position in a more constructive and less reactive way as ‘real valuism’, with ‘real value’ as a basic economic term. I hasten to add that I use this term advisedly, given that in economics ‘real’ has an established use as in ‘real value’ as distinct from ‘nominal value’, and ‘real analysis’ as distinct from ‘monetary analysis’.
As such, the meaning I give ‘real value’ is distinctive although it has similarities with the concept ‘use value’, in as much as both relate to qualities and purposes of things. Most significantly, real values are at the heart of a political economy denuded of money. Real values are the infinity of nonhuman and human, social and ecological values operative in a nonmonetary economy, specifically a community mode of production. Here human and humane relations with one another and Earth centre on fulfilling one another’s basic needs, respecting Earth’s limits, supporting caring, healing and regeneration.
But, why might we need to go beyond money? I argue that various inequalities between people and most aspects of ecological unsustainability are generated and reproduced through monetary relationships and monetary values (prices). The market, production for trade is a central barrier to us achieving equality and sustainability. Moving beyond money allows us to support both human and planetary sustainability. This is not a new notion.
Marx: Money and beyond
Karl Marx’s vision, in tracts referred to as ‘The Power of Money’ in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, is apposite. In this early period, he has an ‘alienation theory of money’ (as in Marx’s Concept of Money: The God of Commodities). Marx starts by describing experiences of a capitalist world where, ‘The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power.’ Here money is ‘the visible divinity’, ‘the common whore’, ‘the fraternisation of impossibilities’ and ‘the alienated ability of mankind’.
Moreover, without money, needs and wants are ‘a mere thing of the imagination without effect or existence’. And even having money, being rich, has fatal weaknesses because money submerges, even obliterates the actual values of nature and humans. In short, ‘Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things — the world upside-down — the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.’
Marx concludes by asking us to ‘[a]ssume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one’. In this imaginary, ‘Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.’ Now we are in a new world. The prisoner is freed.
But, what next?
Community mode of production
My postcapitalist proposal is a nonmonetary future. Instead of producing for trade we produce on demand. This demand approximates the fulfillment of everyone’s basic needs — no more, no less — as assessed by communities who focus on producing for collective sufficiency. Self-governing communities decide what to produce, how they will produce it, and for whom. There is no need for a market at any level. Necessary exchanges with other, mainly neighbouring, communities involve nonmonetary ‘compacts’, not monetary contracts.
All aspects of production are tightly connected to the potential of a landscape and it’s human inhabitants, consequently these ‘ecotats’ are unique and customised. A locale’s potential and limits is a contained and more easily grasped set of possibilities and activities for understanding, sustainability and operability than current global production for trade. The terms of production and life are real incomparable values as perceived in various things and activities, quantitatively assessed in measures appropriate to their diverse qualities.
Beyond Money draws on historical works and debates, contemporary challenges and current thought re nonmonetary futures. I refer to philosophical thought and political actions in environmental, feminist and technological spheres. Each reveals various ways in which monetary economies are inappropriate for people’s wellbeing and everyday existence, and the extent to which production for trade disturbs and damages Earth and humanity.
Yet not simply ideas, discourse and theories but actual practical experimentation is driving real valuist ways forward. Examples include majority-world post-development ecosocialists, who envisage a transformation to a grassroots community mode of production networked across a pluriverse globe, and minority world barter-free and exchange-free Tauschlogikfreiheit MOVEment communities.
So, how might political economy transform within a world without money?
I define real values as all the existing and potential diverse values of living things that are relevant to actual and holistic human and/or ecological needs, whether they be plant, animal or rock in landscapes and atmospheres. Applying ‘real values’, social and ecological values, enables a practical recognition of diverse ecological and humane, including feminist, values. A real values approach is consistent with ecofeminism, environmentalism, Marx’s philosophy and all those anti-capitalist analyses that call for a new approach based on real, rather than monetary, values.
As such ‘real value producers’ are those who use ecologically sustainable processes to derive and create goods and services with values that centre on satisfying local people’s needs. Work is collective and delegated to individuals as a result of participatory decision making and volunteering. Within commoning, producers work an obligatory number of hours, or engage in delegated tasks irrespective of the hours involved. They fulfil direct orders of products, orders decided within self-governing processes.
‘Real value exchange’ is direct supply arising from pre-determined demand regarding the basic needs of identified people. Environmental considerations are accounted for in all decision making. Surpluses are stored, used in a newly decided way, or directed according to need to others outside the producing community. The economy, as such, has clear subjects and objects, agency, and productive processes. It is a veritable community mode of production.
Real value studies
I suggest using the term ‘real value studies’ to refer to explorations of ecologically sustainable nonmonetary production and exchange to fulfil basic needs of people and ecosystems. As such, real value production — collectively decided and oriented around real values of inputs, techniques and outputs — focuses on real values, values identified and defined in terms of the needs of both people and nature.
Real value production incorporates domestic work, indeed any work that contributes to the collective sufficiency of the community – meeting everyone’s basic needs and the needs of Earth. It is an holistic economy, a caring economy and a solidarity economy.
A range of voices, works and streams of thinking can be identified as contributing to this emergent, yet to be developed, field. Think Otto Neurath and his advocate John O’Neill, as in Life Without Money. Think Friederike Habermann and ‘ecommony’. I hope to engage in practical research in this field — and encourage more scholars to interrogate actual cases of ecologically sustainable nonmonetary production and exchange to fulfil basic needs of people and ecosystems by reflecting on, monitoring and analysing them.
Real value scholars might creatively propose, and review proposals for, future production in terms of their social and environmental potential, and identify both convivial techniques of production and essential outputs within particular social and environmental contexts.
Maybe this is one of the real futures for ecological economics, political ecology and political economy both in the preparatory period to, and within, postcapitalism?
With the publisher’s permission, this article draws, sometimes directly, from the author’s new book Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy.
Book launch events
23 March 2022 — MELBOURNE, READINGS CARLTON BOOKSTORE
The Melbourne launch of Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy is at 6.30pm on Wednesday 23 March at Carlton Readings (Woiworung Country, 309 Lygon St, Carlton). Featuring political commentator Jeff Sparrow, the author will speak to the book and read extracts. More details and book here.
13 April 2022 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
The Sydney launches of Beyond Money: A Postcapitalist Strategy and The Politics of Permaculture will take place on Wednesday 13 April at 6.30pm at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe. Featuring Hall Greenland, journalist, author, political activist and Greens NSW, the authors will speak to both books. Details here.