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Historical precedents for a moneyless economy

Historical precedent for moneyless or tradeless communities is sparse in terms of evidence, but there is ample reason to believe that primitive human societies were cooperative by default and operated an implicit trade system. In his influential book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, anthropologist David Graebar writes:

“The refusal to calculate credits and debits can be found throughout the anthropological literature on egalitarian hunting societies. Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly human meant refusing to make such calculations..” 1)

iroquois-constiution.jpgIn recent history, the Iroquois in North America were probably the best example of moneyless, egalitarian communities. In his book A People's History of the United States: 1492 – Present [1980], Howard Zinn writes:

“In the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois.

“A French Jesuit priest who encountered them in the 1650s wrote: 'No poorhouses are needed among them because they are neither mendicants nor paupers…Their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common.”

“Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions.” 2)

Gary Nash also describes the Iroquois' culture in his book The Unknown American Revolution :

“[They had] no laws and ordinances, sheriffs and constables, judges and juries, or courts or jails—the apparatus of authority in European societies—were to be found in the northeast woodlands prior to European arrival. Yet boundaries of acceptable behavior were firmly set. Though priding themselves on the autonomous individual, the Iroquois maintained a strict sense of right and wrong…He who stole another’s food or acted invalourously in war was “shamed” by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.” 3)

In his book, The Next Copernican Revolution, Troy Wiley writes:

”[W]e can’t know of some of the moneyless cultures that extend back beyond our historical records, or beyond our 5,000 years of monetary history. […] But can we not surmise that they must have been successful enough to get mankind to where we are now? Can we say the same thing about the future of humanity under a monetary paradigm, given our current trajectory?“ 4)

christopher-columbus-631.jpgPerhaps most (in)famously, Christopher Columbus gave many detailed accounts of his encounters with native tribes of the Americas, including the Arawaks of the Bahamas, describing them as:

“…so naïve and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…

“They brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. […] They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance.

“These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable for their hospitality, their belief in sharing.” 5)

It's important to note that, although almost every occurrence of moneyless societies later ceded to monetised economies, it demonstrates that, without predatory interference and scarcity, humans tend to organise themselves in this way. Presumably, within a prevailing culture of sharing, and without the rigours of accounting, it's the easiest way of organising.

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historical_precedent.txt · Last modified: 2021/08/04 06:11 by