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Monday, 29 November 2010
I very occasionally do a book review on this, so today I have felt moved to do one again. I have been following the exploits of Mark Boyle for a wee while. He has been in all the papers as the mad man who had decided to go without any money for one year. It immediately caught my attention, partially because we live virtually moneyless ourselves and was wondering how he managed to completely avoid it and on the other hand because the subject of money has been one that has always puzzled me (as can be read on a previous post of mine) and Mark having a degree in economics clearly must be more knowledgable on the subject than me.
First of all I should tell you how I managed to get hold of a copy of this book. I did ask the man himself for a free copy, from one moneyless man to an almost moneyless man type thing. He said in principal yes except he didn't have any money to send it to Italy. Makes sense of course, just testing... ;) So my bloggy friend Laura of the French Country Challenge very kindly ordered me a copy for my birthday. Thank you Laura. In the meantime it has come to my attention that another friend has actually ordered me a copy too. If and when that arrives, I have at least one copy free to whoever would like it. Unlike Mark I think I could spare a little for postage.
Right enough of all that, what's the book all about then, I hear you ask. Below read the very first paragraph of the book:
From the onset I knew I was going to like this book. Mark describes his experiences of his first year of living moneyless and outlines his reasons why he did it. I say his first year, which was the original intended period he had set himself as a sort of social experiment, but today in fact he has just completed his second year and has no intention of quitting.
The really refreshing thing about the book is that nowhere does he claim to be certain that his way is the right or correct way or even the only way of living. He states his main reason for renouncing money as, that it separates the human being from what (s)he consumes. Thus it makes us unaware of the real impact of what we consume. In other words we consume something and when it's broke we throw it away and buy a new one. If we had to make this item ourselves, we'd learn very quickly to keep things going as long as possible. Or as Mark put it: if you had to clean your own water, you sure as hell wouldn't crap into it.
I can relate to this. Take the example of the olive oil we pressed a few days ago. Pure costs were something like €30 for petrol and the same for pressing. Add to that 3 people putting in an estimated combined 80 (wo)man hours in at say a paltry €5 an hour that would result in a price per litre of €23! That's expensive oil! Whilst I was a bit disappointed at the low yield this year, I have a real sense of achievement and I know the real value of this oil. It wasn't a moneyless transaction in my case, but the principal applies here too. I could have gone to the supermarket and buy a €2.99 bottle
In the early parts of the book Mark shows that he has an economics degree, when he describes some of the more ridiculous problems with the current economic systems. One of the more interesting facts, which I eerily had read somewhere else on the same day is the practice of fractional reserve banking. When I wrote my history of money I had no idea this unbelievable practice exists, but it essentially means - now hold on to your seats if you are an economic greenhorn like me - that the banks basically make up the money the lend you as they go along. yes, as in make-belief. It's true! 95% of money DOES NOT EXIST!
Mark gave a nice simple explanation how this works, so even dim lights like me can understand this: Mr. Jones deposits 100 moneys with Mr. Bank. Mr. Smith comes along and wants to borrow 90 moneys from Mr. Bank. With this he goes to Mrs. Baker to buy bread. Mrs. Baker then deposits the 90 moneys with Mr. Bank. How much money does Mr. Bank now have? 100 or 190? According to their books 190. And what happens if Mr. Smith can't pay back his loan and Mr. Jones and Mrs. Baker want to withdraw their money? That's the mess the world economiy finds itself in now!
What I want to know is, if the banks have just made up the money they've lent me, surely I don't have to repay them money that didn't exist in the first place? Or I could make it up myself and pay them back with Monopoly money?
Anyway, I digress. Whilst the book is not exactly a how-to guide, Mark has added some practical tips, some of which I shall try out in due course. He tells us how to make a rocket stove:
homemade tooth paste.
Mark keeps saying he went into this experiment being essentially unskilled, however he is putting himself down there. The skill that has made his experiment such a success and has brought him international fame (which I don't think he was seeking in particular...) is his boundless energy and enthusiasm. He managed to organise a free festival for over a thousand people with 3 weeks notice, feeding them, entertaining them and all, whilst simutaneously holding dozens of interviews. If what he writes is true (he may have made it all up of course...) he slept just 5 hours a night, sometimes less. Hat off to him for that, I couldn't manage it.
The other area that took my interest was what Mark calls skipping. Now before you all start hopping around, he means raiding supermarket skips for perfectly good food thrown out because it had simply run out of date, or the packaging is slightly damaged. Considering the many tons of food that get thrown away each year, Mark says it's not only not a slightly seedy activity rummaging through bins, but a civic duty to liberate perfectly good food from landfills.
I have had a short stint working for a small chain of convenience stores in London and I remember very well how it broke my heart to see sackfulls of food being written off on a daily basis. All my lunches during that time consisted of out of date food. I shall have a look at skips around us more from now on. It would solve sourcing many foods that I can't grow myself and maybe a few freshish morsels of meat for Eddie, the Beagle if nothing else.
I heartily recommend anyone who is serious about "green living" to read this book. It's a good read, not in any way schoolmasterly and it may give you some ideas on how you can make changes in your life that really matter. There are compomises along the way, which Mark admits. The royalties for his book are going into a trustfund to buy a plot of land to start a moneyless village, where people can come to (for free of course) to learn how to live moneyless. Or simply to try it out for a while.
I have an eye on a plot of land myself, with a clean river, enough land to support a small community, a number of mature fruit trees, possibilities to expand and planning permission. It's even on the market. If ever we come into money (and we may) we could buy ourselves into complete freedom. Mark has done it, just an ordinary guy from Donegal, so why not me... or you for that matter.