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Monday, 29 November 2010

Book Review: The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle

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:

Must look out for a couple of oil tins to build one of those on our land.  He also tells us how to make paper and ink from mushrooms:

He makes toothpaste from cuttlefish bones and fennel seeds.  Now I don't know where I'd find a cuttlefish bone, but I added fennel seeds to my latest batch of 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.


Trish said...

Great, encouraging and very sympathetic review of "The Moneyless Man", and very interesting blog.
Good story about your olive oil, the real cost !

Angela said...

Interesting! I am simply not interested in money, either, as to me it seems very unreal (as you prove in your bank story!). Just a promise, only paper. But without money I cannot buy shoes and Marzipan. So I still need some.

I like your plan and wish you can find some like-minded people (with money to buy the plot). Cheers from stormy Germany!

Anonymous said...

If I had any savings I'd take them out of a bank and put them into a more social/peer-to-peer solution, such as Zopa. Instead of depositing money into a bank, savers contract loans directly with a pool of borrowers, cutting out the middleman and offering much better rates in the process.

GetSoiled said...

Whoa. I am reading this pre-coffee at 4:20 AM...

...firstly, I love you you write Heikus Pokus.

...secondly, I think I love how he writes as well. Considering stealing the book :)

I would like to leave a cleaver analysis/discussion lines of your entry but I am much too sleepy still...however, the wheels on my little water-brain are turning. Thanks for setting them in motion.

Heiko said...

Trish, thank you for visiting and the kid comment.

Angela, Susan recently found a pair of shoes on hte rubbish, which she says are the comfiest shoes she has ever owned. And marzipan one could possibly find in a supermarket skip. I shall definitely explore this avenue of obtaining food more. We already find a lot of non-food items on skips.

Contadina, I have closed all my bank accounts. Susan retains one Post Office account in case someone wants to pay money into it. Unfortunately we haven't got the means to go off grid yet so need money occasionally.

Get Soiled, I can tell you haven't had your coffee yet, you even lost your ability to spell. It took me a while to work out what a cleaver analysis was. Images of butcher shops came to mind, really chopping things up. :) The book is available on Amazon, or else I could send you a copy, if my spare copy arrives. I'm sure Mr. H. would like a copy too though...

GetSoiled said...

HA! *cleaver* really? Did I really spell it like that?

I told ya, no coffee no spelling no thinkin' no nutin'!

As for the copy of the book, don't worry about it (but thanks for the offer) I will browse through it at my local coffee shop/book store and then wait until I can find it used somewhere :)

Mr. H. said...

That sounds like a fun read. I saw that book at the library once and will definately check it out the next time I'm in town.

Another book you might find interesting is called - "Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With Almost No Money" This was written in the U.S. during the mid-1970s by a teenaged girl named Dolly Freed. She lived with her father on half an acre just outside a large city.

Also, have you ever read Henry David Thoreau’s "Walden"?

Heiko said...

Mr.H, I have read neither of those, but shall check them out, thanks

Mr. H. said...

I will have to send you a copy of Walden one of these days, I think you would really enjoy reading it.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review of a book. I don't believe it is translated to Croatian but now I am so intrigued that I just might try to read it in English.

I think moneyless life is possible, but I would be too afraid to ever try it.

Heiko said...

Vrtlarica, moneyless living would be tough on your own, but with the support of a community it could work as a model of sustainable living.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Walden, it just reminded of Alone in the Wilderness a video, which follows the adventures of Dick Proenneke, a retired man who built his own cabin using his own handmade tools in the wilds of Alaska. He lived their for over 30 years with nothing but the great outdoors to keep him company. It's inspirational and the simple and calm beauty is mesmerising, plus the man has a voice like honey :-)

Veggie PAK said...

I have been reading about self-sustainability for about three years now. I went from having almost no garden to a 1,500 square foot garden in a large city. I have harvested just over 1,400 pounds of organic produce this year alone.

I wish you the best in your efforts to stop using money. The banks have corrupted the entire economy of the world. Good luck to you and yours! I wish you the best and more!

Heiko said...

Thank you Veggie PAK, we need all the luck we can get! Wishing you the best in your endeavours too.

Mr. H. said...

I always thought that the way the people in the link below live was a very realistic possibility and one that my wife and I are continuously focused on achieving.


Mohimba said...

You know, it's sad that the original concept of banking has been lost. It used to be that you would lend (deposit) your hard-earned money with a suitable institution (borrower), and you would be paid a fee (interest) for allowing the use of your money. Banks nowadays want your money coming up with ways to keep you from accumulating any of it (fees, credit cards, debit cards, etc.) Imagine if we stopped giving these too big too fail banks our money; who would go broke?