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The Abolition Of Money
by [?]

The Cynic was very old and very wise and very unpopular. I was the only person at his “At Home” that afternoon. I gave him my views on Bi-metallism, having just read the leader in the “Times.” He yawned obtrusively, and growled, “Bi-metallism, indeed! The only remedy for modern civilisation is A-metallism. Money must be abolished. The root of all evil must be pulled up.”

“Money abolished!” I echoed in amaze. “Why, any student of political economy will tell you we could not live without it. Lacking a common measure of value, we—-“

“So it has always been held by students when answering political-economy papers,” he interrupted impatiently. “Yet I dreamt once of a land where the currency was called in, and the morning stars sang together.”

“But the exchange of commodities—-” I began.

“Was effected by the sublime simplicity of barter. At one sweep were swept away all that monstrous credit system which had created an army of accountants and a Court of bankruptcy; all that chaos of single and double-faced entry–all that sleight-of-hand abracadabra of signatures–all those paper phantoms of capital. The Stock Exchange and other gambling-hells shrivelled up. There was a vast saving of clerical labour, and there were few loopholes for fraud. Everything was too simple. Swift retribution overtook the man who shirked his obligations to his fellows. Nobody could juggle with bits of paper at the North Pole and ruin people at the South. The windows of human Society were cleared of the gigantic complex cobweb full of dead flies. One could look inside and see what was going on. ‘Gentlemen’ could not flourish in the light. They were like the fungi that grew in cellars. Every man became both a worker and a trader.”

“Not an unmixed gain, that,” I protested.

“I grant you,” said the Cynic. “Some of the finer shades of fine gentlemanliness were lost: the honourable feeling of cheating one’s tradesmen, the noble scorn of tailors, the lofty despisal of duns. When all men were tradesmen, these higher class distinctions fused into one another. There arose a clannish feeling which prevented the tradesman from defrauding one of his own class. But there was an even graver evil to be placed to the debit side of the new system. For the professors of political economy (who had thrown up their posts as a conscientious protest against the abolition of money and of salaries) proved to be right. So clumsy was the mechanism of exchange that men were actually driven to doing more than one kind of work. All those advantages of specialisation which Adam Smith, supplemented by Babbage, had so laboriously pointed out were completely lost to a wasteful world. Rather than be without certain luxuries and necessaries men gave up moving their legs all day up and down in time with iron treadles, or feeding machines with bits of material exactly alike, or remaining doubled up underground, or making marks from hour to hour and from year to year on pieces of ruled paper. The waste by friction became enormous. Some of the least thrifty even made their own furniture, and wove their own clothes, and carved out rude ornaments for themselves. Whether from a natural want of economy, or from an unwillingness to encounter the difficulties of traffic, or from a mere spirit of independence, these men deliberately reverted to the condition from which mankind had so painfully emerged.

“Some even pretended to enjoy it, and, rather paradoxically, asserted that the abolition of gold had brought about the golden age of primitive legend. Others who felt keenly the falling-off in production, and the absence of those huge stores of unsold commodities which glutted the ancient markets, and gave a nation a sense of wealth in the midst of poverty; the aesthetic spirits who lamented the disappearance of the ancient mansions and palaces, which, although they were empty three parts of the year, yet afforded men the consolation of knowing that they were ample enough to shelter the majority of the homeless–men of this stamp were chagrined by the cumbersome mechanism of exchange, which made these glories of the past impracticable, and they were for introducing counters. But counters, although they had the advantage of lacking intrinsic value, would be quite as bad as actual coins if men could entirely trust one another never to repudiate their obligations. Unfortunately Society had grown so honest under the new regime that this condition was fulfilled, and the operation of counters would have been identical with that of money. Moreover, counters would have brought back card-playing, horse-racing, fire and life assurance, and other forms of gambling, which without them involved such complex calculations and valuations of loaves and fishes that all the pleasure was spoilt. When these things were pointed out to the aesthetic and the economical, they were convinced and remained of the same opinion.