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What If All The Money Disappeared?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Money makes the world go round - right? It doesn't 'grow on trees', we're all 'slaves to it', and it's the 'root of all evil' - depending on who you ask. But, what if money just disappeared entirely? All the cash in your wallet, all the funds in your bank account, all the currencies in every country of the world... Gone. What would happen?

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What If All the Money Disappeared?

As the old adage says, ‘money makes the world go round’. And, depending on your view, there’s some truth to it. There’s reportedly around $1.67 trillion in circulation, in the United States alone. Estimates on the global figure tend to fluctuate wildly, but the CIA reckons there’s more than $80 trillion globally. People pursue money (usually by working) so that they can feed their families, run their homes, travel, and generally purchase anything – from the everyday necessities, to the every so often luxuries. Some use vast sums of money to buy boats, butlers, mansions, and private planes, while others are riddled with debt and empty bank accounts. Big corporations, small businesses, stocks, shares, investments – they all revolve around money.

So, what would happen if it all disappeared? And we’re not talking just physical cash, either. That’s already on the way out. We mean all forms of money. From the ATM to PayPal to BitCoin to the loose change down the back of your sofa… What if the sheer concept of money just evaporated overnight, and society was left to function in a money-free world?

In many ways, such a development would take us back in time. Historians continually debate when money was actually invented – with the earliest estimates dating back to around 5,000 years BC. Whatever the case, before money became prevalent, humanity tended to use a bartering system for goods and services. So, say you’re good at construction, and you build a nice chair. But you’re not good at hunting. To effectively ‘earn’ food, you’d go to the local hunter and exchange your chair for a wild boar. But what happens if the hunter doesn’t want a chair? And what if he thinks your perhaps rickety chair isn’t an equal trade for his rich-in-flavour produce? Here’s where money comes in.

Money is essentially a socially agreed-upon system of value for goods and services, and a means of cataloguing their trade – in theory, at least. For example, we recognize that a pack of gum and a bag of candy are roughly equal value – about $1. So, we could easily (and justifiably) trade gum for candy. But a pizza is socially-agreed to be more valuable than either, so it’s value and price is higher. If the pizza costs $10, it’s ten packs of gum. But the pizza seller rarely wantsten packs of gum, so the problem is solved via an exchange of money, instead.

If money was eliminated, all types of chaos would threaten at first, with riots, looting and reckless abandon setting in over the first few days. Consider the at times incredible scenes at the start of a Black Friday sale; then imagine that everything in every store in every country suddenly became available not just at cut price, but at no charge whatsoever. As part of the pandemonium, people would fight and perhaps even kill each other for various goods. Healthcare products and medicines would probably be in particularly high demand, while grocery stores would also quickly be pillaged, with many resorting to violence to secure an adequate food supply.

The psychological impact would extend far beyond in-store scuffles, though. Life savings would suddenly be lost, and regular incomes would disappear. Regardless of how an individual may have accumulated their wealth – through greed, dishonesty or genuine hard work – they’d now be without the fruits of their labor.

In 2016, India actually attempted a part-demonetization effort, by invalidating certain denominations of bill. But the move reportedly prompted people to die of heart attacks after learning of their change in fortune, with others committing suicide. There were also some cases of people refusing to work, as faith in the value of their wages plummeted. Consider a similar reaction on a global scale, and the catastrophe widens with the potential for doctors, nurses, police officers and all types of emergency service worker to walk away from their roles. According to reports, in India’s case there were examples of patients passing away because hospitals refused them service amidst the panic. As harsh as it seems, it’d be a probable outcome the world over.

While a monetary wipe out would see the rich suddenly rendered penniless and destitute, it could be a different story for poorer people. On some levels, at least. As money would no longer hold meaning in their lives either, major debts would be cleared, and financial equality should set in – given that everyone would have zero finances to speak of. That’s not to say that prejudice based on wealth would disappear entirely. In fact, it could be intensified, as those who had previously had more money might seek some sort of recognition for their financial history.

All things considered, the initial response to a money-less world would be A) hectic, and B) probably more negative than positive. However, the anarchic dust would settle, and when things calm down it’s possible that we’d begin work on more important things. Without money, we’d suddenly find ourselves with time and enthusiasm for other pursuits, without the need to work all day for soulless corporations, greedy bosses or to try and reach whatever pipedream is being advertised to us at that moment. The adverts themselves would obviously disappear, or at least change their tack to promote value in another way – besides cold, hard but now-redundant cash.

We would need to re-establish some form of order, however. Which means going back to work. But, the jobs market would look vastly different, with personal wealth no longer influencing the lifelong careers (or everyday tasks) that anybody takes on. And, with big money contracts a thing of the past, everyone would be valued equally, filling roles that they enjoy or are skilled in. The previously poor and the previously rich would work together. Formerly poor people could flourish without money worries weighing them down; ex-rich people could find themselves freed from the greed they might’ve had. Every person, or group of people, would get out what they put in, and a sense of community should thrive.

But of course, there will always be those who take advantage of the system, and whose laziness or refusal to work together could threaten this newfound society. We’d likely have hoarders, who’d try to monopolise certain goods – to establish themselves in a position of power. There’d also be egos to manage, with people demanding some sort of recognition whenever they feel they’re working harder than someone else – a pay-rise might’ve solved that problem before, but not now. And that’s before we’ve even breached people’s willingness to take up especially difficult or specialist jobs, like surgeons, lawyers or teachers. While there are undoubtedly other motivations for pursuing these careers, standards could quickly fall without a hefty paycheck at the end of the month.

Eventually – or even pretty quickly – we’d need to find a new form of currency, and we’d likely go back to the bartering system first of all. From there, the development of a new type of money would likely be pretty rapid, but its redistribution could pose some problems. Having had even a glimpse at what a level financial playing field would look like, there’d likely be uproar if the old hierarchies were restored – both in terms of local communities, and in international markets.

Alternatively, if money wasn’t reintroduced, we could see ourselves operating in much smaller circles, with communities aiming to help and support each other. Indeed, even today there exists various small, segment societies that live without currency or any form of money. In this fairly tribal version of life on Earth, we’d mostly focus on ourselves, our families and our closest neighbours – gravitating toward one another based on the skill sets we offer, and need. One person serves as the carpenter, one as the chef, one as the legal enforcer, one as the computer technician, etc. But it seems unlikely that an existence like this would last for long – given that we’d all remember the massive, sprawling, inter-connected lives we had lived before.

So, the perhaps disappointing (but most likely) answer is that if all the money suddenly disappeared, we’d probably just strive to produce a replacement – and, as soon as possible. It doesn’t grow on trees, but it isan integral component to a functioning, modern society. And, while the concept of a money-free utopia in which everyone works for everyone else may sound great, it just doesn’t allow for the many complexities and flaws in human nature. That said, we wouldn’t all instantly perish if our wallets were unavoidably emptied. We’ve proven in the past, and in some secluded places in the present, that life still thrives without notes, coins and bank transfers. Clearly money is important, but it isn’t everything.

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