With the general election results still dominating the news, money is a topic on a lot of peoples minds. Where it comes from, who gets it, who will have it taken away – all these debates take as their starting point the view that money is a finite resource.
Let’s consider for a moment the possibility that this view of money is a myth created by those that control it. Lets dare to question the things most of us rarely think about: how is money created? who creates it? and where actually is the money that only exists in binary and moves between millions of bank accounts every day.
What if the truth is that money is nothing more than a empty vessel for exchange with no intrinsic value of its own; a vessel whose value is only bestowed upon it by those willing to except it as reimbursement for goods and services?
Like many recent graduates I understand the frustration of working for free in the hope that it will someday lead to paid work. This reality has developed a train of thought that posits time as an alternative currency, which now informs a lot of my practice.
This thought experiment has taken me down some interesting roads and resulted in learning how to make peanut butter, performing drum rudiments in public and trying not to buy packaged goods among other things. I often work in menial jobs to earn money to pay for the things I need to support myself.
A reductive way of thinking about the taxes most of us are subject to is that they exists to make sure there’s enough money in the pot to resurface roads, employ rubbish collectors and professionals to provide various health care services. Why isn’t it an option to substitute the crappy jobs I do for a more direct transaction? There are countless 3rd sector initiatives I’d gladly donate my time to if I didn’t need to work to pay these bills in the conventional sense. I’d pick up litter and sweep roads, why do we need the middle man? Perhaps I’ve fallen victim to a rose-tinted view of the Marxist call to take back the means of production, maybe the world just isn’t that simple anymore.
Still I can’t help but ask:
What alternatives could there be to our current economic models?
What other currencies could we trade with?
I refuse to buy into the belief that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. I write this on the eve of launching a four-week experimental project that attempts to use a shop space as a site for collaboration and community rather than commerce. I write this conscious of the fact that my bank balance is in the red, I’m almost £30,000 in debt because I chose to study at university and that after 4 years of further education I’m no more employable than I was before I started (despite industry guidelines telling me I should charge a minimum of £200 a day for my services).
For me, Bureau of Exchange is timelier than ever.
We were fortunate enough to secure almost £23,000 of Arts Council funding and an additional £7,000 of support in kind from various charities, local businesses and volunteers. Could we have run this project without the need for any money to be involved? Possibly. But it would of been at considerable cost to us in a time where few alternatives exist. In creating a space for exploring these issues we recognise that we’re seeking answers too. And yet the sad reality is that real monetary transactions are required to make it happen. Rent needs to be paid, materials purchased and artists need to feed themselves and their families. Each of the artists involved in this project are responding to the idea of ‘exchange and value’ in their own unique way. One of the things all their work has in common though is the belief in a direct transaction with their audience where the terms of exchange are established together through collaboration and dialogue.
We felt it would be dishonest to run a project about alternative ways of trading that is in part facilitated by public and private funding without disclosing that in a transparent way and acknowledging the contradiction.
It needs to be said though that if we actually charged for the amount of time that will go into making the project happen the funding application would have been four times the size, and would probably never have been approved. There are lots of people that will give their time for free when they should really be getting paid; artists will beg, steal and borrow equipment and materials from anyone willing to give them in order to stay within their allotted allowances. This is the nature of the beast.
This does give rise, however, to an opportunity to document and archive all of the contributions from those that have supported the project without using money in the traditional sense. This then becomes a living example of alternative currencies in action and shatters the myth that money makes the world go round.
In reality – people make the world go round.
Money Myths Workshop
The questions raised in this post will be explored in more detail during the ‘Money Myths’ workshop for artists hosted by Good Money director Mick Taylor at Bureau of Exchange on Sunday 7th June. Book your space on this workshop now.