Opting out of the "money economy"

Inspired by a bit of the plot from Book 7 of the Weird of Hali series… spoilers unwelcome here, go read the series, it’s quite epic.

How does one, as an individual or, preferably, a community of people, “opt out of the money economy”?

The concept here would be building community that, in the face of some sort of economic disaster (don’t look too hard at the current state of the world, diesel in particular), sort of shrugs and continues being able to “take care of their own,” independent of the larger world to as much of an extent as possible.

Obviously this requires being able to produce a lot of one’s immediate and mid-term needs locally - food, some energy, etc. And having something that can be traded outside the community for that which isn’t able to be generated within. I’d argue that a large part of this is owning property - land, houses, etc. If one is renting, that requires a continuing engagement with the money economy that would be at odds with this. But it also would generally prohibit “very expensive, takes 50 years to pay for” sort of land/homes/etc.

But beyond that, I’m really not sure what this looks like in the modern world. It does, however, seem a thing worth starting to work out the details on again, as the “money economy” goes rapidly nuts.


I’d start with the Amish, or Amish-adjacent, perhaps.

You can also take your yearly budget and divide it into categories and determine which ones can be “demonetized”.

For example, you can remove rent by buying property, but save for some lucky few in Nevada, you can’t get allodial title and so you will have property tax. Considerations here may be things like smaller properties near national parks, BLM land, state parks, etc. How much you can “do” on those may vary. Potential considerations like having a “patriarch” own the land and be able to take advantage of property tax deferral.

You can convert “now money” into “future money” by buying things like long-lasting food, solar panels, etc. Propane and kerosene potentially store indefinitely.

But these all are deferments, to actually get entirely “off the money grid” you’d need sources for things like propane or kerosene. You may want to consider moving to a more “temperate” climate where external energy inputs are minimized - however, many of those are in the places I would consider “going nuts faster” and I thing being even more rural “lost in the wilds” would be beneficial. Wyoming/Idaho, those places.

John T Reed’s Hyperinflation & Depression is worth a “reed” even if you don’t fully agree with his prognosis; as he’s thought quite a bit about a lot of the considerations.

One thing I’ve encountered a number of times in my life is the “local lord” - someone (often in the desert or other VERY rural areas) who owns a largish amount of land and has a “real job” who has any number of “hangers on” living on the property who are not “employed” as such, but do some amount of useful work and have a room/food provided out of the income of the “lord”. So if you have a group of people who own property outright, you’d only need a small portion of them to “work in the world” to provide income for the necessities.

Of course, the most obvious example of this is the traditional family, where the (usually) father works outside the home, and the rest of the family works doing “homemaking”. Once we get over the “kick your kids as far away as you possibly can when they hit eighteen” you suddenly have home-grown workers, who can either work “in house” or also enter the world.

Long term, the main thing to do would be to grow food, but I personally suspect that’s not where you start. Farming is HARD and food is absolutely batshit cheap.

Here’s a table of average monthly expenses that we can use as a discussion starting point:

Expense Monthly cost % of income
Housing $1,050 15%
Transportation $819 12%
Taxes $784 11%
Utilities and other household costs $734 10%
Food $610 9%
Social Security contributions, personal insurance and pensions $604 9%
Health care $431 6%
Entertainment $243 3%
Cash contributions $190 3%
Clothing and services $120 2%
Education $106 2%
Alcohol and tobacco $66 1%
Personal care $54 1%

We’ve discussed housing - that can go to near zero if the property is owned and you can do your own repairs (consideration: building with materials that can be repaired WITHOUT a Home Depot trip, things like shiplap instead of drywall perhaps - but this would be minor).

Transportation is often job-dependent; the “non-outside working” can arrange for trips on their own schedule and if you have a community you can share vehicles. Positioning property so that a long walk or bike ride gets you 90% of where you need to go helps tremendously, too.

Taxes - property and sales tax remain, but you can get down to nearly only property tax as in some localities food and clothing isn’t taxed. Income taxes drop as income drops.

Utilities - a property can be entirely “off grid” but you can also work with local co-ops for some things - considerations here could be worthwhile in a larger community. Internet access is not “really” needed except it can be a great source of the few jobs’ income. Tools like Kiwix can be considered, and if you have a group of people nearby, pooling the internet is an option. So is pooling NAS storage for “personal Netflix” if you will.

Food - this, along with water, is the basis of life. A region where water is plentiful and food grows in the ground will likely have available extremely cheap food if you aren’t choosy about what exactly it is. Being near farms that grow FOOD instead of ethanol would help, for example, especially if some of the community is involved with said farms. Pigs and chickens are easy to “grow at home”.

Health care - the vast majority of healthcare can be covered by “don’t be fat” and basic field first aid. It is likely that having a few nurses and a doctor in the group could cover significant amounts of healthcare - especially if one is prepared to not artificially prolong life. Having an understanding with a local hospital/clinic for cash payments could entirely avoid the insurance complexities, or utilization of something like the health sharing groups. The most “valuable” medicines we know of (aspirin, etc) last nearly forever and can be bought in bulk very cheaply.

Entertainment - this is obviously optional but spending cash isn’t required; much can be done with people and parties without the “required” payments to InBev and Coca-Cola. Brewing beer at home is sustainable if you maintain your own yeast and can get the ingredients, for example.

Clothing - our clothing is absolutely dirt cheap, but it doesn’t really last that much. Being able to make clothes out of sturdy cloth or denim is worthwhile, and if someone can do that (and/or repair existing items) you can save some here. Washing is incredibly damaging to clothes, so if you layer like the old times and wash less often (perhaps even a soak, scrub, and hang dry instead of machines) you can make them last much longer. Shoes and boots are important; but good boots can last quite a long time, especially if you have a few pairs and can rotate them out. It is still possible to find cobblers and boots that can be repaired.

Education - once the group is large enough (or even just a family) you can produce high-school educated or better at home for free. We have available to us infinite amounts of educational materials. I’d expand education beyond “book learning” and into the practical areas, such as teaching people auto repair, computers, cooking, and so on.

Alcohol and tobacco - probably should reduce both for health reasons, but it is entirely possible to make beer at home (wine, too, but that requires grapes) and you can very quickly make way more beer than you can reasonably drink. It may be possible to grow tobacco at home, and I know people have been known to grow the wacky t’baccy. This is an area to be careful, however, as the BATF or friends might decide to come down on you like a ton of bricks if they decide they don’t like you.

Personal care - there are methods of making soap, but this is again one of those areas where small amounts of cash are needed for something that is incredibly cheap. Also, some (most?) soaps last nearly forever.

The main takeaway is you don’t have to do it all at once; it can certainly be done piecemeal. And depending on how you “foresee” the insanity, certain things may be worth “risking” such as debt (in inflation, fixed debt is useful, in deflation, it’s a killer).

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Thank you - this is a lot of useful thoughts!

At least where I live, property taxes aren’t that huge a deal. They’re simply not that expensive, though we’ll see how things go. There might be something to said for trying to reduce obvious property value, but I’m not sure if this actually works or not.

I’ve heard of this concept before, mostly in fiction - but I assume it reflects a reality. I’ve never actually run into this arrangement in person - that I know of. I know some religious groups do something like this, where they live communally in an old hotel or something (the “Jesus People” come to mind as a group doing this?), and broadly don’t need to work nearly as much, holding nearly all “in common.” It sounds a potentially useful thing to consider going forward.

How does this sort of system avoid the usual end case of the “back to the land” communes of nobody actually putting in the work?

In rural areas, they’re working long before 18! But, yes, I also see a return to “multi-generational homes” being a thing - either in the literal sense (the same house), or in something very close (same property, which is what we have now for all practical purposes). There are a lot of benefits to this sort of system that explain why it’s been the default for most of human history, and will be again. Just looking at housing costs alone will argue for a return to this sort of thing.

It can be - and I certainly take advantage of that. Though neither do I need quad-terabit internet to do that. I’ve been working remotely quite comfortably on things that certain tech site front page article comments consider “below basic human rights level internet.” I’m not a popular person there…

Kiwix looks amazing and I can’t believe I’ve not run across that before. I’ve literally been considering how to do something like that (standalone hotspots with Wikipedia, Gutenberg, etc), and I think I’m going to have to play with their stack as a “Do what I want without having to do it from the ground up” solution. I would so like some Pis, solar powered, with standalone resources and perhaps a local wiki/filesharing system. I’ll absolutely put some powerful antennas on a few…

Yeah… the whole “fire starter from dryer lint” thing demonstrates just how much of your clothing gets shredded into the filter each cycle. :frowning:

Indeed. Yet, being debt free still grants many advantages.

This gives me a lot to think about - I’ll have to bring it up in some of the local social discussions and see if there are things we can start pooling.

Yeah, they’re not actually a huge deal most anywhere (unless you own some $10m land in downtown SF or something, in which case, good luck leaving the money economy when paying $117,973.782 a year in property tax). It’s only a concern if your goal is absolutely no money at all which is going to be nearly impossible and not worth it.

Two aspects (one additional, as you’ve identified, can be a common actual religious goal which is what enables some monasteries to operate this way) - 1. no real value to scammers and cheaters. If the only thing someone can “scam” off you is a warm bed and 3 meals a day, the only scammers you might get are people who actually need that. 2. Laziness is not an ingrained trait; people can only do so much “nothing” until they get bored and start trying to do something. This is where limited “mind-numbing” entertainment would be key. And the main thing is that it’s not a commune, explicitly, it’s “Synoyk’s house” which just happens to be some mountain recreation of Great Smials (Tookburrow). This means you remain on the property at the pleasure of the “The King” - cause too much problems and you won’t be invited to remain. At least that’s how the ones I’ve been in touch with operated. There are other non-money dangers here; a “bad lord” can cover up many problems.

There are! And tying back to property tax above, it is very interesting to determine improvements that don’t improve, if you will. Things like bedrooms will count, but outbuildings, basements, etc, often will not count as improvements. It’s possibly worth checking your local authorities on what is and is not counted. (This also affects mortgages and property values, but if you’re looking to avoid the money economy you likely are “buying the land you’ll die on” anyway, so who really cares what it sells for.)

56.6k modem is 226 Gb/year. People forget that, what with the bloat of video everywhere. Kiwix is amazing; I found out about it after I was stuck without internet on a flight and the only thing I could find on my laptop to read was all the manuals included with MacTeX (some of which are absolutely phenomenal) - now I have some gigabytes stashed away for “dark times”. Kiwix was started to do just what you describe in Africa, if I recall correctly.

Yes, there are many reasons to “neither a borrower or lender be” and some of the ancient prescriptions against debt are worth pondering.

I agree - but still, trying to minimize use of it as an intermediation has a lot of value. I’ve been trying to optimize for longer term “minimum monthly spend,” which is where stuff like solar fits in - I’ve more or less eliminated my power bill for the long haul now.

I don’t think “generating a grand a year in property taxes” is likely to be that difficult, though it certainly does force some participation in the money economy… as designed.

That makes a lot of sense for that sort of arrangement. I’m certain the abuses of that power can be massive, but it would work for at least some long while, done properly.

Indeed, same goes for insurance at times. My office is a small storage outbuilding with an oddly high coverage, far as anyone seems to be concerned.

They most certainly are. There’s a lot of wisdom of ages in stuff like that we tend to ignore at our own great risk.

Now to see what it takes to light up a Kiwix instance and start chewing on data…

I started with the offline viewer and downloaded packages from Welcome to Kiwix Server

One thing I’ve thought about a lot is how useless computers become when they’re not connected to the internet (or how it feels that way).

In the early to mid 90s, damn a computer was an amazing machine seemingly capable of anything; and if you had a LAN you were a minor deity. We even had a dorm network at college that was 25 or so computers all wired together with surplus 10/100 gear (later gigabit for the server and a select few) and no internet connection at all - it was quite amazing.

Now most operating systems seem to have a hissy fit if they can’t resolve DNS.

Im not familiar w/the books so I’m reacting just to the thread subject title, maybe a little off the mark. I see several motivations behind “opting out of the money economy”.

  1. avoid working,
    or at least avoid being at the mercy of enduring employment at the risk of failing to be able to provide yourself the basic necessities.
  2. idealogical aversion
    having a viewpoint that are injuctices or atrocities are being perpetrated by economy, industry and governments.
    the moral thing to do is reduce patronage of global economic system and funding of governments, live in voluntary poverty.
  3. prepping
    the big one TEOTWAWKI the geopolitical financial environmental catastrophe that will upset the industry and economy ceasing the production so many rely on.

(1) says there’s no way one small person can possibly change the world. I’m just going to learn how the game works, optimize my lifestyle, decrease spending, invest savings, and quickly reach the point where on average investments are growing faster than lifestyle expenses. “Financial Independence” as they say.

(2) says while you cant change the whole world, you can dramatically change your own existence. Seek out likeminded people and rediscover methods of self providing necessities from the local naturally occuring resource and a few simple and maintainable tools. replace your subscriptions and transactions with relationships and mutual aid.

(3) says despite the economy teetering on the brink of imminent collapse, recognize it is currently producing an abundance of the necessities of life. Taking this constant abundance for granted, most opt for a decluttered just-in-time delivery of everything. (3) suggests the opposite, filling the pantry for the next 5 decades,digging a bunker, guns and ammo.

I think these all have merits and blindspots or even pitfalls.

Arguably (1) isn’t really opted out of the money economy as much as changing their primary role within it from laborer to investor. (2) would say you’re still contributing/profiting from evil systems and (3) would say you’re still relying on fragile systems

(2) is working your ass off to achieve things that are extremely cheap and trivial for someone in the money economy. (1) would say you’re missing out on the good life and (3) would say your efforts are better spent working a job and buying cheap potatoes than trying to grow your own potatoes

(3) is also still reliant on the money economy, probably more than average as you try to buy everything you’ll need for the rest of your life. (1) would say global catastrophes are very rare and it’s much more likely to experience personal crisis, supply chain interruptions, or localized problems, and having saved up money will help more than having a bunker full of beans and guns. (2) would say you’re surviving but you’re not living.

Those are basically the thoughts that bounce around my head. I feel very uncertain about the future. If you had strong convictions that things will be fine just like they’ve always been, it’s easy to do nothing. if you are certain the end is near, its easier to think about hoarding stuff.

I suspect part of it comes down to what the Catholics call “participations in evil” - basically you obviously can’t do something evil because you want to do evil, nor can you provide someone with the tools to do evil because you want them to do evil (e.g., handing a loaded gun to someone who is planning to murder) but it gets more muddy when the connection is “remote material cooperation”. Generally, it has been considered that remote material cooperation is undesired but not prohibited.

And if you take the “effects of the money economy” to be evil then trying to reduce your material cooperation with it is desirable, even if you can only reduce and not eliminate.