The Tremendous Waste of Maintaining the Market System

The post-capitalist world I would like to see is the one of anarchist communism, where there is no government, there are no owners or bosses, and there is no money. Rather than having to work because you need money for things you like to do like eat or wear clothes or sleep with a roof over your head, you would work because you liked to do things like fix a car or crunch numbers or cook food. (Who will do the dirty or unpleasant work? Good question, which is why An Anarchy FAQ devoted some space to that exact question.) Rather than working to create profit for someone else, you would be working for the shared benefit of all. And rather than getting paid in labor vouchers or script or something to that effect, or operating in some sort of complex system like parecon, you would get nothing directly for your labor and there would be no method of tracking your production and consumption. Instead, you – and anyone, working or not – get the right to anything that anyone else produces and offers to share. A gift, non-market economy in which you freely give and freely take. This is communism, even if the majority of socialists and communists seem to have forgotten that. (Though David Harvey hasn’t.)

But this post isn’t about what anarchist communism is or whether or not it is desirable or feasible. I think it is both and I start from that premise. Instead, it’s about what I see as a neglected argument in favor of anarchist communism and a neglected critique of the market (not just capitalist) system. This is the fact that it takes a tremendous amount of resources just to operate.

At the very foundational level, money needs to be created. That in and of itself is not a huge task – and it doesn’t account for much of the resources I’m talking about – but it also isn’t a small task either. Minting coins and printing money are complicated processes that require raw materials, machinery, and labor like so many other things, but the end result has no real value except that which we imagine it to have. You can’t eat money or use it for anything aside from trading it for something that is actually useful.

More significant than this small waste is the army of people it takes to make markets work. Just think about all the people whose job is nothing more than handling, exchanging, saving, managing, investing, or thinking about money. This is the whole of the financial industry, but it is also the bookkeeper at a small business, the development person at a nonprofit, or, in part, the cashier at a retail store.

It’s also all the policymakers and regulators (and their staff) in government who try to slightly reign in the inevitable abuses and inequalities caused by the market, as well the countless people in the nonprofit world trying to do the same, whether they are trying to change policy or directly servicing those getting screwed by the system. This includes the whole of the union movement, which is the only thing in this list that has shrunk dramatically in the last 70 years, to our great detriment.

Another layer of jobs that would no longer be needed is all of those related to preventing, investigating, and punishing theft: so the bulk of security guards, police, corrections officers, bailiffs, judges, lawyers, etc. (Of course, anarchism wants to eliminate those for other reasons, but just in terms of this argument, they all wouldn’t be eliminated.)

A world without money would destroy a hell of a lot of jobs. And that is ok, because these jobs serve no real purpose other than to allow this ludicrous system to persist, or exist because we at least partially recognize its ludicrousness. If you tally up all of these jobs, I think it would be a much bigger portion of employment than anyone realizes, insofar as they’ve thought about it. (I have some rough calculations, but for now let me just point out that there are more than 6 million people working in the financial industry alone.)

If we lived in a world without money, these people could all be doing other things with their time, and that would free up some of everyone else’s time. But it’s not just a 1-to-1 ratio, because a portion of everyone else’s time goes towards working to pay the wages and salaries of those in these jobs that (directly or indirectly) only exist because we live in a market system. So, even less work. Or “work,” if you prefer.

Though I think what I’ve outlined above is the bulk of the waste resulting from the market system, I also think there are other areas this could extend to. For instance, the amount of time that (mostly working class) people spend worrying about having enough money to pay the bills should be included in this drain on our collective lives. There are also related themes like consumerism and material waste.

I plan on going into more depth on all of this in future posts, and welcome any constructive feedback.

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