Matthew Hollow is a Research Associate on the Leverhulme-‐funded “Tipping Points” Project in the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University. His area of expertise lies in Nineteenth-‐ and Twentieth-‐Century British socio-‐economic history. At present he is currently researching moments of significant transition and upheaval in the British financial system so as to understand the causes and implications of such changes and to work out how to better deal with the effects of any such changes in the future.
This article looks in more depth at the different ways in which ideas about cashless societies were articulated and explored in pre-‐1900 utopian literature. Taking examples from the works of key writers such as Thomas More, Robert Owen, William Morris and Edward Bellamy, it discusses the different ways in which the problems associated with conventional notes-‐and-‐coins monetary systems were tackled as well as looking at the proposals for alternative payment systems to take their place. Ultimately, what it shows is that although the desire to dispense with cash and find a more efficient and less-‐exploitable payment system is certainly nothing new, the practical problems associated with actually implementing such a system remain hugely challenging....MORE (12 page PDF)
This paper was written for the Cashless Society Project, an interdisciplinary and international effort to add some historical and analytical perspectives to discussions about the future of money, banking and payments. For more information, see http://cashlesssociety.wordpress.com/.
Historically, one of the most prominent mediums through which new ideas about monetary systems have been presented and debated is the utopian treatise. That this was the case is, in many ways, not surprising since one of the core attractions of utopias is that they offer — to both readers and writers — discursive spaces, free from the clutter and constraints of the present, within which alternate (improved) social and political systems can be laid out and analysed in their totality.
As such, they provided a means through which thinkers of all political persuasions could articulate their thoughts and ideas as to how to overcome the various practical and ethical problems associated with money. Although a great many of the forecasts for the future of money that were put forwards in this way had distinctly socialist undertones and were closely tied-‐in with the wider goals of alleviating poverty and social dislocation, this did not mean that the practical problems involved in actually establishing alternate monetary systems were not considered in-‐depth.
Indeed, the issue of whether or not there was a better alternative to conventional cash (or, indeed, if society could operate without it) was one that attracted a great deal of attention and continued to vex utopian thinkers right up until the twenty first century.
Like with so many other areas of utopian thought, Thomas More’s (1478–1535) epochal novel Utopia (1516) laid the groundwork for many of the later debates surrounding the issue of money. Above all else, More sought to show how western society’s infatuation with, and dependence upon, money as a carrier of value actually served as a hindrance to what he saw as the overarching goal of human civilization: namely, peace and prosperity.
In particular, More worried about the effects that the placing of such high value in monetary forms had upon societal relations, pointing out that ‘frauds, thefts, robberies, quarrels, tumults, contentions, seditions, murders, treacheries, and witchcrafts’ all tended to originate from disputes over money.
More also found his contemporaries infatuation with gold and silver intolerable and delights in describing how the inhabitants of the fictional Island of Utopia hold both metals in so little esteem, using them either for the ‘humblest items of domestic equipment’ (including chamber-‐pots!) or as symbolic markers of shame to be worn by those who have committed crimes....
HT: Bloomberg Echoes