An Elder Speaks: SIMPLIFY, to return to true value

Given the wonderful insights Robert Wolff brings to this subject, he might have titled his essay, “Money — and why we’ll be happy to learn to do without”!

Love especially this section, near the end of his fertile ruminations:

“When many of us use as little money as we can, businesses are going out of business. Eventually — and this is already happening because people are getting poorer — money will lose its value. One day the 400 men who own more than the wealth of 180 million Americans will have a trillion dollars in their computers that is worth nothing because there are no consumers. They cannot buy us any more.”

Money — and why we must learn to do without

October 8, 2012

by Robert Wolff

Of course I mean money as a concept of a quantity of value that can be manipulated in all kinds of clever ways. You can borrow money from a bank to build a house or start a business, and then pay off the loan in small increments with an added interest. Islam forbids charging interest, so Muslims call it rent; they don’t get a loan, but they rent money from a bank.. Money used to be a symbol for gold. The United States actually owned big chunks of gold, worth as much as how many dollars we printed. When we went off the so-called gold standard we made money worth whatever we want to make it. I’m not at all sure who decides what a dollar is worth. But in the last several decades money is flowing upward to the very very rich who now use that to buy politicians to insure that they will get more.

In America 400 individuals, probably mostly men, own more wealth than the bottom 180 million of us. ‘Wealth’ today means money. “Own’ means that that wealth belongs to those 400 persons only, they can do with it what they want. With that much wealth doing nothing makes it grow. But money is like a drug, people get addicted to it, they want always more. And one of our two parties sees to it that the rich pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, for instance.

We all know by now that wealth also buys people, politicians. And those politicians get a bit of that enormous wealth for which they do what the 400 want. They make laws to syphon a little more out of “the economy’ up to the very very rich. According to a talk I just heard by Gar Alperowitz < > our economy is not broke at all, it is the largest in history, even now. If we all shared equally it would come to $192,000 for every family of four. But of course it is not shared equally. Very few families of four own, or earn, that much as we all know.

But since money buys politicians who make and maintain “the system’ there is little we the 99.9% can do to change that system that has been designed and refined for the past 40 and more years.

Gar Alperowitz (watch the movie; more than worth it) says that the interesting thing about this “odd’ situation we are in is that it cannot help but make us at the bottom innovative. He cites many examples of business and other activities that manage to stay outside the very unequal system. He sees possible changes over the next 30 years or so.

He does mention climate change. Does climate change allow us another 30 years? I think not. But I do strongly agree that there is a growing sense of not accepting or believing in the system as it has grown. We don’t believe the old words any more. Reality is too stark to believe that everything will be all right (the same as it was a few years ago) if we just” fill in your favorite escape.

My thought is that it is high time we rethink the concepts of money and owning, two ideas we invented. First Man could not imagine either the concept of owning or money and they lived for more than a hundred thousand years free and joyfully. The way they lived was sustainable for millennia.

I know that even thinking about “primitives’ is impossible for almost all of us. We are so convinced that we have become better, smarter, superior beings. Consider all the “things’ we have, what we can do. We can send a man to the moon and bring him back. We can fly around the world in (relative) comfort. We cannot imagine not “having’ property and/or money. If we are unlucky enough to not have any, we are hungry and sick and that, in this country at least, is their own inferiority or lack of ambition.. We cannot imagine giving up our life style, a life style that is what caused global warming, which now manifests as climate change.

There is nothing wrong or impossible to learn from other people how to live a good life, even if we learn from the past. I have been incredibly lucky to have known a tribe of aborigines, hunter-gatherers as anthropologists call them. They lived in the upland jungle of Malaysia when there was still virgin jungle there. That was in the early 1960s, half a century ago. They did not know or understand the concept owning. And of course they did not have nor wanted money. They were the freest people I have ever known. The only laws they had were the laws of Nature, and they are few. Fire is hot, flowing water is clean–a lot cleaner than stagnant water. Food grows all around if you know how to recognize it, and of course never yank out the whole plant, you may want to come back to the same plant a few days from now, or next year. They gathered more than they hunted and hunting was not a sport, it was to get food. The idea of killing more little monkeys than you can eat today was unthinkable. They had no government, no leaders. But they knew each other intimately. They were experts in avoiding conflicts. They made shelter from what they found around them; there it was bamboo. Very simple huts, not fortresses as we build our houses. They moved perhaps every year or two, close or far, where they built other bamboo huts on stilts. I once saw an open space where aborigines had lived perhaps a few months earlier. The huts were sagging, one had fallen over. In a year they would have disintegrated and become part of the jungle again.

Their life style was simple, ultimately simple, and therefore sustainable. They would never destroy nature; as we do. And I am certain they would adapt if the jungle changed because of climate change for instance. It was our so-called civilization that made their life impossible when the government began to clear cut the jungle to plant rubber trees, or mine tin (at that time the two sources of wealth for Malaysia). Our greed knows no limits. As everywhere in the world First People have been forced to the most inhospitable places on the planet. The deserts, high mountains, small islands in the Pacific: atolls, no more than 6 feet above sea level.

Our greed creates worlds that are totally utterly unsustainable. We think we are superior because of our liberty: going where we want when we want, buying more stuff as we can afford it, plastic that stays forever, eating food that is made in factories so that it has a long shelf life, filled with fat, sugar and chemicals. What we think of as freedom is an illusion. In terms of Life on this planet, this wasteful aggressive suppressive civilization is a short interval in the long history of Life on this planet. We are told that we are the top of the tree of Life. The best that ever was. And yet we (in this country) refuse to admit that we are now on the brink of a planetary disaster of our own making. There were ways to slow down climate change; now we do our best to make it worse. Obviously who we think of as our leaders do what the corporations want them to do. Suck up the last drop of oil that puts more money in the already very rich people’s computers. Big oil cannot resist drilling for oil in the now melting ice of the Arctic although the research about how and what to do if it blows up is just beginning. Bif coal cannot stop blowing up mountain tops to get to coal. Now another Big wants to make “natural’ gas drive our life style. The gas may be natural, as oil and coal are natural, but what it takes to get it out deep of the earth destroys the planet, severely effects biodiversity that threatens the planetary ecology, and in the case of natural gas poisons the drinking water of millions of people.

We are living at the end of a spree that is destroying the planet as we know it, and may well threaten our existence as a species. It is literally impossible to continue our unsustainable life style. I don’t think we have much of a choice any more. It is more and more evident that our government–whoever wins this election–has no chance and no intention to make any real changes. It is up to us, the 99.9%

My suggestion is simple: simplify.

As a first step do without money. Do without as much money as possible. Two reasons. 1) Money is wealth, now flowing upward. If we stop buying what is not absolutely essential (and very little is absolutely essential) stores will close, less money will flow upward. Money wealth will evaporate. 2) It is the first step to be in charge of our own lives. In this country, and others, we talk a lot about liberty, freedom. There is no freedom greater than not being dependent on corporations. They own our food, our houses, our water, electricity, gasoline, our internet, the Media–they own our liberty.

Simplifying is a challenge and feels wonderful. It is cleansing the soul. Finding out we can do with a lot less is a revelation that frees. We learn to barter again. Humans are social beings, barter is a relationship between equals. I have something I don’t need but you do, you have something you have too much of and I need. When we begin to have some extra money, give it to people who need it.

Let me say it again: learning to simplify our life is the most important thing we and our children can do to prepare us for tomorrow. The tomorrow when we finally can no longer deny that climate change is really here. Some people feel that earlier than others. But there will be a time–and definitely not at the end of this century but in the next few decennia–when we can no longer deny climate change. Enormous shortages of food if we rely on factory made food. Start growing your own food now. You can grow enough vegetables for a family on a balcony. Make your own clothes, mend socks rather than throwing them away. There are a million things we can do to simplify, spending half of what we spent last year, and feel great about it. We will be doing something for ourselves.

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robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai’i

his website is



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