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"Beyond the power of money": a 12-year old imagining the future he wants

The perspective of a 12 year-old when asked to imagine the future he wants: critical indeed, utopist maybe, inspiring certainly!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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The Goi Peace Foundation and UNESCO organize an annual international essay competition. The theme in 2012 was "Creating the Future We Want"

One of the winning entries of the competition was written by a 12-year old boy in the US, shared his views on a future, "beyond money" and he uses the example of Greece' bartering system. Below is his text which provides an interesting critical perspective on money, one that seems aligned with other kids' perspective on banking.

"To make a long story short: the economy is destroying humanity. Now, by destroying, I don't mean bombs and grenades, etc. I am talking about our sense of humanity. This world is based on money. If someone doesn't have money, they are put on the streets or cannot achieve much. And to whom do we owe this all? Money. I don't have a simple and easy solution but I would like to plant some seeds for reflection, hoping that some will grow.

Right now as I type people in Greece have developed their own type of currency and a barter system. Why this? Because they could not depend on their own economy and thus they developed their own unit of exchange. In fact, they ended up developing a new economic system that was more transparent and did not rely on banks or other intermediaries. I also like the fact that people help each other and decided to find creative ways of living when life is difficult and there is no money. Of course, one can say that if every country was starting a new system like the Greeks, we might end up with similar problems as today. Also money has been developed because trading systems were not sufficient. So what should we do? I can't say. I can only point out today's economy and its weaknesses. And one is how unfair it is. Now, you all say this is childish! The world is unfair! Yet, even being unfair, the world can still give chances but with today's economy, there are no chances! There is only the brutal truth of how money has become our life source. It is equal to water and food, if not even more important. Think how humans now depend on pieces of metal, scraps of paper and swipes of plastic cards in ATMs. Where will this get us? Nowhere I say!

Think of the Native Americans and other populations who lived close to nature. They knew the balance of life and death. They hunt, weaved, or crafted just enough for them to live and be happy. You did not have to work in an office all week long, dreaming of holidays, always too short. You did not have to try to get more money to buy more of this or that, accumulating "stuff"! Some philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, have developed similar thoughts. Rousseau was very critical of society and money. He argued that money has corrupted humanity in creating inequality. He opposed this state of corruption with what he called the "natural state". When Rousseau talked about the natural state he referred to something similar to my Native Americans example: a period where people lived from fruit gathering and hunting, and even doing a little bit of farming, getting what they needed and no more.

I can imagine you nodding and thinking, "What a young utopist! Does he want to go back to the Cave men? Would he want to live with no electricity, no iPod, and no computer to surf the Internet?" I can imagine you but you are wrong as this is not what I am saying: the future I am dreaming of is not a world where we would all be hunting and picking up fruits from the trees, although I personally like the countryside. The world I am thinking of is a transparent and fairer world.

Why couldn't we live in a fairer and more transparent world? Let's go back to the example of Greece and how Greeks decided to react by developing a barter system. Let's also think of Rousseau's analysis showing the negative role of money. Money introduced inequalities by allowing some people to produce extra things they did not need, in order to get more money. Then banks came in and people started leaving their money in the banks giving power to the bankers and the economists. The people of Greece felt that they had no power and that they were like puppets in the hands of bankers and economists. Instead of being angry, they decided to design their own life where the result of their work was transparent and allowed them to have access to the things they needed – food, babysitting, classes, etc. They showed us a way, maybe not the best one, probably not the only one, to start thinking differently and make things more transparent. This is what I would like the future to look like: a world where people feel they have their word to say and where money is not the ruler."


 Inspirations for us as we move to ideation:

  • What do young people might imagine the future to be? In particular if they don't want to be bankers?

  • How financial empowerment might lead us to redefine more than just management of finance? How can we start thinking differently?

  • Some themes related to empowerment: a sense of being in control, values (different value system in this case), transparency (or lack of), a sense of collaboration / community

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Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

This is so touching. At last, a young person who wants more than just luxury. It's interesting to see that despite the failed experiment of unregulated free-market capitalism, global culture is still feeling the inertia of 1980's style optimism. A lot of images we see and hopes we aspire-to still reflect a world that doesn't exist anymore. What is even more interesting is the last decade's desire for "authenticity" initially manifested itself as anti-consumption, anti-globalization and anti-capitalism. Unfortunately, the core values have been lost and only the shell remains. People now aspire towards "vintage" clothing and organic locally-grown food without realizing that they are now owned by multi national companies exploiting people in developing countries and using laws to throttle local farmers. Once again, it is only the image that matters. Even if we make sustainability and socialism cool, we live within a capitalist paradigm that will seek to subvert ideology for profit. Perhaps then what we need is a new rhetoric. Something even more persuasive than "cool". More influential than individualism or conformity. What's cooler than cool?