Money makes the world go round, right?
Even as a kid, I never really got money. I mean, I had pocket money, I understand money, I even like money to the extent that it can buy me things and offer opportunities and experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have, but at the same time, I never got money. I still don’t. I mean, bits of extravagantly printed paper or stamped chunks of metal that we pass around to one another and for what? What’s their real purpose? To be able to pass it to someone else in exchange for other things, who will then do exactly the same. Bits of stuff we just…move around. It seems pointless, doesn’t it? It something we all accept with ease because it’s part of our everyday lives and has been forever but if you really think about, it seems banal and bizarre and peculiar. It’s not like warmth or food or skill. It’s not something that actually provides value to our lives other than as something to exchange. It has no function. Money is, in essence, useless.
Even as a kid, I wondered why we needed money. Why couldn’t we just exchange real things? Stuff we’ve produced, skills we’ve got, things we’ve earned. I remember very clearly being about 13 or 14 years old and walking to the garage at the bottom of the hill. I was going to buy a can of Coke and for the whole way there, I remember wondering why I needed the pound coin I clutched so tightly in my hand, what that pound coin really was worth. Wouldn’t the world be a better place, I wondered, if I could simply exchange something for the can of Coke instead of needing money?
Even then, I realised that without the capitalism upon which our little world has been built, the chances are we wouldn’t even have Coke. If we exchanged instead of bought, the chances are that the world would be a much simpler place. We wouldn’t need all the commodities that capitalism brings, that money brings. We’d give knowledge or skill or produce instead. Our communities would be smaller, tighter-knit. Our belongings would be bespoke, created by hand rather than by machine and as a result, of significantly more value.
We’d have more respect for each other and the work that we do because it wouldn’t be as simple as handing over a few coins or a bunch of notes for some piece of junk that kids in another country cobbled together in order to get enough money to eat. We’d have more respect for each other because we’d understand, we’d know the work that goes into producing something or gaining knowledge and skill. We’d know their true worth.
When I came up with the idea for Underworld, I knew that I didn’t want the world to use money. I wanted to experiment with the idea of a community who worked through exchanging things rather than cash and that’s just what I did – although admittedly, I’ve tied myself in knots more than once and as I continue to write the series, those knots seem to be getting tighter and more tangled! We’ve got a publican who brews beer in return for carrots, market traders who swap bits of crap for…well…other crap, and royal servants who work in exchange for not being killed. Just to keep things exciting, there’s a lot of thievery too, because some people simply don’t have anything to exchange – or don’t have the imagination to magic anything up.
For me, a world without money seems completely natural, completely normal. For me, the concept of money is a little odd and for the Underlings, who tried money for a little while and soon reverted back to the alternative, it seems even more peculiar. That said, in today’s world, the adage that money makes the world go around seems pretty accurate too. Even if we wanted to, even if we could show the benefits of a world without cash, I’m not sure we could change things now. We’ve gone too far. We’ve accepted the value of these functionless, useless, shiny little trinkets and it would take a major event to make that acceptance go away.
Still, that’s the joy of books, right? We can go anywhere we like with a little bit of fiction, even a world where money doesn’t exist.