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September 9, 2015

Meaningless money

The idea that we should be moving towards a lifestyle based less on conspicuous consumption and more on sharing has been taken to a new level by Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Man. Written in 2010, his book proved how it was possible to live entirely without money – existing by bartering, swapping things and reconnecting with communities. Five years on, and with very little compromise, he has developed his thinking further. Among his achievements, the world’s first moneyless pub, a theory of ‘gift economics’, and a new book which came out last week.


The Guardian

Mark Boyle proved how, in a world dominated by money, he could live in Britain surviving entirely without cash – by bartering, swapping and connecting with local communities. And after three years, what was his first cash purchase? A £4 pair of trainers from a charity shop.

“It was such a weird moment. Living without money had eventually become completely normal for me, and there I was standing in a charity shop handing over a piece of paper and walking out with this really useful pair of runners. It felt as strange as giving it up in the first place had,” he says.

Boyle is the unlikely hero among those who feel consumerism in the west is running out of control. His 2010 book, The Moneyless Man, which sold more than 75,000 copies in 17 countries, not only showed that it was entirely possible to survive in Britain without ever touching cash, but also offered an alternative way to lead a more sustainable life.

He restored and lived in an abandoned caravan, and cycled everywhere. By using a combination of bartering, swapping or gifting his time, and foraging for food – both in hedgerows and supermarket bins – he demonstrated that one could thrive, while at the same time reconnecting with local communities.

Arguably, the highlight of the book was when he and friends produced a banquet for more than 1,000 people at the end of the year using only freecycled food. A bicycle-powered cinema and sound system provided entertainment. People gave what they could – time, skills, etc – and not a single penny changed han

We aim to be a community that explores how to meet our needs in the most ecologically sound and fun way possible

Fast forward to today and the 36-year-old softly spoken Irishman, a former economist who started out managing organic food companies, co-owns a three-acre permaculture smallholding in County Galway in the wild west of Ireland.

Its purchase was part-funded by royalties accrued from sales of The Moneyless Man, an irony not lost on Boyle. But at any one time it now supports between five and 30 people living and working on the site, or visiting. “My moneyless self would probably not be too pleased about it, but I have moved forward and it’s a means to an end that has allowed us to set up the community,” he says.

The collapse in Irish property prices that followed the financial crash allowed Boyle and his partner Kirsty to buy the site for €95,000, while others live there rent free. Armed with £20,000 raised through a crowdfunding appeal in the UK, they and an army of volunteers set about transforming an old pig sty into what is likely to be Ireland’s – and possibly the world’s – first moneyless community pub.

Using inexpensive natural materials such as cob, cordwood, wattle and daub, plus locally freecycled materials, the Happy Pig is now up and running. He estimates it was built for around 11% of the cost of a equivalent construction

 “We wanted a free community space where people from all backgrounds can meet, attend free workshops and courses, eat and drink, dance and perform music, take some time out, and share skills and stories – all without a single penny changing hands,” says Boyle, who has been brewing gorse wine to be consumed in the pub.

In the long run – once the trees and plants come to fruition – beer and cider will also be gifted to those passing through, as well as those living in the community.

The only downside is that Boyle has had to resume using a bank account – albeit one with very little in it.

“I felt very free living without money, and having to fill in tax returns and the like feels like a burden. Despite that, the project maintains much of what I started and hopefully takes it on to a new stage, to a wider group.

“We manage the smallholding without using any fuel so we don’t have a tractor. Manure comes from a local farmer who keeps horses and is desperate to get rid of the stuff, and we grow or forage all the food we consume, which at the moment means eating a lot – maybe too much – kale. We aim to be a community that explores how to meet our needs in the most ecologically sound and fun way possible.”

Boyle says local farmers, many of whom have a long tradition of sustainable farming, have been very accepting of the group, even – albeit unwittingly – joining in with the spirit of the programme.

“I was scything a field but had to stop because I had promised to write an article on gift economics, and while I was tapping away at my computer one of my neighbours came along and finished the job. When I came out the whole field of hay had been cocked. He would never have heard of ‘gift economics’, it’s just a way of life for him,” he says.

In gift economics the idea is that you help others without the explicit promise of anything in return, but in the belief that selfless giving will encourage the recipient to in turn selflessly gift as well. Boyle describes it as “paying it forward”.

Boyle, whose calm demeanour hides a steely determination, works a 16-hour day not just on the permaculture site, but also writing a book he hopes will challenge our preconceptions about how society should be organised.

Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, published this week, is a fierce attack not just on unsustainable economic and political systems, but on what Boyle says is the failure of many activists and campaign groups to seriously challenge the status quo.

“The politicians, big business and even many of the campaign groups have a vested interest in the business-as-usual model. Look at the environmental movement – to my eyes it is fatigued. Is there a single person here who believes that any of the main political parties have any intention of building genuinely sustainable, healthy communities that live in balance with the rest of the great web of life? If so, why do we continue to put our faith in these structures,” he asks.

A central theme of the book is what he calls the “casual violence” that is now central to western economies. “Take a short trip to your nearest factory farm, where the vast majority of your meat, eggs and dairy come from, and ponder whether industrialism speaks well of us, or is the apex of our humanity,” Boyle says.


“Such run-of-the-mill violence, masquerading as progress isn’t only targeted at the non-human realm; what we are doing to the world we do unto ourselves, in more ways than one. We live in a culture where inexplicably punching someone on the street would provoke outrage, and rightly so; yet where the extirpation of a couple of hundred species every single week due to human activity alone barely raises an eyebrow. It’s time to resist, revolt and rewild.”