In 2006, Mark Boyle reached a crossroads. The Irishman had spent six years studying economics so knew pretty much everything there was to know about consumers, corporations, networks and nations. Or did he? Despite the years of intense study, he had a niggling feeling that he was missing something. ‘In six years of studying economics, not once did I hear the word ecology,’ says Mark. ‘So if it hadn't been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi in the final term of my degree, I'd probably have ended up earning a fine living in a very respectable job persuading Indian farmers to go GM, or something useful like that. But the little chap in the loincloth taught me one huge lesson – to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Trouble was, I had no idea back then what that change was.’
He began by contemplating what would become his ‘thing’. What would he dedicate his life to? ‘There are so many big issues in the world: sweat shops, factory farms, ecological destruction. Which was going to be my passion? And then I realised that all of these were just symptoms of a deeper root cause. For me, that was the separation from the things we consume and our separation from nature. Until we reconnect with these things, nothing will change. And money is one of the biggest disconnecting tools we have. It gives us the illusion of independence, but means that we actually just become dependant on people far away from us.’
So, Mark tapped ‘accommodation’ into freecycle.org and lived in a caravan offered to him on the outskirts of Bath for one year – not spending a penny during that time. The first six weeks were the hardest, Mark says, but eventually he established a routine: cooking his meals from food he found dumped in skips, cycling everywhere instead of driving or catching public transport, digging a hole in the ground as a toilet, even brushing his teeth using a piece of cuttlefish and some fennel seeds. ‘Once your essentials are met, like food and shelter, then everything else is really a bonus,’ he says. ‘But I initially thought it was very difficult. I thought, ‘is it worth the effort and hassle or is it easier to just sit on my arse and read a book?’’
Mark went on to found the worldwide Freeconomy movement, which now has groups in more than 170 countries, and is currently working on developing a Permaculture-based gift economy in Ireland – a country hit hard by the financial slump. He is also one of three experts helping to lead a course at the Schumacher College in Totnes, Devon, next month. Wild Economics: Moving to a Localised Gift Culture will explore issues of economics, namely, how human needs can be met without money. As well as Mark, forager Fergus Drennan and speaker and teacher on issues of transition, money and social evolution, Charles Eisenstein, will help lead discussions.
As Mark points out, 95 per cent of the time humans have spent on this earth was without money – it is only in the last relatively tiny chunk of time when economics in a monetary sense have come to monopolise our attention and time. Mark describes the gift economy, which is one of the subjects to be explored in the course, as ‘the only tried-and-trusted human model of economy that has served us for the majority of our time on earth’ and can be described as a way of meeting our needs where materials, labour and skills are shared unconditionally and without any explicit agreement for rewards.
Wild Economics is a more purposeful move towards re-localising our economic habits,’ explains Mark. ‘This strengthens our ties to local people and places, as opposed to increasing our dependence on an industrial infrastructure that is turning our beautiful world into a landfill of emptiness and meaninglessness.’
Whether you fancy trying Mark’s moneyless experiment for yourself or simply want to explore the subject you can find out more about it on the Schumacher College’s website.