Could you Live Without Money?

Just found this article, via a music mailing list – basically about a dude who lives in a cave in Utah, with no money. He picks wild plants, occasionally eats insects, dumpster-dives in the nearest town… Fascinating story, with much food for thought….

I’m not sure the lesson is about living with nothing, as much as it is about the false correlation between money/wealth and health/happiness. His original motivation seems pretty hard to contest…

I’m definitely inspired to do more with less, rather than wait for ‘more’. One of my favourite book titles ever (which has inspired a number of blogposts over at ) is ‘Why Settle For More And Miss the Best’ by Tom Sine, exploring a similar point about what it is that we’re chasing. Bigger, Better, Faster, More sounds like hollow BS, even more transparently in the light of a global economic meltdown…

The article’s worth a read, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, especially your experiences of ‘downsizing’…

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  1. I was also a Peace Corps volunteer (South Africa) though I can’t say it transformed me into a money-free cave-dweller; quite the opposite in fact, I see technology as a powerful tool to provide education and empowerment. My issue with his position is that he is parasitic to a material-driven culture and therefore not truly money-independent. If the material culture that provides his sustenance (via dumpster diving and roadkill) stopped, then his way of life would also stop. Granted he could attempt adaptation to become a true hunter-gatherer but that comes with higher risks of starvation and injury. He may live without money then, but it could be a much shorter life. No doubt he is hardcore and deserves credit for that, but it inaccurate to refer to his life style as being without money. It reminds me of a more die-hard “freegan” exploit, yes you can live on societies wasted food etc, but no that does not make you independent of society or morally superior. Please forgive the rant 😉

    1. Hi Evan,

      I think the concept of ‘headroom’ works for me here – he’s using stuff that the ‘material-driven culture’ considers to have no monetary value at all. Sure, some of the stuff was derived from the money economy, but given that it’s stuff that has been discarded as worthless, he’s actually adding value to it, by removing the need to spend money collecting the waste… He’s not in this to start a revolution, just working out his own spiritual path in the way that works for him…

      “If the material culture that provides his sustenance (via dumpster diving and roadkill) stopped, then his way of life would also stop.”

      What’s interesting here is that he seems to be far more pragmatic about it than your assessment of him – he’s well aware that culture isn’t about to suddenly go money-free in any grand way soon, so he’s modeling an alternative, he’s got his own spiritual practice going on, he’s living far more lightly on the planet (his carbon footprint is probably similar to that of a wild mouse 🙂 ), and the upshot is he’s making people think.

      He also seems happy to die young, from the last couple of paragraphs…

  2. Viewed from the point of view of the Transition Town Movement and the film How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, he is just demonstrating a version of what we are all going to have to do very soon. We have 2 choices. We can adopt the ostrich position and wake up one day to find our bit of the world is fried, underwater or very crowded and starving. Or we can change the way we engage with the world and each other and avert some of the consequences of our collective folly.

    Of course we don’t all have to go and live in a cave. For a start there are not enough caves to go round. But we should learn from those who do and from people who have found other ways to live simply that others may simply live.

  3. I don’t think that that living as a benign parasite / scavenger on society is a viable model for widescale adoption. I do think that it is imperative to look at ways of living more simply but I think we can keep things like the internet (and all the requisite infrastructure) running a little while longer while still taking measures like reducing the amount of power we use by not leaving all sorts of electronic devices switch on too long.

  4. Hey Steve,

    I will admit my assessment was a little harsh. My issue is more with the reporter than the man. I agree that he has a very grounded view of who he is and what he does. I certainly do not find fault in his lifestyle. I do find fault in claiming it should be the norm or is better than the norm. As Wulf points out, it can’t be the norm.
    We should definitely consider what we waste and his survival is certainly a testiment to that. He does seem content in his lifestyle and it’s probable outcomes 🙂

  5. My initial reaction was that this was not sustainable for the current population. Other thoughts were, given enough critical mass in terms of people, a reasonable climate, material resources and enough time to live rather than survive, humanity starts looking for better ways of doings things – farming, travelling, communicating, killing and so on. Money can then be used as a convenient method of exchange for goods and services, where value is based on, well, scarcity, as far as I can tell! Scarcity in terms of there is not a lot of it lying about, personal skill, time etc. (and the good old fashioned desire for pleasure).

    Keeping the Internet got me thinking about what the Internet actually is. It is a dazzlingly complex collection of technologies, investment, imagination and experimentation. Lasers, silicon, plastics, electricity, programming languages, fibre optics, digital signal processing, copper, photography (for silicon lithography rather than Flikr…)and probably billions of hours in terms time invested over the years, more if you consider the discovery of all the technologies that got us here. Actually, we rely very heavily on sand for much of this so it is a good thing it is so abundant, which reminds me of speech by the late, great Douglas Adams (the last three paragraphs of Simply keeping the Internet going takes an enormous amount of effort and power so there will still be a requirement for enough people who know what they’re doing with enough time to do it without having to worry about starving to death or dying of hypothermia.

    If the Internet is based on such scarce resources and skills (apart from sand), why is it not vastly expensive? I’m tempted to cheat and say economies of scale because if there were ten users, their broadband bills would be fairly dramatic.

    Anyway, the fundamental question was about money, wealth, health and happiness. Money certainly gives you options, as long as everyone shares the concept and can agree on a value. Once that falls apart then you’re in trouble. Wealth, in its broadest sense is abundance of any sort so living in a climate that provides abundant food would make you wealthy. Good physical health is predicated on nourishing your body and protecting it from gravity, cold, heat, dehydration, drowning, people who want your wealth and other perils. Happiness is…well, I know it when I feel it. I’m always a little wary about looking back and thinking that people were happier when things were simpler. From one perspective life was far more cruel, short and brutal unless you were fortunate enough to be born into the right circumstances. A lot of time and effort has been spent improving our lot in life and the concept (if not the execution) of money has had a part to play. Not sure where I’m going with all this but eventually the wealthy abundance of oil will run out and the planet will shrug us off and give some other species a chance unless we invest a lot of money in alternatives or start digging caves. My money is on the ants.

    Or in short, no I couldn’t live without money! Money in terms of being able to have the option to obtain things I have neither the skill nor time to make or find. How much money is the next obvious question. Enough for another bass lesson would be a start.

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