The Moneyless Man

March 17th, 2015

The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle front cover

Irishman Mark Boyle moves into a trailer for a year. Living off the land, he spreads the word about his cause, maintains his social life as best he can, and even attends a music festival. All while not spending a penny.

In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely examined the major psychological difference in free vs. cheap. Boyle’s quest imposes upon him a hands-on version of that concept:

Pens are, monetarily, cheap; almost anyone can run to the nearest shop and pick up a new one for 25p. Without money, this becomes an entirely different prospect. It doesn’t matter if pens are unbelievably cheap, it doesn’t matter if they drop to 5p; without money, you simply cannot buy one. Instead of spending the equivalent of two minutes’ work at the UK’s minimum wage, you’d have to spend three-quarters of a day making a new pen from ink cap mushrooms.

So what does he do? He turns to his friends and supporters for help, and even though Boyle took on his one-year journey single-handedly, he doesn’t do without community. The people are there, so it would be foolish to not utilize each other’s strengths. For Boyle, foraging with his friends is as much about being social as getting food, and everybody working their butts off doing exhausting prep-work for the so-called Freeconomy Feastival brings across the power of a collaborative effort.

There are situations where Boyles relaxes his own rule-set to the point of hypocrisy, such as when he can’t himself get in a van to pick up vegetables, so he sends his friends to get them for him. The end result is the same — the burning of fossil fuels. Also, he at one point mentions not really caring about what other people think of his moneyless venture, then later declares that his only frustration was that people around him didn’t appreciate the amount of energy and time demanded by his new lifestyle.

But so what? There are bound to be a few holes in an extreme scheme of this magnitude, and even if you don't go as far as he does, there's still plenty of value in a dialed-back version of his project. What I get from a story like this are ideas of how to become more aware of how I consume products and how consumerism plays into my social interactions.

I appreciated Boyle’s detailed descriptions of the practicalities involved in procuring a trailer, volunteering at a farm to have a place to set up that trailer, building an outdoor shower, toilet, and so-called rocket stove, installing a wood burner, etc. This appealed to me much more than William Powers’ spirituality-heavy take in Twelve by Twelve.

A note on the layout of the Kindle e-book version that I had purchased: Paragraphs expanding upon subjects already discussed, such as instructions on how to make paper and ink out of mushrooms, are inserted a while after that particular subject has been discussed and left behind. At one point, a section on the Freeconomy Feastival is interrupted by a lengthy passage about environment-friendly diapers. This clashes with the flow and doesn't work in this format, although it may look better in the paper version.


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