Elina St-Onge on money and scarcity


Elina St-Onge of Collective Evolution posted a video through We Are Change entitled Can We Think Outside of MONEY that discusses the topics of money, scarcity, ownership, and the government.  She covers numerous topics and says that she is willing to have a discussion about her ideas, so I’d like to bring up a few points.  Here is her video:

The first part of my commentary is about St-Onge’s view of money.  She says:

Why does money have to come in between human beings and basic necessities?  Why does the medium for having access to the world’s abundance is always money?

Throughout her explanation, she never once mentions the actual reason why we have money: its purpose is to act as a means of exchange to simplify transactions.  Without money, it would actually be more difficult for humans to have their needs met.  Let’s look at it this way: we’ll say that I make clothes and St-Onge produces food.  I need food and have clothes to offer in exchange, but while St-Onge has excess food to exchange, she doesn’t want any clothes.  Unless I can find someone to trade with me in order to get something St-Onge wants, we won’t be able to make any exchanges and I go without food.

With money, I can trade my money for St-Onge’s food, and she can exchange that money to acquire whatever she wants.  Money can be anything (salt, gold, certificates, etc) that people generally value.  Now of course our money system is quite messed up (thank you for that, governments), but that by no means disqualifies the proven market usefulness of it.

Without understanding this basic concept of money, it’s easy to understand why some people might have such a negative view of it.

St-Onge goes on to talk about scarcity and how she views it as a myth.  She unfortunately is confused about the concept of the scarcity of resources.  Because resources are scarce, that doesn’t necessarily mean that some people will be left without.  The resources required to make clothes are scarce, but no one is so poor that they walk around naked.  If a good is not scarce, then anyone could get as much as they wanted, so there’d be no incentive to try to sell that good to others since they can get it for free.

St-Onge speaks about how there are countries that have enough arable land to produce enough food or that they export food while the people starve.  That may be true, but she then asks the following question:

And if we have enough land to be self-sufficient and grow our own food, then why does money have to come between human beings and basic necessities?

And then she quotes Charles Eisenstein:

Basically, economic growth means that you have to find something that people once got for free, or did for themselves or for each other, and then take it away and sell it back to them somehow.  By turning things into commodities, we get cut off from nature in the same way we get cut off from community.

I hope she corrects me if I’m wrong, but is St-Onge suggesting that we should go back to subsistence farming and living?  Yes, it is true that there’s plenty of land in the world to feed everyone, but there’s a great reason why people ditched that way of living: it’s a very hard life.  Furthermore, some people are better at farming at others, some people can hunt well, some people can build things well.  Some people are good at managing things.  Allowing people to work at the things they are good at makes society more efficient and allows for greater overall production.  This is comparative advantage.  This is the best way to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.

We’ve gotten so good at dividing labor over thousands of years that I can sit on my couch and type this up (while watching a hockey game) instead of breaking my back out in the field trying to make sure I can eat this week.

I do believe that St-Onge’s heart is in the right place and I do applaud her for her clear dislike of government.  However, she is incorrect in some very basic economic and praxeological concepts, causing her to make some faulty conclusions.

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