Moneyless Society in Auroville

There won't be any exchange of money in Auroville. It is only with the outside world that Auroville will have money relations. Money will be no more the Sovereign Lord; individual value will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position." (The Mother)


The fear of wastage

The most common argument against a moneyless society is that money seems to be the only effective regulating force which can prevent wastage. This may be the case in a money-driven society, where everything is evaluated by its price-tag, and the manner in which we deal with things is determined to a big extent by the monetary value. The higher the price, the bigger the value, the more one takes care of it; the lower the price, the lower the value, resulting in indifference and carelessness; this is the mechanism of a money-based society. But in a moneyless society the rules of a money-driven society do not apply anymore. You cannot predict behaviour patterns in a moneyless society by the rules of a money-driven society. In the usual money-based society the individual has the right to do whatever he wants with his financial resources. He sees everything through the perspective of its price. And if he has enough money, why not afford something which makes life more convenient or nice? And if something is cheap or free of charge, why bother about it? In this attitude the typical individual is fully justified in a money-based state of life.

But if we try to install a moneyless society in Auroville, then this attitude of course has to change, and will change. Once it is clear that electricity, water or food is a common commodity, which is free for all, but which has a cost for the community, then the justification for a non-caring attitude is gone. Today the fact that somebody pays for his electricity gives him the right to use it as he wants. Nobody can say anything, and he may feel himself fully justified in using it carelessly, or with care. This attitude of a money-based approach is of course still in Auroville, since we still have a money-based society. But once we no longer have it, this attitude will change. Even the richest of the rich Aurovilians then won’t be able to treat the common commodities carelessly anymore, because they will no longer be “his electricity”, “his water”, “his food”, etc, that he is using. He will use a collective value and be forced to cherish it. There may be Aurovilians who won’t like it that their electricity or water or food comes free, because it takes away their justification to use it as they like. Responsibility for the collective is inevitable in a collective based economy.

We therefore do not think that the individual Aurovilian will start wasting common commodities with indifference once he no longer feels any personal financial disadvantage in doing so. Some people may claim that Aurovilians will leave their light on when they leave the house, their windows open with air conditioners running, etc, once electricity is free. Such a claim can only be based on the assumption that the average-Aurovilian is a careless, unconscious person who is not interested in anything but his own personal advantage. We do not think that this is the state of Auroville and the Aurovilians. Furthermore, the experience of two years of money-less electricity for most of the Auroville services does not confirm this view. In fact there has been no noticeable increase in the electricity consumption in any of the services over the past two years, during which they have received free electricity from Varuna.

It is clear that in the present Auroville situation there is a suppressed demand for electricity, due to the poverty of Aurovilians. There are many Aurovilians who suffer a lot from the heat every summer, who get their prickly heat every year once it gets hot, and for whom one of the main occupations every day is to fight against the adverse climate conditions. Still they cannot afford an air conditioner, while the rich Aurovilians can. If these Aurovilians would install an A/C, Varuna would be happy to support them in their step and would happily supply them with whatever electricity they need.

Since 100% of the Varuna current is green energy generated by wind-power, and since Varuna is generating already more than double the energy which the whole of Auroville consumes, one cannot argue that every KWh of electricity consumed would be a burden on the environment. Actually, everything you do, and everything you consume or buy, has a carbon footprint. With every Rupee you spend, you inescapably are responsible for a certain level of carbon dioxide emission. The only way to prevent this inevitable trap is to produce things in a carbon-emission-free manner, which Varuna does with Auroville’s electricity.

If Varuna organises the electricity production and consumption in Auroville in a green and effective way, then we don’t have to have a bad conscience if we can afford to create the most basic conditions to lead a life where we can be productive and can focus on the main reasons why we are in Auroville.

And how would one want to prevent the coming up of air-conditioners in Auroville anyway? To maintain a state of relative poverty amongst the Auroville population as long as possible? Once the average Aurovilian has money, he will get himself an air-conditioner. And once he does this in a money-based Auroville it will be “his” money and he will have every justification to do so. It is perverse to use poverty in Auroville as a tool to support high principles like simplicity, care-taking behaviour, highly developed consciousness for our environment, etc. These things have to come from inside, not from poverty or the exercise of bureaucratic rules.

While many people raise their finger and warn that individual wastage would reach dramatic proportions if we would try to install a money-less society, not many Aurovilians seem to be concerned about the huge wastage which is going on on the larger scale. Right now Varuna produces wind-energy at a cost-price of around Rs.2 per KWh with its wind generators near Coimbatore. If Varuna could wheel its energy to Auroville, then it could square off produced KWhs with the KWhs consumed in Auroville. But wheeling is possible only into High Tension consumer connections. Since, apart from the Matrimandir, there are no High Tension consumer-points in Auroville, Varuna is forced to sell its electricity for Rs.2.5 to 3.5 per KWh, and pay with the proceeds the electricity bills of the Auroville consumers. Most of the service connections and commercial connections in Auroville, however, have rates of around Rs.7 per KWh. So while Varuna Auroville sells its electricity for on average Rs.3 per KWh, it pays often more than double for one KWh consumed in Auroville. This is a wastage which costs Auroville many, many lakhs per year, and nobody seems to be bothered about it.

An even bigger wastage is the fact that Auroville has no dedicated feeder yet. If Auroville would have a dedicated feeder, we could get uninterrupted current in Auroville, because Auroville produces with its wind-generators enough current for itself. With uninterrupted current we could reduce our UPS-based current drastically. Since even the best UPS systems have an efficiency of only 50%, many lakhs of KWhs of electricity are wasted every year in Auroville, due to the individual UPS systems.

When trying to establish an effective and waste-free electricity scene in Auroville, it has to be the first concern of Varuna to prevent wastage on the larger scale. The attempt to optimise the consumption pattern on the individual level is also important, but will never save as much as can be saved at the larger scale on the production and distribution side. 

For sure Varuna will install a monitoring system, where each Aurovilian will get a graph of the development of his or her electricity consumption along with a bi-monthly consumption-statement. There will be a computer-programme which will indicate excessive consumption or fraud, etc.  But we would not like to install a bureaucracy with rules and regulations creating money pressure.  Varuna also intends to replace (hopefully free of charge) old fans, old pumps, bulbs and other less-energy-optimised electrical devices in Auroville. This will be part of our scheme to optimise electricity consumption in Auroville.

The argument that a moneyless approach invariably reduces productivity and creates wastage is correct only to a certain extent. It is good to look at the example of free electricity given to Indian farmers. Here one attempts to install a money-less approach within a money-driven society. This cannot work. As long as the basic thought and behaviour pattern is still money-based, you cannot expect a consciousness or subtle behaviour pattern to come up, as it would in a money-less Auroville. The basic idea of a money-less economy in Auroville is that the motivation to work, to care, to make an effort, does not originate from a desire for money. If we want to install a money-less economy on a money-based consciousness we will fail. Either we manage to change the economy along with the consciousness, or Auroville will remain a society like any other.

The argument that economic scientists today often discourage subsidies can also hardly be generalised and applied to the Auroville economy. There are also many, many examples of the opposite. One nice example in the world of electricity is the coming up of Silicon Valley in California. The reason for the prosperity of this place was originally the low electricity cost. The big water-falls near San Francisco were generating so much energy that electricity cost almost nothing, and didn’t find enough consumers. Electricity was so cheap that the municipality of San Francisco gave big office towers electricity free of charge during the night, and asked them to keep their lights on so that the skyline would be still lit up. In this environment of extremely low energy prices 90% of the world’s silicate-crystallising industry settled in the area, which is  today known as Silicon Valley. For many years more than two thirds of the silicate wafers for solar cells were manufactured there. Computer-chip manufacturers which needed the silicate followed, and with them the computer-industry, and with it the software industry. Today the income of this area from the computer and software industry must be more then a million times higher than the original savings in electricity prices 30 years ago. This shows that low energy prices can very well stimulate productivity rather then suppress it.


The mistake of trying to install mechanically regulated equality

There is a tendency in any society to establish the same conditions for all citizens. The basic difference between the political system of communism and capitalism is the difference of the two principles of equality and diversity.  In Chinese communism even the clothes worn had to be the same for the whole nation, so strongly did they try to impose the principle of equality.

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother both strongly warned against imposing the principle of equality mechanically over any society.

Here are a few interesting quotes of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother:

S.A.: The Socialist errs in trying to establish fraternity on equality, instead of establishing equality on fraternity. It is possible to have fraternity without having equality; but equality without fraternity cannot last and it will be destroyed by dissension, quarrels and inordinate greed for power. First we must have complete fraternity and then only complete equality.

S.A.: If communism ever re-establishes itself successfully upon earth, it must be on a foundation of soul's brotherhood and the death of egoism. A forced association and a mechanical comradeship would end in a world-wide fiasco.

 S.A.:  "Since liberty has failed," cries the advanced thought of Europe, "let us try liberty cum equality or, since the two are a little hard to pair, equality instead of liberty. For brotherhood, it is impossible; therefore we will replace it by industrial association." But this time also, I think, God will not be deceived.

The Mother: Liberty can only be manifested when all men know the liberty of the Supreme Lord.
Equality can only be manifested when all men become conscious of the Supreme Lord.
Fraternity can only be manifested when men feel that they are equally born of the Supreme Lord and one in His Oneness.

The communist standpoint on uplifting equality to make it the most precious feature of a society is definitely not only wrong but perverse, and has been the final cause of communist societies failing. This is the principle of the "Gulag". In the Soviet Union the person in each village who was more busy and more clever than the rest was even known as a “Gulag”. He had one or two pigs more, he got up a bit earlier, was working a bit harder, had a slightly bigger vegetable garden around his house, etc. In consequence he was materially better off than the rest. This person, the Gulag, was then sent in Russia to Siberia, to the "Archipelago Gulag", or he was simply executed. In the Chinese Cultural Revolution those persons were declared as "counter-revolutionaries", and in total 30 million of them were killed. In Cambodia one third of the whole population was killed in order to establish by force the principle of equality amongst all.

When trying to install a money-less economy in Auroville, we will face the problem of the two clashing principles of equality and diversity in a society. Already this clash is obvious in today’s Auroville. Nearly all Aurovilians are getting a similar maintenance. This is a rule based on the principle of equality. The reality in Auroville, however, ignores to a large extent this principle, and shows that the financial strength of Aurovilians is as diverse as anywhere else.  A moneyless economy in a way harmonises the two principles. Where there is no money, there is no difference in the individual money power. We should be very careful not to try to over-impose mechanically too many principles on the money-less economy.

It would not only be dangerous to try and impose a principle of equality over the money-less economy as such, but also over the pace of its progress. The money-less economy will come in steps. Some will benefit from it more, some less. Some will benefit from it a bit earlier, some later. To enforce a rule not to allow anybody to benefit from the advantages until everybody can enjoy the benefits equally will delay the progress of the scheme, and does not match with the ideals of brotherhood. Everybody should be happy that some of our brothers are enjoying some part of the economy money-free, and wish them all the best. To envy them, and want to prevent them from having a benefit before everyone else has the same benefit, is cheap and against the spirit of Auroville.


The aim of Auroville and the role of the moneyless approach

Auroville is supposed to develop a form of collective life suitable for an evolutionary step of mankind into something new. One would expect, then, new basic principles of the micro-society of Auroville, which are distinctly different from those elsewhere.  But when looking at Auroville’s society one notices that it is still based on a monetary system. In fact the influence money has on individual life in Auroville is the same as in the outside world. The individual monetary situation governs people’s living-standard, their work, their children’s education, their type of holiday, etc. Furthermore, the micro-society itself for many of its citizens does not even provide the possibility of reaching a monetary situation which allows them to live a decent life. Aurovilians are often forced to leave Auroville for some time in order to earn money outside of Auroville, to make their ends meet. So in Auroville we have at present two problems:

a) We still have a society which is based on money.

b) The money-principle doesn’t even work in Auroville.

This means the micro-society of Auroville, still standing on the same pillars as any other society, is not even complete in itself and cannot function on its own.

If we want Auroville to progress towards its self-declared goal of a future society, we have to replace the money-principle in Auroville with something higher. The basic mechanism on which its society runs cannot be money. 

In today’s modern societies money plays the key role on which the main working mechanisms are based. The money-driven type of society is, historically, seen as the second generation of societies. For the first generation the main driving and controlling principle was power. The individual or group which was physically strongest governed the clan or micro-society, and by a system of power the society was organised from the top downwards. Power as the basic principle of a society was then, in the course of the last few millenniums, slowly replaced by money. Today it is not the physically strongest who govern a society, nor the ones who were born into a powerful position, but a group of people who have the highest capacity to hold and generate money.

The final change worldwide from the principle of power to the principle of money in modern society happened only during the last decades. The communist society still was based on power and not on money. After the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, the East Block, and in China, power-based societies are very rare. The last two representatives of the old system of power are North Korea and Cuba. And even those two systems will soon be replaced by the more modern one, and in fact the better one, the money principle.

The fight between the two systems to govern a society can be seen throughout history. It is very interesting to look at ancient Greece, which was not only the birth-place of democracy, but also the birth-place of the first society based on money and not on power.

Ancient Athens had developed a monetary-based society. Democracy was in fact only a side-effect of the money-principle ruling society in Athens. The old principle to legitimise a ruler by birth into a royal position had to be abolished if money was to rule the society. And it was first abolished in ancient Athens. When the rich people took over, they had to find a way to govern the fate of their society by using their money power. Democracy was the best and only system for that. Political power rested in the vote of the crowd, and the opinion of the crowd could most easily be influenced by money.

The big competing political power in ancient Greece was Sparta. Sparta still had the power-principle as the backbone of their society, and wanted to stick to it. But the more modern system of Athens, which was functioning very well, was threatening Sparta’s political system. In order to counteract the power of money within the society of Sparta, the Spartans introduced a very peculiar method.  They converted their money from the gold and silver coin system to a system of iron blocks.  Heavy iron blocks were the currency in Sparta. This way they made sure that there would be no money-accumulation possible and that the influence of money on individual life was strongly reduced. 

Auroville has the chance to develop the third generation of society and replace  money-based democracy with something else. It will depend on this “something else” whether the new society will be superior to the money-based society, and whether the new system will spread, or whether the new form of society will not be fit for life amid the global competition of micro- and macro-societies.

The main question now is: What is the “something else” which will replace the regulatory and organising power of money? The Mother had given the answer in very clear terms: All rules in Auroville should finally be replaced by a higher consciousness. It is direct contact with the higher consciousness which will bring about the change. Once the higher consciousness takes over, the regulating and organising force of money will no more be needed.

One may argue that this direct contact to a higher consciousness is still not there, so if we try to abolish money in Auroville as the main regulating agency, then wastage and chaos will be the result. But that is not a good argument for a society which has given itself the aim of creating a new form of collective life. A courageous approach, ready to face setbacks and defeats, is much better than lifeless scepticism and eternal sticking to precaution and fear of loss.  


Michael Bonke