When the end of money came, it happened on both a microscopic and macroscopic scale. The Covid-19 crisis of 2020 and subsequent pandemics decimated world economies, reduced international monetary markets to chaos and caused stock prices to plummet for everything that wasn’t tech-based. Hyper-inflation, previously seen in Germany before World War II, became the norm, with world governments having to convene regularly to agree the strategic devaluation (or re-valuation as it was euphemistically termed) of their respective currencies. Banknotes began to appear with mathematical formulae in place of lines of zeros. A loaf of bread would cost ten to the power of 8 dollars. Financial markets, struggling to function at all, would start bandying about the kinds of terms once used by overexcited children — one quintillion, five point eight sesquetillion. A Googleplex of pointless pennies.
Various desperate strategies were adopted. The world’s first global currency was trialled — the Omnidollar. It bore nobody’s face, because nobody could agree who to put on it. Instead, it had a honeybee on one side (a symbol of industriousness) and a dove on the reverse (a symbol of hope). Issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100, it lasted eight months before succumbing to hyperinflation too. Soon, it became infinitely cheaper to wipe your bottom with banknotes than actually buy toilet paper.
There was a brief plan to return to the gold standard in the 2030s, lauded of course, by those economies who still boasted gigantic gold reserves. A group of anonymous techno-terrorists put an end to that, sending a vast swarm of nanobots to devour the US federal gold reserve. These miniscule machines crawled through ventilation ducts and keyholes, eating almost 5000 metric tonnes of gold, carried away in tiny particulates over the course of one holiday weekend and scattered to the wind. You could find gold dust on the beaches of California, blowing across the Nevada desert and silting up the swamps of Alabama. Diamonds were mooted as a replacement, but the power shift this would entail towards some fairly unpleasant African dictatorships put paid to that one.
A radical solution was proposed — simply to abolish money altogether and return to a barter system. Obviously the seriously wealthy opposed this most vigorously, since they had very little the general populace wanted, except access to their outrageous lifestyles. Farmers and food producers were the most vocally in support of such a system, for obvious reasons. The general populace (when it wasn’t starving in its billions, marching upon parliaments, deposing despots, forcibly crossing borders and rioting) simply wanted stability, enough food to eat, and a dry place to sleep. Was that really too challenging a list of demands?
By 2044, Earth’s citizens were submitting to “chipping,” being fitted from birth with a device which measured and tallied their consumption and linked this directly to ability and readiness to work. Of course, there were widespread protests, by those libertarians who still believed freedom was the ultimate human right, even superseding the right to equality and perhaps even the right to life.
You were born, chipped and thereafter allocated a weekly supply of food and spendable credit, which could be enhanced only within rigid parameters, based on conspicuous hard work. All work was declared equal, from sewage engineers to architects to musicians to doctors to hairdressers. Jobs that nobody wanted were performed by all on an AI-controlled rota system, which had always worked well for jury duty and national military service. You worked in a particular allocated role in six month stints every five years, unless you were permitted a medical exemption. In 2044 everybody worked as a sewage engineer, a refuse collector, or a member of parliament. Jobs that could only be done by certain individuals — scientists, writers, sprinters, world leaders — were designated as protected and had to be applied for, but these were not rewarded with any additional life credits. You could be the president of the United States of America and you would still be entitled to only one loaf of bread per week.
Violations of these codes were dealt with severely — reduction of goods allocation or incarceration seemed to work reasonably well as incentives to good behaviour. Black market bartering was swiftly curtailed. Royalty was abolished, and its excesses redistributed. Buckingham Palace became a hotel, its rooms costing the same as all hotel rooms everywhere — one away-from-home sleep credit. Booking was available by lottery only. A popular YouTube video showed a Syrian child refugee, now in her forties, reclining in a palatial tub once occupied by the King of England. King William the Fifth was photographed sweeping up autumn leaves in Windsor Park, holding both thumbs aloft to the camera, doing his statutory work rotation.
It is true that totemic displays of human achievement diminished considerably during this time — giant dams, bridges and palaces were no longer built. But it was felt the world had plenty of those. A movement to celebrate the rejuvenation of the earth’s biodiversity gained ground instead, as climate change diminished and the world returned to a kind of observant stasis. Animals not seen in significant numbers of decades began to proliferate — herds of white rhino thundered across the African veldt once more.
After the initial decades of catastrophe and conflict, wars diminished — after all, what was the point in fighting another group of people whose wealth was identical to yours, and from whom you could take literally nothing that you could keep? And if you couldn’t benefit personally from subjugating another, why go to all the effort? Even a sociopath could see that it simply wasn’t a worthwhile use of one’s time.
Dissidents called this phase in human history, “the systematic self-destruction of the human race.” Idealists called it, “a new golden age.”
Kate Blackhurst called it “ridiculous,” crumpled up the piece of paper upon which she’d written the above fantasy scenario, and returned to her novel about Russian oligarchs having one another’s families executed. After all, a writer had to pay the rent somehow.
Gavin Boyter is a Scottish writer and filmmaker living in London. He has published two travel memoirs about running ludicrously long distances, Downhill from Here and Running the Orient. Boyter is also a screenwriter and director and currently has two films in development, both psychological thrillers. Like most writers, Boyter has worked in a variety of jobs, having been a journalist, cinema usher, shop assistant, NHS administrator and sales representative. Writing is really the only “job” that gives him lasting satisfaction.