To Hell with Conventional ‘Wisdom’

Stephen Yearwood
3 min readApr 28, 2024

How We Can Transform the Outcomes for Society of the Existing Economic System with ‘Something for Nothing’

Photo by Ben Guerin on Unsplash

[Since this was first published, the title and subtitle have been transposed.]

Few things are more ingrained in human thought than the idea that ‘you can’t get something for nothing’. ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’. ‘There is some cost that must be borne for every good thing’. ‘For any person or group to become materially better-off, some person or group must be made to be worse-off’. The litany of such sentiments is endless.

I’m here to tell you — with an M.A. in economics and decades of serious reading in history and philosophy as well as economics* — that ‘something for nothing’ is possible. Not only is it not possible, it is highly desirable, even necessary. Allowing ourselves to have something for nothing can transform the outcomes for society of the existing economic system.

What is that something? It is money.

We all know how necessary money is. No one can live without it. To survive, even homeless people must somehow get their hands on some amount of money.

You know what is even more necessary than money? Water, that’s what. All the money in the world will not allow someone with no water to live more than a few days.

Yet, we don’t (typically) worry about water. People privileged to live in the abundantly blessed, rich nations of the temperate zones on Earth, anyway, rarely give water a thought. We do not seek to hoard water, secure in the knowledge that enough water will be there tomorrow just as it was today.

To be sure, like many aspects of material existence, a sufficiency of water is becoming a more and more precarious outcome for more and more people. On the other hand, this essay isn’t actually about water. It’s about money. This proposal absolutely, positively guarantees a sufficiency of money for every adult citizen of any nation that will adopt it. It could even become a single currency for every nation on the planet — without challenging, much less compromising, the ‘sacrosanct’ sovereignty of a single one. It does have built-in safeguards against having too much money in the economy.

for more: “Two Possibilities for MMT” (‘Modern Monetary Theory’) [here in Medium, but not behind the paywall]

*I began reading seriously in economics 50 years ago. As noted, I earned an M.A. in the subject. Going on to a Ph.D. (which I did not have the resources to do, having used up my G.I. Bill education benefits getting that far), would not have offered any further understanding of the structure and functioning of the existing economy. Besides, school at every level is all about reading and understanding what others have written, and I have definitely read and understood enough for a Ph.D. in economics — including but not limited to the French ‘Physiocrats’ (generally acknowledged as the first to make the economy, i.e., the process of producing/acquiring goods/services, a subject of study — Francois Quesnay, et al.), Jean-Baptiste Say (French, but not a Physiocrat), Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, C.E. Ayers (a less well-known but more rigorous ‘institutional economist’ than Veblen was), the ‘Austrians’ (Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, et al.), Joseph A. Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes, and Milton Friedman as well as Modern Monetary Theory (which I actually learned about in detail from Keith Evans here in Medium). [Reading from cover to cover (over 1,000 dense pages in the edition I read) Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis (which his wife, Elizabeth, also an economist, finished after his death) is enough by itself to make anyone who does that pretty much of an expert in the structure and functioning of the existing economy — and, yes, I did also read his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.] The list of writers I have read in history or philosophy would be as long, but here the topic is economics. (With never a wife or children — and, as one might guess, precious few girlfriends — I have done little in life but read and study, doing as little actual work as I possibly could.)



Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice