What we can learn from the island of Milao

I only realized that the island of Milao could have real importance to anybody when I received a blog comment from Christian Holata of Vienna, Austria. Christian drew my attention to the Zeitgeist movement and the Venus Project. When I did some research I found that the core recommendation of those two projects is that the world should move to a moneyless society that they call a “Resource Based Economy.” Imagine that! A world without money! Of course the critics howled. How ridiculous… How could a society possibly function without money? Many of the critical comments that I read were downright nasty, pouring scorn on the stupidity of the authors of such obviously unworkable ideas. Well, I have news for those critics. Not only is the idea practical, it works very well… and Milao tells us just how well.

Milao is a remote island in the Pacific which plays a role in my about-to-be-published book The Nanobot Attack. Nobody, or almost nobody, has heard of it—which is an important part of why it has been able flourish. I’ll give you its history.

It all began about two hundred years ago when a British merchant ship, blown hundreds of miles off course by a hurricane, wrecked on the reefs of Milao. Happily, almost all of the ship’s company survived—and found the island to be rich with fish and vegetables that fed them during the time it took to build a (smaller) ship that could take them to Mexico. From there, the survivors made their way back to England. Now this was the time of the French Revolution and a time when religious differences were frequently grounds for persecution or worse. It happened that the captain of the wrecked ship was a deist, believing in God as creator but rejecting all the religious trappings—the priesthood, the doctrine of blind obedience, and the holy books. The captain and his circle of like-minded friends, which included some French citizens fleeing the revolution, decided that they’d leave their countries and settle Milao.

Now, this is where fate lent a hand. The island already had inhabitants. Nobody knew how the first inhabitants reached the island; it could have been from Polynesia. But the original islanders had a philosophy and culture of their own. These were people who believed that all life was harmoniously interconnected and love and respect for others was bedrock. Theirs was a simple, some might even say primitive, philosophy—but these were wholesome people with healthy minds, uncorrupted by money and ambition and they quickly adopted the deistic ideas of the new arrivals.

The next piece of luck was that the new arrivals did not bring money with them. Almost all their money was spent in outfitting their expedition. They brought tools to work the land and livestock to breed and, because these were educated people for their time, they also brought libraries of books that included several eras of philosophical thought and they even brought musical instruments. But they brought very little money, and they didn’t have the means to mint money. So, as an experiment, they decided to see if they could manage without. And they discovered that they could manage very well.

Of course the biggest piece of luck that the Milaons enjoyed was that their island was far removed from the trading routes so that it went unnoticed by those who would see it as a commercial opportunity to be exploited or, worse, as a collection of souls to be saved… and so they were given time to perfect their society.

At first, of course, their number one concern was survival. The focus was not profit. Nor was it to gain individual advantage by having more land or owning more critical resources than their neighbour. It was simply survival of the community—and they knew it would take a team effort. They knew that they would have to use the skills and resources available to them wisely. Small as their community was, they realised that they needed to define a system of government that would be accepted by all as the best way to serve the interests of both community and individuals.

The islanders decided to use the very first democracy, that of Athens, as the model for their government. All above the age of fourteen, were allowed (and encouraged) to vote for a four person Council. In turn the elected councillors were asked to decide among themselves the positions of Chief, Treasurer and Secretary. To ensure that a long view of the island’s affairs was taken the term of office for the councillors was set at ten years, but to guard against a poor choice it was decided that they would adopt the vote of ostracism that was part of the earliest Athenian democracy.

Each year the islanders hold a preliminary vote of ostracism and, if a majority votes in favor, a date is set for an official vote. If an official vote of ostracism is called, any elected person who receives a vote of more than thirty percent of the eligible voters is removed from office, and cannot be voted back into office for at least ten years.

Now you might reasonably ask why an island that does not use money needs the position of Treasurer. The answer is that the islanders realized that they could not be truly self sufficient. For food they were, but what about clothing? And what about musical instruments and books? They could see that they would need to be able to buy goods from outsiders. So they pooled the little money that they had brought with them and put it into the hands of their appointed Treasurer. The nearest island, Maki, was a day’s sail away and it was connected to the bigger world of trade. Their first visit to Maki used up their small supply of money buying fabric and twine to make clothing and fishing nets. But then they discovered that they had a resource on Milao that had no value to the Milaons but had great value to the trading world—pearls. And the Treasurer’s position today is concerned with harvesting sufficient pearls to provide funds to buy commodities that cannot be produced on Milao.

The money from the pearls is used to buy a variety of goods including books for its schools, bolts of cloth that are made into clothes—and perhaps most importantly—contraceptives. The island’s population has grown dramatically since the arrival of the settlers two hundred years ago. In the last fifty years contraceptives have made it possible to maintain the island’s population at a level that is sustainable.

Milao is a success story. It works the same way our society works. Fishermen fish, farmers farm, bakers bake and so on. It is a cooperative society. Money is just not needed. There is no TV, and with one exception there are no electronics of any kind. But there is culture: music, art and theatre.  And people are fulfilled and happy. Medical care without technology such as radiology, MRIs, and arthroscopy is technically inferior to ours, but it is available to all Milaons without cost or favour. There are no haves versus have-nots. There are no rich and poor. Nobody owns anything. The island’s assets belong to the community and are used for the benefit of all. And there are no divisive religions. The one exception to the “no electronics” rule is the Treasurer who has a shortwave radio because it is felt that the person in that position should maintain knowledge of the outside world.

Now I imagine that many of you have lots of questions, such as how they decide who does what to keep the islanders supplied with food, education, health care etc? And what solutions have the Milaons found to the inevitable societal misfits that occur from time to time? And I have the answers. But first I need to know if there is any interest. So I will leave it to you to ask your questions. I should warn you that there is one question I will not answer, which is the precise location and the real name of Milao. I’m sure you understand why.

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