(Installment 12 of the autobiographical series, "Liters to the Black Bone.")
Money is an abstract tool, an iou, accounting trick, a medium of exchange, a way for socially disconnected members society to do things for one another. The way the tool works is to exchange credits for goods or services, people do or give something for one another and get anonymous IOUs in return that are redeemable anywhere. In the US, money is created by a centralized bank, the Fed. The currency is then 'minted', or protected and distributed by armed enforcers, the State.
Imagine the world we live in without money as a thought experiment. Hold everything constant except for the presence of money. Daily life in this experiment carries on without any other change or disruption. Go to the gas station, fill up, grab some snacks and road sodas, drive away. The people staffing the station are courteous, but no money exchanges hands. Go to work, do the job, go home. This vision is a gift economy, and in physical terms, it functions exactly as ours does today. This is already what we are doing, but in reality we have the metaphysical medium of money to make it work. Now, in the thought experiment, the metaphysical vacuum left by the absence of money is filled by a different form of capital, social capital.
The point of this is not to present a vision of utopia or an alternative. The vision is intentionally no different in physical reality than our present one. The point is to draw extremes. Our economy runs on a combination of social and material capital. Most things we do in exchange for money, but some things we do for social reasons. When you hold the door open for someone, that is an act of social capital (unless you are a door man.) When you bake a loaf of bread for the family without pay, social capital. An economy runs on a ratio of social and material capital. The higher this ratio is tilted toward the material capital of money, the more transparent an economy becomes from the perspective of banks and the state. The more transparent an economy, the easier to manipulate and control.
In an industrial, capitalist economy, the ratio is tilted highly in favor of money. These systems also tend to monetize social capital over time, until very little economic activity runs on social capital. It was once possible for a single income family to get by comfortably, one member took care of the social capital of the house, the other brought in material capital, together they had a nice lifestyle. Over time, this has shifted to where social capital buys so little that both members of a family unit have to work in the money economy. This favors the money men, who've likewise devised a system of finance and abstraction that puts a price - and fee - on every transaction. Nowadays, it costs money just to get money out of your account; cash back and ATM fees. The social capital of a teller counting your money and handing it over has been monetized at my bank. (passive voice in these affairs intentional).
As social capital devalues, social cohesion erodes. At a certain point, this begins to undermine the medium of money. As unrest increases, disruptions to the physical economy increase. One of the most subversive things you can do is give to another without asking for anything in return. Humans evolved as the most social of animals, who survived by working for one another. As members grew old an infirm, the younger members took care of them. The aged, in turn, offered life experience and wisdom, helping younger members avoid shiny bad ideas. Cutting people off from that experience is inherently destabilizing.
Some people have difficulty with money, and the close association with attaining basic needs tends to lead to an emotional attachment to money and ways to acquire it. Removed from an emotionally centered context, money is just one of many factors in play for the individual, one more variable to account for in the individual's equation of society. In reality, money is a non-entity, it is a medium. Money exists entirely in the abstract, it is a means to an end. Money is designed to support episodic transactions, to facilitate the social exchange of goods and services among members of a community, to stand in place of whatever is internal that manifests as human solidarity. What happens when there is no community? What happens when the money is all gone? A society of less than humans will not hold for long, but for how long?