Auroville's "Utopia": A Town without Money or Politics?
A video by David Wolfe about the town of Auroville, India is being shared around social media again and the town is presented as a self-sustaining, utopian paradise void of such unseemly hindrances as money, religion, and politics.
Unfortunately, like nearly everything circulating in the meme-feed these days, if it seems too good to be true it is. In this case, the information presented by the video maker should be rated by PolitiFact as a “pants on fire lie.” Digging beneath the surface, however, reveals that the City of the Dawn established in 1968 by a person called “The Mother” is rife with predictable economic realities that border on hilarities when compared to the presentation in David Wolfe’s 60-second Facebook video.
I'll only address Wolfe's claims here and won't even go into the matters of corruption and crime which have become serious problems in Auroville.
Auroville as a “Moneyless Society”
Theoretically, the only ways a society could exist without money would be a barter economy, void of any medium of exchange, or a complete command economy. A thorough perusal of Auroville's official website, however, reveals that neither of these hypothetical organizations fits Auroville’s situation, though redistribution of production is influenced by a central authority.
In fact, it can only be said that Auroville is cashless in the very narrowest of senses. “Cash” does not circulate. In the web site's low-budget slideshow chronicling the economic history of Auroville, “circulating money” had begun to be suppressed in 1975. Cash, as a private storable medium of exchange, was transferred into the supervision of the Auroville Maintenance Fund, or as the Aurovillian’s call it “the financial service.”
The financial service operates as a debit card system of personal accounts, where individual Aurovillians can spend their funds, either earned or awarded, on goods provided by the rest of the community. So the presentation of Auroville as a “moneyless society,” falls flat on its face. Money is indeed used to crudely calculate prices and to ration in some form or fashion resources within the community.
Another important note would be the fact that the Aurovillian Unity Fund receives 70% of its funding from outside Auroville. The town is hardly self-sustaining. Breaking those numbers down even farther in the most recent release of not-so complex or statistically rigorous data, we find that 23% of the Unity Fund comes directly from the Government of India, 22% from Indian citizens, and 25% from foreign donors. These donors could either be visitors, or simply people who derive a satisfaction from donating to a cause they deem worthy. In short, the bulk of Auroville’s economy comes either from tax-levied governmental grants, and people who take delight in the novelty of Auroville’s stated vision (or perhaps, would rather not see its citizens starve or move away from the community).
Auroville as a “Politics-less Society”
Unfortunately for starry-eyed backers of utopia, Auroville is very much a political society. Following the death of "The Mother" in 1973, the Government of India began to take emergency measures regarding the governance of the township. Today, the Indian Government appoints the “Governing Board,” the city’s highest form of governance. The International Advisory Council is also appointed by the Indian Government, while the Resident’s Assembly consists of all the people in the township. The Resident’s assembly acts as an informal legislature, suggesting rule changes to the higher authority entities, and even having the power to grant and terminate citizenship.
Thus, even here, Auroville fails the test as a society devoid of politics.
Auroville as a Religion-less Society
While it may be true that the City of the Dawn is absent of any reverence to a particular deity, religion in the narrow sense, the values to which the community is founded upon and supposedly lives up to can be described as religious. Merriam Webster describes religion of having three definitions [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion]:
- The belief in god or a group of gods
- An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
- An interest, a belief, or an activity that is important to a person or a group.
Now, it must be conceded that it may very well be true that a god as a superhuman deity may not be worshipped within the confines of Auroville. However, the reverence to the “Mother’s” vision and ideas that the community tries to abide by can be described as religious. After all, a belief system that seeks to prescribe moral codes to abide by doesn’t necessarily need an almighty god to be considered religious.
As a religion-less society, Auroville most ably passes the test, as long as religion is confined only to a belief in a supernatural deity.
While Auroville is certainly an interesting human social experiment, the way it has been presented by public figures like David Wolfe is shamefully misleading. Auroville does indeed use money, engage in politics, and abide by a certain set of commonly held — some could say religious — beliefs (as well as the cultish ability to excommunicate and initiate members as the congregation sees fit).
After even a small amount of research, one discovers Auroville is not what it is presented as: a self-sustaining way out of economic reality. At best, it is an amusement park that the taxpayers of India and foreign Marxist-Utopist leaning donors nourish, while its “citizens” frantically try to figure out how to engage in economic calculation while half-heartedly suppressing market exchanges.
Christian Newman is a Mises University alumnus.