The Man Who Quit Money: Of Parasites and Men
Mark Sundeen's book, The Man Who Quit Money, has been called "a thought-provoking and respectful account of one man's search for meaning in a world preoccupied with money and the things it buys" (Deseret News 3/10/12). The A.V. Club website says, "This inspiring biography follows a Utah man who gave up Capitalism and commerce in favor of a roving lifestyle." And the protagonist of the book, Daniel Suelo, has been called everything from a "caveman" to "a kind of contemporary prophet, a thought-provoking blogger who identifies with Jesus and Thoreau."
I contend that Suelo is no less dependent on money than anyone else in the industrialized world. He is neither a caveman nor a prophet, but an ingenious fraud.
This dewy-eyed narrative begins with an account of how Suelo, a middle-aged guy from a middle-class family, simply gave away all of his money and in 2000 began a life journey through which he "has not earned, received, or spent a single dollar." Sundeen emphasizes the point that Suelo "did not pay taxes, or accept food stamps, welfare, or any other form of government handout." The book, a paean to anti-capitalist axioms, cleverly skirts the actuality that Suelo lives as a parasite, scavenging at the fringes of society and benefiting from the money and achievement of others everywhere he goes.
Mark Sundeen's portraiture elevates vagabond Suelo to an unearned status of spiritual eminence. A worshipful tone prevails throughout The Man Who Quit Money. Suelo is almost, but not quite "a monk." Sundeen is convinced that Suelo "is driven by spiritual beliefs and longings." But the book manages to ply its post-religious, PC verbiage carefully by assuring readers that Suelo is not "associated with any church." Sundeen would have you believe that Daniel Suelo is the quintessential unemployed, victimized-by-capitalism, enlightened-but-not-religious, dumpster-diving, good-hearted hobo -- a global spiritual adviser next-door.
The façade of Suelo's "moneylessness" becomes nothing less than comical when the reader learns that he haunts public libraries in the towns through which he drifts so he can blog and meet people via Facebook. (Does Sundeen or Suelo himself care that the taxed earnings of men and women who actually work for a living are paying for his blogging and Facebooking activities?) He enjoys the central air conditioning, padded chairs, desks, computers, internet access, books, walls, public restrooms, toilet paper, and water fountains he finds and uses freely in these libraries. Everything upon which his activities depend has been invented, developed, and built by people working for corporations. Daniel Suelo has not quit money in the libraries where he blogs and networks. He is simply mooching off the comforts and technological innovations created and paid for by others.
The Man Who Quit Money intimates that Daniel Suelo is often troubled by mental and physical ailments. Depression and fatigue appear to be the most persistent of his problems. But Suelo is not the pure spirit that some gullible readers might like to take him for. He glibly experiments with religion and spirituality in a muddy amalgam of orthodoxy and New-Age weltanschauung. Nor is Suelo politically neutral. Although his metaphysical and economic philosophies intermingle, a few insights distilled from the book reveal that Suelo's "opposition to money" grows out of a painfully naive and fractured understanding of the capitalist free-market system. Suelo scorns capitalism as he compares money to addictive substances: "But I don't see heroin or meth as evil or good, either," he opines. "Which is more addictive and debilitating, money or meth?"
Sundeen claims that "[i]n Suelo's mind, the problem is far more ancient than the Fed or the WTO or even the invention of currency. Our reliance on money is akin to Original Sin, or the hubris of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods."
To the reader who is acquainted with basic economic premises, Sundeen's attempt to form a coherent theoretical statement out of Suelo's contortions in thought, and roustabout travails on the road, is at best laughable and at worst absurd. The simple truth that humans are traders is abandoned in the pages of this literary chimera. It seems that Suelo is unable to discern that money is simply the means by which modern people trade value for value in the marketplace. Money is the token of agency that represents the relative worth people place on the things they want, out of necessity or caprice. The strength and longevity of the free market comes from the liberating capacity of a person to give something of value to another for something of equal value.
The failure of Suelo to grasp these economic rudiments is troubling. One may be tempted to attribute Suelo's inability to reason out even the most obvious matters to his mental troubles. Another conclusion may be that at some point Suelo was indoctrinated in anti-capitalist theories. The geographical pattern in Suelo's background and present travels, from Boulder, Colorado, to the blue Northwestern states, may affirm the suspicion that Suelo is a hard-core liberal ideologue.
In the book, Suelo crows, "I know it is possible to live with zero money. Abundantly." The truth is that Suelo has discovered how to eschew his own fiscal responsibility and sponge off the money, substance, and innocent generosity of others. Sundeen's book, and the fact that it is so popular, is symptomatic of a larger delusion that grips large sectors of American culture. The asinine notion that a man can "quit money" is part of a larger political dictum that says capitalism is evil and should be rejected as both the philosophy and the system of American commerce. These notions are false, and they have failed whenever implemented on a large scale. But these fanciful notions, embodied in the title of the book, have traction, especially within the leftist enclaves haunted by Suelo: Moab, UT; Marin County, CA; Seattle, WA, for starters. The fallacies which allow Daniel Suelo to be defined as a man who has no need for money are the same fallacies that fuel Socialist policies in leftist enclaves across the country, as well as in Washington, D.C.
The rational reader must conclude that everything Suelo touches, uses, or scavenges has been imagined, planned, built, and purchased by someone else. The hat on his head, regardless of the fact that he pulled it out of a dumpster, was designed, sewn, and decorated by others. The machine used to sew together the felt from which the hat was made was invented and operated by others. The parts of that machine, from the motor to the pulleys to the needles to the presser foot, were each manufactured by corporations. The parts of the machine were made largely of metals that were pulled out of the earth in the form of ore. They were smelted, molded, and machined into precision elements of a single, sophisticated unit, created through the voluntary cooperation of capitalists at every level of the economic construct, in the pursuit of profit.
Daniel Suelo never gave up money. He may live without an income, but he is nonetheless a parasite sustained by the minds, muscles, and money of others. Mark Sundeen's book is the work of an idealist who has bought in to the fantastical idea that a man surrounded and sustained by a complex social framework, even though he has voluntarily chosen not to pull his own weight, could actually live without money.