Showing that spend and tax has long been true..

This is a paper from 2013 by Christine A. Desan of Harvard Law School, ‘Creation Stories: Myths About the Origins of Money’ which I have just discovered and in effect confirms that spend and tax was also around in the era of tally sticks.

She tells us that England after the Romans left:

According to historians of early money, the use of money broke down in Britain after the Roman army left and administrative connections ended.

In fact she suggests:

The conditions in England after the departure of Roman forces suggest the terrain on which we should look for money’s creation. For individuals, the circumstances sharply circumscribed trading. Production of wares moved to the household: ceramics were hand-made there; clothing was woven family by family.

This is a great indication of what happens when money use breaks down – don’t tell the Tory libertarians, but it is actually every man for himself. Money, it turns out is a co-operative concept.

She continues:

Making money, a phenomenon almost impossible to explain if we limit our field of vision to individuated exchange, becomes easily comprehensible once we enlarge that lens to include the collective activity that links individuals and communities.

Money is created when a stakeholder [the term she uses for a ruler or chief] uses his or her singular location at the hub of a community to mark the disparate contributions of individuals in a common way.

Further on:

Entailing value in a token allows a stakeholder to command resources with great effect. The stakeholder can “buy” what it needs when it needs them, paying in receipts that it takes back later. In effect, the stakeholder gains the capacity to spend and tax in money as it makes money. The point here is that a stakeholder greatly expands its capacity when it can mobilize resources as it chooses. Money, it will turn out, is an enormously effective mode of governing.

So here we have SPEND and TAX. In that order. In spending, the tax was implicit.

Indeed the whole basis of what is called money is the undertaking that when rulers get you to do something you know that the token they have given to you will be acceptable for what the rulers require in return, which we call tax, although then it may then have been homage, tithes or fees.

Once this token (I think we can assume that in this era it was usually tally sticks) was issued and acceptable by the ruler of the day it became exchangeable as money – because everyone in that community recognised it as of value.

…money is a method of representing and moving resources within a collective….

Our rent seeking friends turn out to be collectivists as well…


    1. Peter May -

      Quite right – sorry. I’ve now edited

  1. Andrew -

    Other links are or

    I’ve not read the paper from end to end, but she does not mention tally sticks. I think she is talking about Anglo-Saxon rulers minting early shillings (in gold) and sceats and pennies (in silver) from about the 7th century, to replace or supplement the barter and tribute/service economy that developed after the Romans withdrew.

    She seems to be arguing against a bottom-up “creation myth” – that money starts as the barter exchange in markets of convenient discs of valuable metals – and proposing instead a “top down” model, in which coins are issued by a central authority as tokens of value.

    You sometimes see a similar process when official coinage runs short – for example, the Canadian and Australian “holey dollar”.

    1. Peter May -

      You’re right she doesn’t mention tally sticks – only tokens – sometimes in wood. It seems to me that one (wom)man’s token is another’s tally stick…
      My take is that when the Romans withdrew – a specie currency wasn’t there to replace it in either physical or technological terms. Hence movers and shakers issued tokens when they wanted stuff, which could be used to pay tax/homage..

      1. Andrew -

        True, on page 39, she talks about the possibility that “Anglo-Saxon kings may have experimented with money made of wood, revitalized old Roman tokens, or
        tried other ways of recording credits, leaving no permanent record” – for example the exchange of tangible “gifts” representing obligations.

        I’d be interested to hear if any wooden artefacts have survived from that period which are interpreted as records of obligation rather than for example counting aids.

        Other examples might be the personal cheques that were accepted on trust and circulated as “money” in Ireland when the banks were closed for six months in 1970; German “notgeld” after the First World War; or this fascinating thing, wooden dollars (looks like a LETS to me):

  2. Peter May -

    What an interesting link – thank you. It begs further questions …they say it’s an economic stimulus but I’m not sure why – is it that the local council is just increasing its spending or is the idea that more money stays local? When the trader accepts a wooden dollar in return for purchases what does he do with it? Can he pay local taxes with it or does he go to the town hall to exchange it for paper dollars?

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