The original motivation of Christine Desan may be indicative…

……and even probably many of us all and perhaps of some of society in general…Christine Desan in discussing her book said she initially “majored in religion and sociology of religion”. The book itself ‘Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism’ is unfortunately expensive to buy but at least it is cheaper as a download.

So she has ended up dissecting money instead of religion – certainly today’s parallels are quite similar…

(And certainly I feel that money is actually today’s rather better bet…)

Actually, as I’ve said, that’s indicative…

She was:

someone who really [originally] thought that the economy and commercial matters were not as important as other human drivers of experience and existence….

….If I could understand the way money worked, then I would basically be understanding the medium for the market. It seemed to me that maybe money was the institution that would allow me to understand the market as a legal project and to take a critical approach to the market itself.

I think that her conclusions are good – as long as we do not fall into the trap of the ‘market’ meaning ‘capitalist market’. That is now what we all think of as the market, but in fact, there are others – in both China and the old USSR for example and also, after all, the black market. Unless of course that is flourishing capitalism….

I do agree (my emphasis) that:

I think we’ve learned to ignore money and that that’s an important part of our current modernity. We’ve learned to ignore how it actually operates. We worry about it, we obsess over it as a thing, but we don’t try to get inside of it and understand it…..

…..basically, that money can be designed in different ways, that communities have designed it in different ways, and that politics and social life change with those changes in design. In a nutshell, at the end of the 17th century, and in the 18th century, the British improvised a series of changes in the way their money worked that put private investors in charge of money design and that change had huge ramifications. On the one hand, it broke through old constraints on the amount of money in circulation. At the same time, it elevated the rights of creditors in new ways. And that really restructured governance and the economy.

In fact money became much more fixed, with both the understandably scientific Isaac Newton at the Mint and also with the influence of Locke’s arguably misunderstood philosophy.

I’ve already suggested that we actually arrive at the conclusion that money became a public private partnership with investors providing it in return for printing it on behalf of the state.

Christine Desan adds:

money, it turns out, really is a contract. It’s a kind of credit contract.

Of course – that is the promise to pay on the banknote!

A promise signed by the chief cashier of the Bank of England

And contracts for credit, for things owed, can be made in different ways. The reason money can be designed in different ways is that you can make an agreement to pay in different ways and with different conditions and characteristics. And changing that kind of monetary contract is what communities do when they’re redesigning money. To get really specific, what the book does is take a trip back in time to understand early kinds of money as a contract and then compare them to the new modern design. The early design, the design that’s kind of iconic and that we all think we understand, is commodity money, or the silver penny.

Otherwise known a ‘specie money’ where the value is roughly intrinsic to the coin produced.

And that is largely the late and great David Graeber’s indication of monetary compensation for injuries.

In a subsequent blog, looking at the same Christine Desan’s interview we will see how we can progress….


  1. Schofield -

    The key I think to understanding Christine Desan is as you suggest she sees the Golden Rule to be superior to the Invisible Hand and her interest in money’s evolution is a way of tracking, almost like a hunter, how the former is progressing.

    1. Peter May -

      Oh dear, I may have suggested it, but I don’t even know what the golden rule is!

  2. Jim Osborne -

    “I think we’ve learned to ignore money and that that’s an important part of our current modernity. We’ve learned to ignore how it actually operates. We worry about it, we obsess over it as a thing, but we don’t try to get inside of it and understand it….”

    This is not true of early 20th century America. The ordinary workers and farmers understood very well indeed. The story of the popular struggle for banking reform is told in Christopher Shaw’s book “Money, Power and Politics”.

    Where the popular movement evaporated was after FDR’s New Deal and WW2 with the emergence of the progressive centralised state and with it the “welfare state”. It effectively anaesthetised the working class and led to the poliitcal apathy, a pervasive dependency culture and a lack of understanding of money and other aspects of the economy that we see today. Zach Carter comes to the same conclusion in his book about Keynes and the history of Keynesianism “The Price of Peace”

    This is the challenge that money modernisers now face.

    1. Peter May -

      We should be working on fertile ground now then. The trouble is, I think for many the struggle for existence means they don’t have the time..

      1. Jim Osborne -

        The difficulty we face is that the ground has been depleted of all nutrients and is not fertile at all. There is a big awareness challenge to overcome. Our education system has dulled the minds of our people so the easy answers of the far right seem more inviting… the intellectual desert of Trumpism. We will get there eventually but not without a lot of pain and suffering if we fail to raise awareness and understanding. This blog has a role to play and engagement with it could be a handy indicator of progress. Never give up I say.

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