Thursday, January 31, 2013

Money Wisdom #72

"The authors remarked that the people of the Congo valued the shells though they were of no use to them but only to trade with other Africans "who adore the sea and call these shells, which their country does not afford, 'God's children', for which reason they look upon them as treasure and take them in exchange for any sort of goods they have. Among them he is the richest and happiest who has most of them. (Angelo and Carli p.158)"

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.167

Money Wisdom #71

"Slaves were a most important medium of exchange and standard of value. Their value was kept steady by the fact that a slave was always equal to so many pounds of meat. 'If he fell sick and could not work for you, you could eat him. (Johnson Vol II p.790)"

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.165

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A toe-in-the-water Ramble on Einzig's Primitive Money

Actually I'm probably about knee-deep into Einzig's book at the moment as the Money Wisdom quotes will testify. I will write a 'serious' review as I did for Desmonde's book, but I need to have a ramble first.

I'll try to keep it brief this time. (Yeah, right)

As with many of the Money books I read, Einzig stumbles across THE question at an early stage. THE question being 'What is Money?' of course. Now, as most authors tend to, Einzig takes the question 'What is Money?' and switches it around to 'What do we mean by Money?' From there its only a quick jump to the rather more comfortable 'How shall we define Money?'

As you know, I'm still stuck on the first question in that little series.

To give him credit though Einzig seems very aware of the power of definition. You may remember my key criticism of Seaford's Money and the Early Greek Mind is that he sets his terms of reference too early and too narrowly. Einzig avoids this;

"At the very outset of his enquiry the author had to face a particularly difficult dilemma. He had to decide whether to arrive at a preconceived definition [of Money] before embarking on his ethnological and historical research, or whether to allow the definition to emerge subsequently from the material collected. This dilemma which confronts the monetary historian or anthropologist engaged in research on primitive money is clearly stated by Laum in his Heiliges Geld. He points out that unless the meaning of the term "money" is defined in advance, students may extend their research over objects which could not properly be described as primitive money, or they would omit others which should have been included. On the other hand, if they accept any of the innumerable definitions put forward by economists, their research becomes both restricted and prejudiced by that preconceived definition. Most anthropologists considered the first alternative the lesser evil...... As for economists, they usually simply proceed on the basis of their favourite definition of modern money.
In this book an attempt has been made to reconcile the two methods..... It is not until after the presentation of the factual evidence that he attempts to solve the problem of finding a definition on the basis of that evidence."
 Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.33 & 34

I hate the way he speaks in the third person, but anyway so far so good. Well, much better than most.

So what's my problem? Well, just as soon as we bite into the meat of the book Einzig seemingly arbitrarily introduces another word into play; currency. If you're going to take such care about your definition (or not) of money, you can't just chuck in a word like currency. Although to be fair to Einzig everyone does. I did a couple of posts on it last year Money, Currency and Bitcoin and particularly relevant is This is Currency, that's Value, What's Money?

Now, I've already had a good skim of the final 'Theoretical' section of Einzig. There is reference to the difference between money and currency. He says:

"Money" is both currency and credit. The name "currency" implies objects of physical existence in current circulation. Credit-money consists of documents representing a definite amount of money. p.336

and also...

While the term "currency" implies concrete objects in current circulation, the term "money" includes objects which have no concrete existence but are "abstract", "fictitious" or "ideal units, and also credit which though expressed in currency, has no concrete existence. p335

Apart from the fact that these statements seem to contradict one another, Einzig appears to have got himself in a terrible meta-physical muddle here. It seems like he's saying the stuff in my bank account isn't currency. He shouldn't feel bad though, Money does that. You try to fit it within a subject/object metaphysics and bits of it stick out all over the place. Its not just stuff, and its not just not-stuff.

Now you know my take on this don't you? I've said that currency is a subset of Money (which in a way tallies with what Einzig says) but I can see objections to the idea of a subset. It implies that Money and currency share some 'essence'. And I'm not sure that's too helpful. I have to refer you to my description of money here; Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and can enumerate certain relations through currency.

I certainly see currency as a more 'earth-bound' phenomenon. Some of the best reading I've done on currency/money has come from the internet in the last few years. Here's one piece A Broader Definition of Currency by @EliGothill from last year which discusses @Artbrock 's ideas on currency (and the metacurrency project). There's a few others on Eli's site too one or two of which I commented on - its well worth having a good look around. Basically though, I disagree with Eli and specifically the view that sees Money as a type of currency (Art uses the term current-see to describe a current that makes value visible).

It is heart warming though to know that this problem - the difference between Money and Currency - is being noticed and considered. In all honesty I think Einzig just missed it. It's easily done. I still do myself in my writing from time to time. But in terms of thinking about Money its a massive issue. Sweeping it under the carpet by saying 'oh they mean the same thing' is not an option. Because clearly, they do not mean the same thing.

Money is a much bigger word. Currency has a specificity to it. However, using the word currency has a 'technical' aura. Traders and Banker - the priests of Money -  talk in terms of currency. The man in the street talks about Money. But just as the most Bible bashing Priest can no more claim to know God than you, Bankers, Economic Historians, Technologists don't know anything more about Money just because they refer to it as currency. Its a wizard's curtain.

This is what I think is the reality* behind that curtain. Its tricky to describe, but I'll start off as precisely as I can and then loosen up a little to make it easier to explain.

Money mediates value. What it mediates through, is mind(s)** It is Value, Mind and Money that give rise to objects. What is not an object, we call a subject. We have an arbitrary term we apply to an object dependent on our perception of its 'moneyness'***. That term is currency. Like Money, 'Moneyness' can not properly be defined, but it can be described as combining object and subject in a form we refer to as currency. This might seem contradictory; describing currency as an object, and then as both object and subject. But this is the reality of currency. It is both symbol (subject) and thing (object), social relation and commodity, liberator and oppressor. The key is that currency comes into being only after we recognise it as an object. Within a community of mind, thoughts, feelings and emotions can not become manifest without an object to which to attach. A tribe is not a tribe without a totem. 
All objects are currency. They all 'contain' a degree of 'moneyness' (they don't, but this gives you a sense of what I mean). The same argument can be made in respect of commodity. Both terms are in essence arbitrary. 
The common view is that currency arose as a product of the subjective; either as a symbol of social relations made manifest by its use in exchange, or as a thing being exchanged which was made manifest by our demands for it. (The most common story is that price, determined by supply and demand within a market, produces currency). This is incorrect.  
Money exists outside of our subject/object conception of the universe. It is Value mediated by Money through Mind that creates the subjects and objects of our existence. 
If you think Money is currency, if you think that things have an intrinsic value, if you think that Mind is brain you might think the above nonsense. But I'm less with impressed with how materialism explains things. I'd rather follow the tangle of metaphysics thinking about Money creates, than just deny it.

Anyway, I've rambled off again. Let me try and give you a paragraph of something a little more earth-bound and solid. This might sound almost political. It's not meant to.

Currency is the stage for a play of social relations and power. It exists within and partly because of a set of social structures, of ways of thinking about things. It exists within its own circumstances. That's why those of an anarchist/libertarian persuasion like gold or bitcoin. The later exists within a more limited set of structures than any in our history. But it is still impossible, even for bitcoin, to escape being a stage. A platform for the play of social relations and power. It is currency, not Money. Freedom to create a new history comes from writing the play, not acting on the stage. The only possible future, and the only future possible is one in which we understand Money differently to how we do today.

And finally, just for the sake of completeness, I better remind you (and myself) where this ramble started. Einzig and his Primitive Money. You won't mind that in my head I call it Primitive Currency? That way I think me and Einzig will get along just fine for the rest of his rather marvelous book. After all, it was one of those amazing books written in the shadow of the second world war - like Polanyi's Great Transformation, or Hayek's The Road to Serfdom - that share an idea that a deeper understanding of Money is good for mankind.

*  What follows in actually more than anything else a description of reality.
**  There's no way to know if its mind - as in we all share in the mind of God, universal consciousness or whatever - or minds - as in all sentient beings have their own separate mind. We've never figured out the problem of the one and the many but there is an excellent chapter on it - and its relationship to money in Seaford's book. Note: I do not say human mind.
***  The idea of money as an adjective rather than a noun is explored by JP Koning on his blog at

Monday, January 28, 2013

Money Wisdom #70

"When an African gives coins in exchange for goods he thinks he is selling the coin against payment in grain, or cotton cloth. He does not ask the merchant how many francs (or shillings) the goods cost. He asks how much rice or calico or sugar he is prepared to give for his coin. And the price of the unit of measure remains always the same; it is the size of the measure that fluctuates."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.156

Money Wisdom #69

[Re Slavery in Nigeria circa C19th] "Several authors blamed for the existence of slavery the absence of an easily portable currency of high value. ....The view was often expressed in those days that the introduction of coins would go a long way towards doing away with slavery. There can be no doubt that the penetration of modern money was in fact helpful in that direction."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.149

Money Wisdom #68

"...Money [is a] social institution which in primitive as well as modern communities provides the incentive to produce goods beyond the immediate requirements."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.36

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Money Wisdom #67

"Adherents of the classical economic doctrine of laisser-faire present the unspoilt savage as the true personifier of the type of Economic Man. ....Yet the study of our ethnological evidence, and even to some extent of our historical evidence, clearly indicates that this picture is entirely false.

.....Another extreme misinterpretation of the primitive character and the primitive system is represented by the theory put forward by Socialist writers, according to whom the original system of mankind was Communism... .....what is often loosely described as original Communism very often in amounted in reality to ownership by the chief of the tribe and not common ownership by members of tribe. Indeed, while in many instances the prevailing system is distinctly Communistic, in other instances private ownership is carried to extremes unknown in the most highly individualistic modern communities."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.28 & 29

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where does the $ sign originate?

The short answer to this question is that nobody knows. There is a good summary and links here on Roy Davies' (son of Glyn) website (scroll down to the heading "The Dollar Sign $ - Theories of its Origins").

However, one idea that Roy doesn't consider is that the origin of the dollar sign comes from the Christiann monogram which combines the three letters IHS In Hoc Signo; a Latin phrase meaning 'By this sign'. It was stamped on things like communion wafers and conveys the idea that the power of God its 'transferred' or 'accessible' through the item bearing the monogram. In other words, officially stamping IHS on something made it sacred.

This idea about the origin of the $ sign comes from Marc Shell. I've been dipping into his wonderful & beautiful Art and Money. Here are a couple of images he uses to illustrate the idea.

Firstly you can see in this carving of a chalice the letter IHS appear at the centre of the sun-like motif appearing from the cup (Shell describes it as irradiating water). Notice also the sheaves of wheat around the chalice. Desmonde makes great play of these in Magic, Myth and Money as a symbol of fertility. Shell's chapter on the Holy Grail in Money, Language and Thought tells us just how significant the idea of the grail is. It represents boundlessness. We don't know that the Grail was a chalice, but of course that's how most of us think about it. The key thing in its representation is that it's ever-giving. An infinite source for all things (which incidentally is how us Pirsigians describe Value)

And then this showing the three letters intertwining to form a monogram which something which looks very like a $ sign.

None of this proves anything, of course. But it does make you wonder. 

And finally... I have some vague memory of this art installation being in the news. Although maybe I'm inventing it, I'm not sure. The piece was by Cildo Meireles and is called How to build Cathedrals. Up top are two thousand bones, down below are six hundred thousand coins, and connecting them is a vertical column of eight hundred Eucharist wafers (not sure if they're stamped IHS !)

This image is from Cave to Canvas where you can read more about the artwork.

I think artists are much closer to understanding money than economists.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Money Wisdom #66

"In particular I realized the need for laying stress on the non-commercial origin of money and on the possibility of the existence of credit before money, of money before barter and of barter before private property or division of labour in the generally accepted sense of these terms."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) introduction vi

Money Wisdom #65

"As far as possible I sought to avoid obscurities, even at the risk of failing to impress some academic economists who are inclined to regard as shallow and superficial any argument which is not obscure and over-involved." 

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) introduction vii

Monday, January 21, 2013

Money Wisdom #64

"If there is one conclusion that emerges forcefully from the examination of the evidence regarding the role of primitive money, it is that the true meaning of money can only be grasped if it is viewed not as a mere technical device but as a social institution of fundamental importance."

Paul Einzig Primitive Money (1948) p.456

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Review of Magic, Myth and Money by William H Desmonde

Here's my 'sensible' review of William H Desmonde's Magic, Myth and Money. I've put it on Amazon here. If you like it please take a moment to pop over to amazon and 'like it'. Thanks.

The subtitle to William H Desmonde's 1962 Magic, Myth and Money is The Origin of Money in Religious Ritual. As such Desmonde draws on the work of German polymath Bernhard Laum who explored the idea that currency was born of religious ritual in his 1924 work Heiliges Geld (Holy Money). Desmonde's contribution is to set Laum's idea of tokens arising from the sharing of meat from ritualistic slaughter within a Freudian context. Specifically Desmonde draws on Freud's later works on society, in particular Totem and Taboo. And in doing so he offers a view on currency very much at odds with that espoused by economists. Desmonde doesn't even consider barter in his explanation for the development of currency.

The book is very readable (especially for those with a familiarity of Freud's ideas) and at 178 pages, it's a short read. I found a few reviews of the book (on JSTOR) contemporary with its publication, from various academic journals (sociological or anthropological) and all of them are generally positive (albeit with some reservations relevant to each reviewer's particular area of academic expertise). Richard F Curtis in the American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 68, No. 4 [Jan., 1963], pp. 497-498) tells us that "Desmonde performs a real service in pointing up the relevance of social science classics to one of the central moral issues of our times."

What the contemporary reviewers seem to miss about the book is its uniqueness. I've been a fan of Freud for 15 years and have had an interest in Money and the origins of currency all my life. I only came to know of the existence of Desmonde's book when I noticed it mentioned in a footnote in Marc Shell's Money, Language and Thought (p.42 n49 & n50) (a somewhat obscure book itself) which I read last year. I would take some blame myself for missing it for so long but I have made extensive inquiries about Freudian influenced views on the origin of currency and Money. Although there is some work on 'Anal' characteristics and the propensity to save, and of course some gossip about Keynes' relationship with Strachey (Freud's translator), I had not found anything that tried to meld Freud's later work with an explanation of the origin of currency. Magic, Myth and Money attempts to do this. That's why it is unique.

However, I wouldn't say that Desmonde provides a wholly convincing origin story, even for someone such as myself who is sympathetic to Freud's theories. Desmonde's book does not have sufficient rigor to support his contentions in a meaningful way. Nor does it ground itself in evidence about primitive currency to help to create solid story about currency developing from the shared meat of ritual sacrifice to coinage. A harsh charge would be to say that what Desmonde offers is merely pop-psychoanlysis beefed up with a sprinkling of aphorism. I wouldn't go that far, myself. I think it more likely that Desmonde struck a balance between academic rigor and readability. It's a balance that doesn't seem to have worked for him. The book was neither a best seller, nor held in high regard in academia.

Nevertheless this book, as it stands, still represents a unique contribution to theories about the Origin of Currency. It's an essential text for anyone interested in the history of Money. You can rest assured that you'll never have read anything like it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Money Wisdom #63

"According to Freud's Totem and Taboo hypothesis, the animal sacrifice, from which ancient coinage arose, stemmed from a primordial Oedipus situation."

William H Desmonde Magic. Myth and Money (1962) p.162

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Money Wisdom #62

"The royal personage was filled with a magic potency which carried over into all his doings, and every object he came in contact with overflowed with his power.  ....Coins, therefore, originally served as charms possessing magical powers. The use of coins as amulets is very well known, the possessor of the coin believing himself charmed against sickness, poverty, and danger. In the middle Ages this belief was highly prevalent. Holy coins were often distributed at the church festivals in the Middle Ages."

William H Desmonde Magic. Myth and Money (1962) p.125

Monday, January 14, 2013

Money Wisdom #61

"Thus there entered into exchanges between members of the community symbolic forms, whose original significance in religious rite was, with the passage of time, completely forgotten. These miniature substitutes for the sacrificial animal or for the ritual implements of the sacred meal were therefore the predecessors, and probably the original forms of coined money."

William H Desmonde Magic. Myth and Money (1962) p.119

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Toe-in-the-Water Ramble on Magic Myth and Money

I've been putting off reading William H Desmonde's Magic, Myth and Money. I expect that once I make a proper start on it plans, domestic duties, and now Christmas preparations will have to be put on hold.

You're Making it Up

I've already put up a couple of Money Wisdom quotes from it (Nos #57 & #58) and I've barely opened the book up to check all the pages are there. My excitement stems from the fact that it uses a psychoanalytical framework to answer the question What is Money? I wish I'd known of its existence 15 years ago. Funny how these things remain hidden. I'm quite used to reading about the relationship psychoanalysis sees between Money and Shit, and 'anal' characteristics. I'd never really found them convincing - Money seems too big and too remarkable a phenomenon to be explained in this way. But a psychoanalytical perspective that draws on a broader view - the sort Freud gives in Totem and Taboo or Civilisation and its Discontents - now, that's my cup of tea.


You might have read this piece where I briefly looked at the idea that Money was 'invented'. I've also done a few other things (and want to do a few more) on the Economic life of Florence the Jack Russell. I ask if bones are a Dog's Gold. Whilst you may greet that idea with a wry smile, there are plenty of 'serious' experiments carried out by doctors in white coats which examine economic behaviour in monkeys.

Anyway, let me give you this quote:

"For money, in all its varied, mysterious, and abstract forms, is our own creation, and has no meaning apart from the needs and desires of men."

William H Desmonde Magic, Myth and Money (1962)

It might be fair and accurate to make such a claim about currency. Note, I say might. But making it about Money? That's unjustified and unnecessary. Why make such an assumption? Why not just keep the question of creation open? Desmonde has made a rod for his own back.

Now, if you're finding the suggestion Money wasn't created by man a bit weird, try to think about it a bit differently. I'm not talking about it in a kind of David-Icke-lizards-and-aliens way. I'm just saying that as a phenomenon Money might not be the creation of the human mind. It's not that radical. Do you think for example Love or Hate are 'our own creation'? Or are they part of the experience of sentience? Something for example that an animal might experience. Or what about something less abstract? Like Fire? Is that 'our own creation'? Or is it a discovery?

My view simply put, is that currency helped us to connect to Money.

Now to be fair to Desmonde, he's not alone. This assumption that Money is a creation of the human mind has been made in everything I've ever read about Money. Most of the time it is entirely implicit. You may think that might force me to examine my own ideas - and it does - but more so, it makes me ask the question 'Why do you think Money is a human creation'?

(Btw, I think the reason that we like to believe that Money is a human creation is because it helps us feel in control of our destiny. To imagine Money is outside these boundaries is too scary.)

So, at the very least we should mark the idea that we 'created' money as an assumption. There is, after all, no evidence to support that view.

Accordingly my (latest quasi-technical) description of Money doesn't require a creation story; Money is an aspect of reality that mediates Value and enumerates certain relations through currency.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a ramble. So far its been more like a yomp across hostile metaphysical terrain. That's the thing about Money, it's up there in the most abstract mind-bending metaphysical high ground and down here too, in the little mundane things that make up everyday life. Those little things can be revealing too, though.

A Small Dog and her Bone

Florence hadn't had any bones for ages. Wife (and Son when he's back from Uni) grumble about me giving her bones. They say it makes her aggressive. This is plainly nonsense. Florence is my wife's dog. I've tried explaining to her (Florence not my wife) that as the Alpha male, it's me she should regard as the leader of our pack. I'm the biggest, strongest and hairiest. However, my rational arguments have fallen on deaf ears. So I live with a grudging acceptance that to Florence, my wife is the leader of the pack and I am merely a competitor for said leader's affections.

Anyway, as I'm want to do occasionally, I broke the rules. I'd popped across the road to the butcher's to buy some bacon for my lunch and small piece of steak for my supper. For some reason, I decided to ask him if he had any dog bones..... well, I nearly asked him that. We shared the joke about him not selling dog, which must happen every day in every butcher's shop across the country and beyond. The butcher popped into his freezer and pulled out a bag of small bones.

When I returned home, I began to fry the bacon - the smell of which drew Florence to the kitchen. "Ah, Florence," I said "I have a nice surprise for you." I pulled out a bone and held it to her, for her to take in her mouth. She just looked at me unimpressed. So I put it on the floor infront of her and put the rest of the bagged-up bones in the freezer.

I was a little surprised that she wasn't more enthusiastic about the bone. In fact I was a bit miffed. I knew buying the bones would get me a stern look from the wife at the very least. I felt that I should be rewarded for my acceptance of this risk with some doggie enthusiasm. I wasn't expecting excited yelping, but a wag of the tail would be appreciated.

Later I was in the kitchen preparing the evening meal. The dog's bone was untouched on the floor. On hearing my wife's return from work, Florence ran downstairs to give her a brief excited greeting then immediately went to her bone, picked it up tail wagging furiously, and took it to my wife.

"What have you got there", my wife asked Florence. This caused Florence to bow her head, tail down but still wagging, and shiver with excitement. My wife then reached out her hand so it was underneath the bone, ready to catch it. "Give" said my wife. And sure enough Florence dropped the bone into her hand. My wife briefly inspected the bone, said how nice it looked and what a lucky girl Florence was, and told her to "Take it".  Florence did so, took the bone off to beside her bed, and proceed to gnaw at it for the the entire evening.

Florence's display of enthusiasm and love for her bone, must have ameliorated my Wife's annoyance at my flouting of the bone-buying-ban because no mention was made of my blatant non-conformity.

The Discovery of Currency

A small dog and her bone, and the idea that currency connects us to money, are just a few hop, skip and a jump away from some very big ideas indeed.

You may have to close your eyes and hold my hand for this bit.

I believe Florence gets 'meaning' from her behaviour around the bone. And I also think she anticipates that this meaning is shared with us. You could parade as many white-coated scientist to persuade me that this isn't so, you could talk about genes, and Pavlov's dog but in that moment of exchange, when Florence, ears down, tail down tight over her rear-end, but wagging quickly at the tip, gave the bone to my wife, I know the act has meaning. I can't provide you with an adequate explanation of how I know. I can only tell you that I believe it more strongly than I believe in the description of life offered by Genetics, or in the explanation Physics provides for the Birth of the Universe, or in the descriptions of Reality provided by Philosophy.

Somehow the 'meaning' is shared between Florence and me. We may interpret it different ways - I may anthropomorphosise it, she may "canine-pomorphosise" it - but the crucial thing is that somewhere underneath our interpretations is the same meaning (or, more precisely, the same Value). The bone - acting as a proto-currency - is something which helps to make this explicit. It marks the fact that 'meaning' has been shared. (This echoes the ideas of Laumian theory of the Origins of Money)

And, honestly, I think we all have mundane moments of this type of knowing. Of a certainty greater than the sum of human knowledge. It's not a rare thing. It behind every opinion, it's in the things we stand up for, it's seed of our morality.

This seed of certainty that accompanies shared 'meaning' seems intimately, inherently linked to Money. It is what we desire of currency.

What does it mean to be certain?

Certain knowledge is a funny thing. I've generally found that the more I look into a subject the less certain my knowledge about it becomes. Knowledge seems to suffer from it's own version of inflation. The larger a body of knowledge becomes the lower it's density in terms of value. At university I noticed that the smartest Professors and Lecturers I met, were those who said 'we really don't know' most often. Intelligence is as much about what we don't know (and how we cope with that) as it is about what we do know (and what we do with that knowledge).

My explanation for this knowledge-inflation is that Knowledge actually dilutes meaning, rather than creates it. Although most of the time we need that dilution in order to make the meaning 'palatable' to us.

Anyway, I'm in danger now of getting lost in my own thoughts. That happens when you start to talk about the meaning of meaning. But I'm supposed to be your guide on this little ramble so let's just pretend I know what I'm talking about for a few more lines, then we can get back to the relative safety of Money and Value.

Meaning is a way we experience Value. We connect to Meaning through Knowledge.

Money is another way we experience Value. We connect to Money through Currency.

Currency and Knowledge are planets in orbit around the sun of Value. Money and Meaning are the gravitational fields that connect them.*

So in a few brief paragraphs we've gone from Money and Currency to a small dog and her bone and ended up with a description of Reality. Money does that. Its hard to maintain a grip on it. It easily wriggles free. The only way I can get it to stay in my hand is by holding it loosely. With a statement that's broad, but also is the only truthful way I feel I can describe money at the moment; Money mediates Value and can enumerate certain relations through currency. That's as much as I know.

I think the weirdness - the bat-shit-craziness (as I described it on Twitter) - of thinking in this way about Money is why whenever when people try to get a grip on Money they invariably end up with a grip on Currency rather than Money. Returning to the primary subject of this post - Desmonde's book - I have a feeling this is what precisely he's done (or is going to do).

Effectively, in that short quotation above, he's described Currency as an social institution. This is misleading. It is clearly a phenomenon that is very different from say, scientific or religious institutions. Whereas institutions do connect to Value and build structures around their understanding of it, currency seems to be less bound to any particular set of structures or way of understanding. Currency is adaptive and responsive. Whilst we often express a desire for those qualities in our institutions, the fundamental nature of an institution, as something that exists across time, seems in conflict with them. Currency on the other hand can take any form it needs in order to connect through Money to Value.

All of this is something more easily appreciated IF you don't make the (erroneous) assumption that Money is a human invention, and instead regard it in a simpler philosophical context, as 'an aspect of reality'. Proper 'professional' economists - those who lay claim to the sacred knowledge to the workings of Money - would scoff at the idea that Money is anything other than a human invention. They of course can call upon the authority of Science bestowed upon them by the holy men of academia to refute such an fanciful suggestion. What they can't do is prove what they're saying is true. A bit like priests.

And there's another thing. We want believe that Money is a human invention - when it isn't. Whereas Science, on the other hand, that great discoverer of Truth is a human invention. An invention built around measurement - and enumeration. (Check out what Joel Kaye says about the impact of Money on Proto-Science in the C14th - my review)

Value is the fissure that running through the subject/object metaphysics that underscores Science's explanation of reality. Money is currently a form magic that connects us to Value through currency. It's not just notes and coins, it's gold and dog's bones too.

"If there is one conclusion of overriding importance to be drawn from the increasing realization in recent times that science is a human product, it is that, like other human products, the only way it can ultimately be evaluated is in terms of whether it contributes to the thriving of the sentient beings in this universe."

John Dupre The Disorder of Things (1995) p.264


*I'm referencing the Pirsig quote here:
"The sun of quality does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it."   (ZenMM p.234)