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<nettime> the persuasive power of money
keith {AT} thememorybank.co.uk on Wed, 9 Aug 2006 15:22:08 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> the persuasive power of money

This essay can be found, with footnotes, formatting etc, at 


The persuasive power of money 

1. Money talks 

Malcolm X's private archive was rescued from an e-Bay auction in 2002.
Apparently one of his children was behind on rental payments for a lock-up
garage. The collection was saved for storage in New York's Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture, giving rise to the following exchange in an

'BBC reporter:  Presumably money played a part in appeasing all the parties.
Family lawyer:  That's true. Money always talks. When there's a gap in
communication, you drop a dollar bill in there and all of a sudden everyone
speaks the same language.
Reporter:  How much'
Lawyer:  We can't go into the details.'

In my youth, the expression 'money talks' was most often used in the
context of horse-racing. The connections of a likely winner would want to
conceal its form in order to place bets at the longest odds possible. But
the volume of their wagers would soon enough appear as reduced odds in the
market. Others would then pile in, taking the evidence of their senses to
be stronger than all the forecasts of newspaper tipsters. If the horse won,
those who took advantage of the market signs would say knowingly 'Money
talks'. Or, as Deep Throat famously said at the time of Watergate, 'Follow
the money'. Proverbial wisdom points to a persistent analogy between money
and language. It is thus commonplace to observe that money is like
language; here are some examples:

'The use of language resembles the exchange of coinage.' Plutarch (Cribb

'The two greatest inventions of the human mind are writing and money ' the
common language of intelligence and the common language of self-interest.'
Mirabeau (Innis 1951:8)

'Just as my thoughts must take the form of a universally understood
language so that I can attain my practical ends in this roundabout way, so
must my activities and possessions take the form of money value in order to
serve my more remote purposes. Money is the purest form of the tool ('); it
is an institution through which the individual concentrates his activity
and possessions in order to attain goals that he could not attain
directly.' Georg Simmel (1978: 210)

I wish to go beyond metaphor and ask how people communicate through money.
What does money do and how'  Wherein lies its power to persuade'

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1961:26-33) imagined money's origins
in a barter system as the supreme commodity whose usefulness lay in its
function as a means of deferred exchange and payment. This myth has
extraordinary tenacity in the modern consciousness.  He held that the chief
function of money, as a natural simplification of barter, was to persuade
owners of commodities to give them up, knowing that what they received
could readily be converted later into whatever else they wanted. This was
much more convenient than having to argue with them every time:

'If we should enquire into the principle in the human mind on which this
disposition of trucking is founded, it is clearly the natural inclination
every one has to persuade. The offering of a shilling, which to us appears
to have so plain a meaning, is in reality offering an argument to persuade
one to do so and so as it is for his interest.(...) Every one is practising
oratory on others thro the whole of his life. (...) This being the constant
employment or trade of every man, in the same manner as the artizans invent
simple methods of doing their work, so will each one here endeavour to do
his work in the simplest manner. That is bartering, by which they address
themselves to the self interest of the person and seldom fail immediately
to gain their end.' (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 30th March 1763)

Here I wish to explore money's role in the advanced capitalist economies,
where if anything commodities dance to the tune of money. The chief effort
of persuasion in market situations today consists in getting people to
spend their money; and, as the Malcolm X example shows, to express
something in money terms often seems to make it more amenable to social
action. Indeed, as Marx argued (1970: 71-83), money is a means of
communication so powerful that we often ascribe human or quasi-divine
agency to it and what it buys. In some ways, Money is the God of capitalism
and most of the inmates are believers. That compounds the difficulty of
accounting for money's persuasive power, since it is hard to distinguish
between what we imagine it is and what it really does. As a step between
fetishizing money and placing it more precisely in human purposes and
actions, I will look at some theories of money that have entered folk
wisdom. Keynes knew what he was talking about when he wrote:

''[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are
right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly
understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who
believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are
usually the slaves of some defunct economist.' (1936:383)

It turns out that economists are not above employing the arts of persuasion

What then is money' It is a universal measure of value, but its specific
form is not yet as universal as the method that humanity has devised to
measure time all round the world. It is purchasing power, a means of buying
and selling in markets. It counts wealth and status. It is a store of
memory linking individuals to their various communities, a kind of memory
bank (Hart 2000) and thus a source of identity. As a symbolic medium, it
conveys information through a system of signs that relies more on numbers
than words. A lot more circulates with money than the goods and services it

Huon Wardle has this to say about 'drop pan', a Jamaican numbers game
played daily for money:

'Under modern conditions, Simmel (1900) argues, money becomes the most
objective gauge of human relationships; and control over money is the chief
marker of the self's ability to validate its existence in a shared social
framework of space and time' To play drop pan is to search for signs which
connect the immediate and utterly contingent elements of Creole experience
within an ordering of meaning which, nonetheless, is itself gauged against
the shifting evaluations of money as a social principle. L'vi-Strauss
describes totemism as a concrete vehicle for understanding abstract
relational systems. Simmel's analysis of money reverses this. Money is a
(relative) abstraction, which works because it is able to encompass
concrete human connections. Drop pan is a game of concrete symbols played
against the abstract master index, money.' (2005: 88-89)

Money -- the main device in capitalist societies for making social
relations objective -- is at the same time a benchmark for concrete
narratives of subjective attachment. Money's persuasiveness lies in this
synthesis of impersonal abstraction and personal meaning, objectification
and subjectivity, analytical reason and synthetic narrative. Its seductive
power comes from the fluency of its mediation between infinite potential
and instant determination.

2. Spengler on abstract universals

I approach the theoretical problem of seeking to explain money's persuasive
power by drawing on an author whose work is hardly respectable these days.
In The Decline of the West, Oswald Spengler (1962 [1918]) emphasized the
part played by money and number in the history of Western European
civilization and its North American offshoot.  The West had exhausted the
historical impulse given by its modern version of economic life (featuring
money and machines) and a new phase, based on politics, national religion
and war, was about to take over.  This was not a bad prediction, but
Spengler's interest for us lies in how he conceived of the relationship
between money and other universals -- not just language, but more
crucially, number and time. I refer here to the beginning and end of the
abridged English translation, 'The meaning of numbers' (Ibid: 41-69) and
'The form-world of economic life: money and the machine' (Ibid: 398-415). 

Following Goethe, Spengler made a contrast between history (becoming) and
nature (what has become). The counterpart of longing, of the desire to move
forward that is becoming, is the dread of having become, of finality or
death; and this pair together drive cultural creativity.

'Life, perpetually fulfilling itself as an element of becoming, is what we
call 'the present', and it possesses that mysterious property of
'direction', which men have tried to rationalize by means of the enigmatic
word 'time'.' (Ibid: 41)

On the one hand, there is measurement of time as duration; but the idea of
history as becoming, as irreversible direction, is particular to the West. 

'Number belongs to nature as the chief sign of completed demarcation, of
all things that have become themselves. Mathematical number contains in its
very essence the notion of a mechanical demarcation, number being in that
respect akin to word, which'fences off world-impressions.' (Ibid: 43,
original italics)

Spengler identifies a break between classical antiquity and the modern
West. For the Greeks, number is magnitude, the essence of all things
perceptible to the senses. Mathematics for them was thus concerned with
measurement in the here and now, visible and tangible. 'Numbers are symbols
of the mortal'. (Ibid: 52) All this changed with Descartes whose new
number-idea was function ' a world of relations between points in abstract
space. Whereas the Greeks sought perfection within the concrete limits of
nature and society as they experienced them, now a passionate Faustian
tendency towards the infinite took hold, married to abstract mathematical
forms that increasingly freed themselves from concrete reality in order
better to control that reality. The new mathematics was thus immaterial,
resting on abstract analysis, dissociated from magnitude and transferred to
a transcendental relational world, a process culminating in 'victory over
the popular and sensuous number-feeling in us all'. (Ibid: 56) 

'The nexus of magnitudes is proportion, that of relations is function'All
proportion assumes the constancy, all transformation the variability of the
constituents'Every construction affirms, and every operation denies
appearances, in that one works out what is optically given and the other
dissolves it....The classical mathematic of small things deals with the
concrete individual instance and produces a once-for-all construction,
while the mathematic of the infinite handles whole classes of formal
possibilities, groups of functions, operations, equations, curves'[T]here
has been growing up the idea of a general morphology of mathematical
operations.' (Ibid: 63-64, original italics)

Western mathematics is 'the copy and the purest expression of the idea of
the Faustian soul'. (Ibid: 68). This leap from a geometry of the concretely
real to a world of pure relations was mediated by the algebra of the
'Magian' Arabs (and, we may add, by the Indian discovery of the number

Spengler returns to this theme when considering 'the form-world of economic
life'. Economics is British, materialistic and has no room in it for a
notion of the national soul. There has been a shift, parallel to that in
mathematics, from thinking in terms of goods to thinking in terms of money. 

'[A] form of limit-defining is abstracted from the visible objects of
economics just as mathematical thought abstracts something from the
mechanistically conceived environment. Abstract money corresponds exactly
to abstract number. Both are entirely inorganic. The economic picture is
reduced exclusively to quantities, whereas the important point about
'goods' has been their quality.' (Ibid: 404)

He points to the widespread confusion between pieces of money, the
value-token, and money as a category of thought. In fact, tangible property
has been replaced by fortune, a purely numerical quantum of money that is
mobile and undefined. The middle-man elevates mediation between producer
and consumer to the level of monopoly and ultimately primacy. 'He who
commands this mode of thinking is the master of money'. The result, citing
G. B. Shaw, is that money and life ''are inseparable: money is the counter
that enables life to be distributed socially: it is life'. 'Every idea, to
be actualized, has to be put into terms of money'. (Ibid: 406-7).

The Apollonian idea of money as magnitude (which is classical) and the
Faustian conception of money as function are opposites.  'Classical man saw
the world surrounding him as a sum of bodies; money is also a body'
(talents, coins). (Ibid: 407) With the rise of double-entry book-keeping,
economic function became not even the ledger entry, but the act of writing
it. When a businessman signs a piece of paper to mobilize remote forces,
this gesture stands in an abstract relationship to the power of labor,
machinery etc. which only takes the form of money numbers in a
retrospective accountancy process. In this way, western economic life was
progressively emancipated from the notion of magnitude. Modern money is the
result of creative thinking, mentally devised as an instrument of Faustian
life. Thinking in money generates money. It turns the world into subjects
and objects, consisting of a few executives and the many who follow them.
Each individual is either a part of the money force or just a mass.

'And so they created the idea of the machine as a small cosmos obeying the
will of man alone.' (Ibid: 411)

Spengler concludes with a prophecy that the world of money and
machine-industry will be overthrown by 'blood' as the dominant
life-principle; and at this point we leave him. But his framework contains
much of value for an analysis of the conscious and unconscious influence of
money on our actions today.

The first idea I draw from Spengler is that money is just one of several
abstract universals of which number, time and space may be more relevant
than language. The second is that, for all their apparent universality,
these should be approached as cultural particulars with their own
historical patterns of growth and decline. Third, world history in our
period has been dominated by the West owing to its adoption of a specific
form of economic life, based on money and machines, that normally goes by
the name of 'capitalism.' Fourth, rather than adopt a timeless form of
words for what interests us today, we should embrace the dialectic of
'becoming and become,' in order to understand both the immanent direction
of our present circumstances (history) and their finitude  as the residue
of what has already happened, the past (nature). So, finally, the question
of money's persuasive power is historically and geographically relative: we
need to attend to the relationship between measurement of money as
something perceptible to the senses (magnitude) and money as a category of
thought whose power and movement is virtual (function).

Money has an important relationship to time, specifically as a promise to
pay in future. This obligation, as is well-known, is of uncertain value
(Pritchard 1940). It therefore takes belief for the promise to work; and
this may take the form of faith, trust or confidence (Hart 1988). The
degree of our emotional attachment to a belief is inversely related to the
empirical evidence for holding it, strong in the case of 'blind faith',
weak for 'confidence', with 'trust' somewhere in between. Money therefore
always exists in time as something apparently certain, yet deeply
uncertain. It appears in society both as 'work', a tangible principle of
scarcity (magnitude) and as a principle of virtual increase, 'interest'
(function). The payment of money, like words and numbers, fixes the
transience of life and lends it a certain finality.  But, in the historical
form of modern capitalism, money also makes a break with the object-world
and becomes the aspiration to infinite growth. The power of money to
mobilize resources at distance is commanded by only a few -- once the
'captains of industry', now in the age of finance 'masters of the universe'
-- while the masses experience money mainly as the immediate consequences
of an anonymous force organizing their lives. Spengler's argument that
magnitude was replaced by function in Western history would serve our
purposes better if conceived of as an ongoing dialectical relationship. In
this context, we must also acknowledge the machine revolution of the last
two centuries, the latest stage of which involves perhaps the most dramatic
transformation of money to date, its digital separation from material
existence (from atoms to bits) as a virtual artifact of the internet. 

While this development, linked to widespread acceptance of 'neo-liberal'
economic policies by ruling elites, has generated unheard of disparities of
wealth within and between communities, it may also contain the seeds of a
democratization of money, in the sense that powers, hitherto exercised only
by a wealthy few,  may become diffused by degrees into the population at
large. For some time now, since Keynes (1936) in fact, it has been
acknowledged that modern economies are driven by consumer demand or the
'purchasing power' of ordinary people in the mass. As a result of extension
of instruments of personal credit in the digital age, this power may be
realized by individuals to an ever greater degree (Hart 2000). Perhaps this
helps to explain why persuasion is now largely directed at separating
consumers from their money rather than from the goods they produce. 

3. The dialectics of social abstraction

In order for us to do things for each other in society, the services we
perform have to be detached as commodities from what we do for ourselves
within the confines of the small groups we live in. This process of social
abstraction, 'commoditization' (Hart 1982, Carrier 1998), draws us into
ever-widening circles of interdependence, the most inclusive of which are
calculated in terms of money. The classical political economists, from
Smith to Marx, distinguished between a commodity's concrete value in use
(quality) and its higher-order ability to enter into abstract relations of
exchange with other commodities through money (quantity). They concentrated
on the latter function, but there is a dialectic at work here. The
commodity remains something useful and in that use lies its concrete
realization. The reality of commoditization is thus not just universal
abstraction, but this mutual determination of the abstract and the
concrete; and our method must somehow reproduce that relationship. We now
rely on the products of abstraction to engage with others in highly
concrete ways. This is after all what the Faustian impulse is all about and
it can provoke considerable anxiety, when we don't understand the machines
we depend on or lack the money necessary to take part.  Nevertheless, the
current wave of market expansion through the internet supports interactions
at distance that were unimaginable a short time ago; and any discussion of
money today has to address that development (Hart 2000, 2005b).

Both Marx (1867) and Simmel (1900) noted that social abstraction through
capitalist markets went along with intellectual abstraction as philosophy
and science in notable cases such as Ancient Athens, Renaissance Florence,
England in the 17th century and, we might say, the USA in the 20th century.
This observation points to the use of words and numbers in ways that link
language and money as systems of communication. At one level they share
what the Greeks called logos, the principle of reasoning, the aspiration to
objectivity, the ideal order in all things. This contrasts with the
material flux of life in all its concrete complexity, a world of moving
particulars of which each of us is the subjective personification. Plato
and Aristotle (or Parmenides and Heraclitus before them) came to embody
this contrast and we find it subsequently as a pervasive dualism in the
history of western thought (Russell 1945). Of late the opposition between
quantity and quality seems to have reached critical proportions: the
novelist/scientist, C.P. Snow claimed in a 1959 lecture that the breakdown
of communication between the 'two cultures' of modern society ' the
sciences and the humanities -- was a major obstacle to solving the world's
problems.  In the process, specialists in words and numbers have come to
occupy separate castes presumptively determined at birth. If money is like
language, it seems to be strongly affiliated with the quantitative camp,
for it relies on numbers to a high degree. 

'Numerophobia', fear and rejection of rational techniques employing numbers
(science and math for short), is well advanced in several sections of
western societies, including the middle classes and perhaps more among
women than men (Gigerenzer 2002). There does appear to be a sort of
schismogenesis (Bateson 1958) in the education system that from an early
age separates those who are happy to work with numbers from those who avoid
them like the plague. Most social or cultural anthropologists fall into the
latter category, preferring to deal in qualities rather than quantities.
Numbers simplify by reducing to quantity, creating exactness in a world of
uncertainties, and this is one reason why science (and money) is both loved
and hated. Moral and cultural values are more easily handled by being
reduced to what can be counted and this in turn generates varying degrees
of polarization at different times and places. The dwindling reputation of
scientific experts in America and Europe today is in marked contrast with
the situation in India and China, for example. No doubt it reflects a
degree of popular estrangement from the system of mathematical relations as
abstract functions.

This trend disguises another ' the commonplace resort to number as a
measure of magnitude in the everyday speech of some segments of Western
society. This became clearer to me after I became a semi-detached member of
francophone society a decade ago. Reduced to the unaccustomed role of being
an observer more than a participant, I was amazed by how often numbers
turned up in ordinary conversation. What year was that' How old is she' How
much does the baby weigh' How tall is the toddler' How many gigabytes in
that laptop' What size shoes do you take' How many litres to fill up the
car' How long do you expect to be out' How many days holiday do you get'
What's the temperature outside' Not to mention, of course, how much does he
make' How much does it cost' And so on and on. Of all the areas where
quantity is ingrained in social life, money and time are the most important.

In addition to locating a phenomenon on a universal scale of measurement,
number fixes description and narrative in a way that we often find
compelling. Thus, when I speak to someone of my father's recent death,
number helps to make the unfathomable concrete, yet comparable at the same
time. ('How old was he'' '92' 'Oh, he had a good life then'') Have you
noticed how, when a lecturer says he is about to make a fixed number of
points, people reach for their pens' Number gets our attention. I once read
an article in Scientific American that said, 'If transport technologies had
developed at the rate of computers since 1945, we would now be able to fly
round the world in 30 minutes for $5 on half a gallon of kerosene'. This
analogy is comprehensible and vividly memorable to all inmates of the
culture. We certainly seem to 'trust in numbers' (Porter 1996), not so much
any more in the hands of economists and engineers, but as a crutch to
understanding or a point of emphasis in our stories and conversations. If
anthropologists could shake off their denial of being numerate, we might
pose serious questions about how far this number fetish has penetrated
other societies and how legitimate it is to impose the contrived quantities
of experts on them. We might ask how Spengler's notion of the West's
historical turn to infinite abstraction relates to cultural variation in
the resort to number as a way of demarcating phenomena perceptible to the
Most of these numbers, and certainly money prices, indicate 'value'
(Graeber 2001). The use of money to indicate personal worth cannot be
underestimated, if we wish to understand its persuasive power. Even if CEOs
exercise their power invisibly, they also award themselves huge salary
increases as part of a latter-day potlatch competition.  They are less
interested in their own purchasing power than in assigning magnitude to
their rank in the league tables published by business magazines. With few
rivals, money is the measure that endows the endless volatility of economic
life with objectivity, with the finality of something that has become. This
is so independently of its form. For, paradoxically, the dematerialization
of money as a result of the rise of virtual economy seems not to have
diminished its power to objectify.
4. Meaning, memory and identity

Conventionally, money and meaning are an oxymoron. Money both is and is not
like language.  Language has words that have specific meanings, but money
itself has no meaning or, let us say, because it is abstract it can become
any meaning.  Money, unlike words, allows us to turn anything in particular
into what is ours, so that personal identity can become anything through
money.  Money allows us to speak any language of meanings, but the reverse
is not the case. Hence, anthropologists have often held that the
introduction of western money into indigenous cultures destroys their
distinctive local meanings, a claim that I and others have challenged (Hart
2005a, Guyer 2004). Here, I argue for a close historical relationship
between money and meaning that links it to language in distinctive ways.

The word money comes from Moneta, a name by which the Roman queen of the
gods, Juno, was known. It was in her temple that coins were struck, making
it an early example of a mint (from Old English mynet, coin). Most European
languages retain the word 'money' for coinage, using another word for money
in general. Moneta was a translation of the Greek Mnemosyne, the goddess of
memory and mother of the Muses, each of whom presided over one of the nine
arts and sciences. It was derived from the Latin verb monere, whose first
meaning is 'to remind, put in mind of, bring to one's recollection' (other
meanings include 'to advise, warn, instruct or teach'; and later 'to tell,
inform, point out, announce, predict').  For the Romans at least, money was
an instrument of collective memory that needed divine protection, like the
arts. As such, it was both a memento of the past and a sign of the future.

Money conveys meanings and the meaning of money itself tells us a lot about
the way we make the communities we live in. In Frozen Desire, James Buchan
suggests that money is principally a vehicle for the expression of human
wishes. In order to realize our limitless desires, they are trapped for a
moment, frozen in money transactions that allow us to meet others in
society who are capable of satisfying them.
'Money is one of those human creations which make concrete a sensation, in
this case a sensation of wanting'Quite early in its history, money'.passed
from being a mere conveyance of desire to the object of all desire' For
money is incarnate desire. Money takes wishes 'and broadcasts them to the
world'[It] offers a reward that is not in any sense fixed or finite'but
that every person is free to imagine in the realm of his own desires. That
process of wish and imagination, launched or completed a million times
every second, is the engine of our civilization.' (1997: 269)

This formulation does not go far enough. Like the economists of our day,
Buchan emphasizes the subjective wants of individuals and the way these are
made temporarily objective in acts of buying and selling. Money also
expresses something social, about the way we belong to each other in
communities. We need to understand better how we build the infrastructures
of collective existence, money among them. How do meanings come to be
shared and memory to transcend the minutiae of personal experience'

The 18th century Neapolitan philosopher, Giambattista Vico (1984), pointed
out that the Latin word memoria once meant not only remembering, but also
imagination. Then, with the coming of the empire, a new word, fantasia, was
coined by intellectuals and entertainers who claimed to make things up
without benefit of the collective memory, thereby breaking the link between
the two meanings of memoria. He asks us to recall the vivid memories of
childhood. The child relies on remembered images to bring live experiences
to mind and reshape them in a process that owes nothing to reasoning. Later
we learn to rely on rationalizations and on memory stored in containers
outside the mind. The rules we have been taught to abide by supersede the
act of remembering for ourselves. We pay entertainers to imagine for us.
Money gives expression to the child in each of us, by venting our desires.
It is also how we learn as adults to participate in normal society. 
This was why memory played such an important part in John Locke's
philosophy of money (Caffentzis 1989). When market transactions take place
over time, as through the extension of credit, the abstract models of
economics take on greater human and social complexity. Locke's theory of
property rested on the idea of a person who, by performing labour on the
things given to us in common by nature, made them his own. 

'Man, by being master of himself and proprietor of his own person, and the
actions and labour of it, has still in himself the great foundation of
property.' (Locke 1960: 2, 44) 

But, in order to sustain a claim on his property through time, that person
has to remain the same; and personal identity depends on consciousness:

'Since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which
makes everyone to be what he calls self, 'in this alone consists personal
identity, i.e., the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this
consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so
far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was
then.' (Locke An Essay on Human Understanding, cited in Caffentzis 1989:53)

Property must endure in order to be property and that depends on memory. 

'The great enemy of property is oblivion, since the loss of conscious
mastery over time and succession leads inevitably to the breakdown of
property. Thus the forces of oblivion are antagonistic to the self and
property, while all the techniques of mnemonics are their essential
allies.' (Ibid: 53-54)

What drove society from the state of nature to the social contract and
civil government was the invention of money. 

'Scarcity, for Locke, is not natural. It was only with the invention of
money that wealth stopped being defined and bounded by use. With money a
man could own more land and produce more than he needed for his own
necessities. While still abiding by the natural law, he could accumulate
wealth in a quasi-eternal form which he need not share with others'.Money
trains its possessor, whether legal or illegal, in abstractness as well as
in the potential infinity of satisfaction. The accumulation of money is
thus the exercise of our power to suspend our determination, which is for
Locke the highest expression of our liberty, before an infinity of
choices.' (Ibid:65-66)

Money thus expands the capacity of individuals to stabilize their own
personal identity by holding something durable that embodies the desires
and wealth of all the other members of society. Money is a 'memory bank'
(Hart 2000), a store allowing individuals to keep track of those exchanges
they wish to calculate and, beyond that, a source of economic memory for
the community. Memory banks are found in computers, of course, but the idea
of a 'bank' is the relatively stable deposit of fast-moving flows, whether
of water, money or information.  The modern system of money provides
individuals with a vast repertoire of instruments to keep track of their
exchanges with the world and to calculate the current balance of their
worth in the community. In this sense, one of money's chief functions is

People come to understand each other as members of communities; and money
is an important vehicle for this. Communities communicate common meanings.
These words share the Indo-European roots kom (with) and mei, which the
American Heritage Dictionary glosses as 'to change or move, with
derivatives referring to the exchange of goods and services within a
society as regulated by custom or law'. The word mean also has the sense of
'low or poor,' the common people as seen by an elite looking down. Other
senses include 'medium' or 'average' (to which is linked means, 'method of
achieving something or property/wealth') and the verb from which meaning is
derived, 'to denote, signify, intend, bring about.'  Thus the common people
share meanings (cultural symbols) as means of achieving their practical
purposes together.  

So money is a means, but it is also an end; and one of its ends may be to
express all meanings and none. Money no longer persuades primarily as a
concrete way of inducing people to sell what is theirs, if it ever did. It
persuades through its potential control of meaning in general.  Money can
be held over time and lets us defer commitment to any particular meaning. 
It works something like a dictionary.  It is in this sense a memory bank;
but it also allows us to erase memories, by temporarily emptying our mind
of particular meanings. Money's value could be said to lie in its having no
immediate value beyond its ability to valorize anything later.  As Buchan
suggests, this is one reason for money's centrality in the modern
imagination. Advertising plays on our fantasies by offering an escape from
the everyday and it is money that allows this.  Money supports the
retention of memories, but it also lends itself to their destruction, by
allowing us to generate new meanings.

All of this feeds into the changing landscape of identity construction. If
wealth was always a marker of identity, then the shift to wealth in the
immaterial form of money, a process speeded up and expanded by the rise of
the internet, contributes to the growing volatility of identity. Once fixed
or 'real' property was dominant as a marker of identity, but this function
has now been split between value realized in consumption (e.g. Bourdieu
1984) and hierarchies of value expressed as abstract quantities.  Money is
intrinsic to both of these and credit ratings are an increasingly powerful
gauge of personal identity.

In this way, money defines each of us by articulating the relationship
between individuals and their communities. One of the great unsettled
questions of our day is whether the strong association of community with
the nation-state is being eroded by current developments or the opposite is
the case. The nation-state has enjoyed such tremendous success over the
last century or two that we find it difficult to imagine society in any
other form. I identify four ideal types of community, all of them
exemplified by the synthetic notion of the nation-state (Munro and Hart
2000). The nation-state has been a political community capable of offering
its citizens a single vehicle for relating to the world outside, as well as
the framework of law regulating their internal affairs. It has been a
community of place, resting on territorial principles of association with
definite boundaries of land and sea. It has also been an imagined or
virtual community, a constructed cultural identity relying on symbolic
abstraction of a high order. It has finally been a community of interest,
in both the subjective and objective senses, uniting members in trade and
war by a shared purpose. 

Establishing control over money was always a principal means towards
achieving this synthesis. The general principle of states monopolizing the
supply of paper or 'fiat' money is quite recent, although it was pioneered
by Kublai Khan in the 13th century (Weatherford 1997:125-127). But the
nation-state, by centralizing society as a single agency and conflating
that with the dominant idea of national community, has led us to lose sight
of the potential of money to be plural, linking us to all the forms of
association we may wish to join (Hart 2006). The rise of the internet makes
it less plausible than before to assume that community is singular and
stops at national borders.

The recent introduction of a new currency, the euro, allows us a
contemporary glimpse of money's symbolic role in defining and shaping
collective identity, in this case the European Union (Hart 2005a). An
editorial under the heading 'Rubicon' in the French newspaper, Lib'ration,
celebrated the introduction of euro notes and coins on 1st January 2002 as
a revival of the spirit of the Roman empire:

'Caesar's march on Rome was the founding act of a Pax Romana that extended
the empire for several centuries from one end of Europe to the other,
guaranteeing prosperity and civilization to the continent. The Europeans
have never completely forgotten that golden age' The euro, a genuine icon
of the European Union, is the new reincarnation of an eternal project of
unification for an old continent haunted by its long history of bloody
conflicts'' (p. 3)

Moneta returns to claim her cultural legacy and a left-wing newspaper
temporarily abandons its republicanism to invoke the idea of empire. If
money is memory, then the euro provokes very long memories indeed, as well
as a degree of amnesia. The promise of overcoming the fragmentation of
sovereignty inherited from feudalism is the huge symbolic prize conferred
by monetary union. The citizens of Berlin, Rome and Paris notice that the
banknotes are the same in all these places and derive notions of community
and identity from that, just as they may sometimes be seen in bars checking
the national origin of coins and expressing wonder that the Irish harp
should be freely circulating in Continental Europe. Nothing quite succeeds
like money in expressing political community; but that does not mean that
the nation-state's monopoly is eternal. 

Money is intimately linked to democracy as a political principle. This is
because its impersonality dissolves differences between people: anyone can
use it for their own purposes in the same way. It is not false to claim
that we vote with our money whenever we buy a cinema ticket or a loaf of
bread. But of course this system of voting is wildly unequal, since some
have so much more of it. Money thus not only binds individuals together; it
also separates them from each other. As an engine of class inequality, it
has often been held to disrupt community. Seen from the perspective of its
embodiment in capitalism as a specific social form, money breeds and
enhances social differentiation; and that is why utopian communities of all
sorts have sought to ban it. The Cold War was fought over this issue. The
Americanization of the planet is at one level the universal projection of
their way of money,  with its extreme individualization, competitiveness
and inequality, to the point of undermining national forms of state and
culture elsewhere. Many feel that money's social dominance is now
guaranteed as a result; but another global economic crisis would soon
undermine abstract money's invincibility.

5. Money and persuasion

In this essay, I try to account for money's power to influence our minds
and social relations. It would be easy, but misleading to argue that
money's ability to persuade is a universal characteristic. The way money
persuades is historically relative ' very different for Smith than for
Keynes and even more for us who live in the digital revolution and the
expansion of virtual society it entails. Moreover, the fetishism that
grants money a quasi-independent role in human affairs needs to be exposed
for what it is. People make and use money, not the other way round; but
sometimes it feels like we are more acted upon than acting. Money conveys
meanings at the same time as it negates them; it has ' or is thought to
have -- both structure and agency at once. It is also hard to separate
money's unconscious influence on us through folk discourse from its
characteristics as a social force sui generis. 

Money is the primary vehicle of social abstraction, lending objectivity to
our ideas, actions and status. Only idealists think that retreating to some
higher realm of abstract value is the goal itself. Money is a means to many
ends, but in capitalist societies it often seems that money is the end, not
just a means. It is easy to lose sight of the common human purposes it was
designed to realize and of the myriad particular actions it makes possible.
To paraphrase Marx on the method of political economy in the introduction
to Grundrisse (1973), we start from the concrete circumstances we live in,
develop some abstractions after it and then insert them back into the
concrete, which is the main point of it all. In this respect, we need to
learn from and improve on structural linguistics.  Grammar is at the heart
of language; it is both universal and highly variable, operating for the
most part at an unconscious level.  Can we talk even vaguely about the
grammar of money and, if so, what would it look like' It may be profitable
to explore money's rules and how they are understood, consciously or
unconsciously. But the structuralist movement elevated the generation of
universal grammars to a position of precedence over concrete communication;
and it should be the other way round. Similarly, molecular biology has
given us genomics, but so far no effective way of treating Alzheimer's. It
is easy to get stuck at one pole or the other of the dialectic.  

As a symbolic medium of communication, money informs our subjectivity and
gives concrete expression to our desires, releasing and fixing our
imagination in many ways. It is a store of individual and collective
memory, the stuff linking persons to their communities. It may be that
money's chief function was once to persuade people to let go of what they
already had; but separating us from it has become the chief object of the
engines of persuasion mobilized by capitalist economy. And the ideas we
have of money were themselves disseminated by 'worldly philosophers'
(Heilbroner 1961) who devoted a significant part of their effort to
persuading people to accept them.
The central role of persuasion or rhetoric in economy was understood by
those who have most influenced our economic ideas and behaviour. Thus Adam
Smith (1762) spent fifteen years lecturing on rhetoric and left
instructions in his will for these lectures to be destroyed, presumably so
that his Wealth of Nations (1776), the founding text of economic science,
would not be seen as the self-conscious literary artifact that it is. 
Gudeman (1986) argues that David Ricardo (1817) was able to establish the
hegemony of his own approach to economics because his 'derivational' model
was a self-conscious cultural construction more than a realistic depiction
of economic life in his time. This model depended for its effectiveness on
reproducing established western logical forms and, at least initially, on
collapsing the difference between the physical and social dimensions of an
economy poised between agriculture and manufacturing. Maynard Keynes
likewise devoted a dozen years to his Essays in Persuasion (1931), trying
to get across one simple message -- that economic recovery would only come
when the Victorian recipe of saving for capital accumulation was abandoned.
His mantra was 'Spend, don't save. Spend, don't save.' More than any
sophisticated academic treatise, such as the General Theory (1936), this
rhetorical project accounts for the eventually favorable reception of his
ideas. Now that we have all absorbed his message, the time is probably ripe
for another one. 

Even so, it is Smith's project that should most engage us here. Endres
(1991) provides a detailed account of how the compositional rules laid down
in Smith's Lectures on Rhetoric were applied in the writing of The Wealth
of Nations. But Bazerman (1991) goes further towards explaining how he was
able to influence modern thinking so thoroughly; and he makes an explicit
connection between Smith's general approach and the persuasive power of

'If philosophy is near the pinnacle of the division of labour, for Smith
persuasion is at its basis, for persuasion is what makes barter possible.
(1991:188) Money becomes a symbolic repository of material value with the
added suasive effect of interchangeability, fairness of measure and
consistency of value.... (Ibid:189) In Smith's system'words and other
symbolic systems are subordinated to the primary symbolic system of
finance, because as a least common denominator, money forms the surest
grounds for shared social meanings'Words serve to help persuade people of
deals'and provide ideology and instructions for the economic order. But
money provides the grounding of value'. [M]athematicizing of economics only
takes this reduction one step further. Money ' countable and therefore open
to complex mathematical representations and manipulations ' becomes the
primary mediational tool of social relations. (Ibid:194) People loved money
before Smith, but now they had an ideology, rationale and calculus for it.'

The problem of persuasion lies at the core of any attempt to change the
forms of money today. I have explored the potential of community currencies
in today's world (Hart 2006).  Given the cultural longevity of conventional
money and the powers of indoctrination held by ruling institutions, it is
not surprising that most people are initially reluctant to embrace
community currencies; but the situation is psychologically complex. On the
one hand, conventional money flatters our sense of self-determination: with
some money, we can exert power over the world at will, moving from infinite
potentiality to finite determination, back and forth. On the other hand,
there is another kind of comfort in the fact that money, as presently
constituted, is in fact not in our control at all. The fact that it
embodies an exogenous force of necessity serves, in a manner analogous to
the comfort of number, to create clarities of judgment and action where
otherwise things might be frighteningly wide open. Similarly, with
community currencies people would not only be freer, but would have greater
responsibilities also. 

There is a strong parallel with slavery. People feel that the monopoly
claimed by national money must be inevitable, since no-one would freely
choose it. To be told there is an alternative that they could choose makes
nonsense of a lifetime's enslavement to an unrewarding system. So they
cling to what they know as the only possibility. We often talk about
wanting to be free, but we prefer the illusion of freedom without its real
responsibility. This is perhaps why we prefer money not to be of our own
making. We spend it, but we never have enough of it because 'they' keep it
scarce. This is perhaps the underlying reason why eminently sensible
schemes for do-it-yourself money get such a poor reception. It is not
enough to develop a superb design for exchange circuits employing community
currencies. People have to be sold the idea; and this involves engaging
with their most cherished beliefs. 	

For all the temporary success of nation-states in persuading their captive
populations to ignore what goes on elsewhere, it is the case that people's
experience of money today is as much global as local. In this respect,
there is clearly an 'elective affinity' (Goethe again) between capitalism
and the English language. This could merely be a consequence of the recent
domination of the world economy by Britain and the United States; or the
cultural association could have been established earlier.  In succession
and together, they have made English the world language, a role that is
becoming more deeply entrenched as a result of the internet. If the word
'economy' was invented by the Greeks, it is the English-speakers who made
it central to our understanding of modern society (Hann and Hart
forthcoming). Economics is an English discourse (as Spengler noted): the
vast majority of Nobel prize-winners in economics are English-speakers,
indeed American. Certainly English is the international language of
business. All of this is historically relative: world production and
capital accumulation now seem to be moving inexorably towards countries
like China, India, Russia and Brazil. Even so, despite the palpable
evidence of economic decline there, the United States -- and its West Coast
in particular -- is still the place where exploitation of the money-making
implications of the digital revolution in communications is advancing
fastest and furthest. 

It is too soon to make out how money, markets and digital information are
interacting through the medium of the internet. The latter enhances the
dematerialization and cheapening of monetary transactions. In the short
run, this seems to have increased money's persuasive power in world
society, but the long-run effect may be to dilute money's significance.
Thus, it is an observable consequence of experiments with community
currencies that, once money loses its scarcity, the real purposes of
exchange in communities take precedence over the idea of getting more for
less (Hart 2006, North 2006). Moreover, the dissemination of massive
amounts of information at little or no cost makes it easier to keep track
of the transaction histories of specific individuals, a contradictory
process that I have referred to as 'repersonalization' (Hart 2000). Taken
much further than at present, these trends might lead to the uncoupling of
money from the numerical values assigned to it by the state. People would
be freed to make up their own world-algebra employing constraints
appropriate to themselves, whether as individuals or in communities of
their own design. We might then be able to talk about the emergence of
'people's money,' a true democracy rather than the apology for inequality
we are stuck with now.

Digital information is itself also both a means and an end, in the sense
that people get in return the same thing that they give. The difference
between conventional money and digital information is that the latter is
reproducible by anyone at virtually no cost and without removing the
original. This underlies the extraordinary effort now being made by the
West's media corporations to promote the idea that copying digital products
is theft, even 'piracy' (Hart 2005b). The result is an ongoing war between
rival systems of exchange ' corporate private property (with its origins in
the 17th century) and the 'free and open source software' movement (FOSS)
that has grown up only in the last two decades. It would be surprising if
this contradiction does not lead to new combinations of money and exchange;
and indeed experiments with alternative forms of money point in that
direction. In the meantime, a massive propaganda campaign is aimed at
persuading us that cloning or remixing a text, song or movie is like
'stealing my cow'.
6. Conclusions

In Money and the Morality of Exchange (Parry and Bloch 1989), an excellent
collection of anthropological essays, a convincing case is made that, for
many of the world's peoples, money lacks the apparent autonomy it enjoys in
the West and is usually subordinated to the long-term social purposes of
groups. I have drawn on Spengler here to highlight the cultural sources of
such a contrast. In capitalist societies, money has come to define an
infinite field of possibilities and, within that field, it acts to create
groups of relationships between abstract entities, as well as to increase
practical control over innumerable social activities. Modern money only
connects with concrete magnitudes after it has created this relational
network. The realistic image of money as concrete number is a somewhat
illusory formulation of its social significance, an instance perhaps, in
Whitehead's (1925) phrase, of 'the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.'
Those anthropologists who reject the higher-order abstraction that
quantification makes possible in order to embrace particular cultural
meanings as indicators of quality are giving voice to a deep-seated
mistrust of the idea that money is somehow isomorphic with its own concrete
properties. Nevertheless, I have tried to show here why this one-sided
rejection of money's dialectical unity is anachronistic. 

It is relatively easy to debunk religion, but to understand its social
force, one has to enter the minds of believers. Searching for the source of
money's power to persuade is like asking how God gets us to believe in Him.
Of course we made Him up, just as we made and make money up. Since all we
can ever know is the past, why would anyone accept a claim to guarantee the
unknowable future' But we do, because we have to ' and faith is the glue
sticking past and future together in the present. Simmel (1900) made a good
case, I think, for why money is able to make this spurious claim. Since all
our ephemeral transactions are made in terms of it, it seems to be more
stable than the rest, even though we know it isn't really. The river bank
seems to be solid and yet it is in reality just slower-moving deposits
thrown up by the fast-moving water. But, if we are drowning, we settle for
its presumptive stability. The physicist may have worked out what is going
on at an abstract level, but for practical purposes we don't need to know
what he knows about the movement of particles.

In this essay, I have for the most part taken at face value an idealist
premise that money has a mind of its own, since it seems to me that most
members of capitalist societies are caught in it. The very rich do not have
to accept this premise, but they are happy for the rest of us to believe in
the story of our own captivity. I want us all eventually to have what the
rich have, the creative ability to manipulate money. Hence I have tried
here to discover something of what they know about money and what stops the
masses from catching on. This has also meant excavating my own
socialization as a dupe of the existing money system who has spent his life
trying to escape from it. It is easier to embrace a rationalist or
materialist alternative than to give credit to this murky stuff, learnt at
my mother's knee in the age of austerity. Spengler helped me to begin to
understand some of my own irrational attitudes towards money. Why do I find
it so hard to fill in tax returns or travel claim forms' Because being
fixated on money as magnitude is a way of killing off the drive to grasp
money's infinite potential. 

Money is the ocean we swim in these days. Despite or because of this, its
role in human affairs continues to be demonized and the attempt to return
it to the marginal role it was confined to in agrarian civilizations always
finds a ready audience (Polanyi 1944). The question of where money's
persuasive power comes from is probably unanswerable as such. Money surely
generates value and significance in human interactions as much as it erodes
it. It is a symbol of our relationship as an individual person to society
(hitherto more often singular than plural). This relationship may be
conceived of as a durable ground on which to stand, anchoring identity in a
collective memory whose concrete symbol is money. Or it may be viewed as
the outcome of a more creative process in which we each generate the
personal credit linking us to society.  This latter outlook, however,
requires us to abandon the notion that society rests on anything more solid
than the transient exchanges we participate in. Few people at present are
prepared to take that step, preferring to receive the money they live by,
rather than make it. When the meaning of money is seen to be what each of
us makes of it, we may be less inclined to think of Money as the somewhat
archaic God of capitalism that it has become. Maybe, in the long run of
human evolution, it will turn out that money is just a tool, as Simmel
said; but for now it often seems that the tool does the talking.

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Keith Hart

Paris, August 2006

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