The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes by Stefan Eich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After reading both of Adam Tooze's most recent books, and now this book which was recommended by Tooze by way of his periodic "Chartbook" posts, I am fully convinced of the importance of exposing the fraud that money and finance are apolitical. Money is not a neutral medium of exchange, and the fiction that it is makes up a big chunk of what is killing us.
Indeed, it may well be that our fumbling understanding of the nature of money comes closer to explaining the rise of neo-fascist so-called "populism" than all the myriad other explanations, convincing though those explanations may remain.
It's the right [Republican, in America] which mostly seems to need the enlightenment provided by this book. And yet some among them were the only ones who cautioned us not to refund the crooked banks. They caution us about social media, while the Dems seem to think all tech is good tech.
The persistent hoi polloi for Trump must feel justified in their anger, despite the inexcusable nature of their behaviors. They have been dispossessed of something, as have we all. Their vague sense that the thief is contained somehow within the cloud of the privileged elite, which most certainly includes the perennial political players, feels justified. But this book shows that historically, this is the process that has always allowed autocrats to insert themselves into more legitimate politics.
And for sure, the mainstream media represents the interests of that same elite. Many of us even suppose that it is the elites who keep the system going. And many of us aren't wrong. The question is who they keep it going for. We should all demand clarity about that; it won't be coming from the mainstream media. It sure won't be coming from Fox News. You have to do the work of finding out. You have to read something more than socially mediated posts and the infotainment which still defines broadcast news.
For instance, read this book! Let's all stop hitting the anger buttons all the time, left and right. Let's turn our anger into positive action.
There are still tiers, if not classes, within this elite. At the top are the hyperwealthy, which include "vectorialist" (McKenzie Wark) media owners. Below that are the stars, the anchors; the well-coifed talking heads and CGI-corrected beauties. And then there are the academics, channeled by media reporters, who all still appreciate the finer things of life.
Never mind that those who occupy the coarser side of life might be as rich, have even better cleavage, and most certainly include plenty among the hyperwealthy. The elites on the right are simply better at pandering to motorized outdoorspeople with guns. Trouble for me is that I still like those people most of the time. I'm sick of stupid generalizations.
There are true believers in meritocracy on either side. Merit wants a neutral measure. One thing which binds all sides together is a strange notion that wealth is an indicator of merit. That notion is only newly strange, and its identification as such owes a massive debt to Eich and his mentor Tooze.
We, the hoi polloi are now almost precisely divided between urban and rural [mentalities] when it comes to political taking sides. And that in turn sometimes seems increasingly about race. To categorize people based on race is, of course, precisely as misguided as is the supposition that money is neutral. This idiocy is now measurable precisely by wealth gaps.
The political neutrality of money reminds me of other false measures which are thought to be neutral, like IQ or I don't know, let's say beauty again. These things are all related to cultural and social norms, and reflect collective preferences. By reading these books, one learns that money is as normative as is language or law. Part nature and mostly culture.
One learns that credit markings come before money, just as they come before writing. One learns that coinage was meant to help with justice. That currency is basic to politics. One makes a lot of puns to oneself while reading. (Thank the author for not making them for you)
Anyhow, it's the economic contortions and distortions combined with political failure to understand how money works that have historically led up to various political crises, especially during the twentieth century with its two great global world-war convulsions.
And here we are now, once again politically paralyzed in the face of unprecedented stressors and global convulsing. As the arguments have it in these books, part of our paralysis descends from our failure to agree about what money really is. We remain, for the moment, in a nuclear stalemate, on an angry planet. Myriad sorts of media tell us all about it without helping us to know what to do.
Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I tend to identify the idiocies of bitcoin and the injustices of startup culture with a kind of naive libertarian ideology, which would include libertarian economics. I think it would be correct to put the mistaken notion of neutral money squarely on the backs of these libertarians. Their artificial gold lacks only the incorruptible beauty of the real stuff. We need the state involved now more than ever.
But now I read a different libertarian tract by a different Stephan with a different spelling -Stephan Kinsella - Against Intellectual Property which calls intellectual property theft just like Abbie Hoffman once did. And I realize that these new age libertarian startup code kiddies can't be libertarians, since they all think they're so smart and deserve their wealth on the basis of intellectual property law. Once they hire a grown-up to run their companies, once they go "public". But this Kinsella dude insists that you can't own your own labor, and we already agree that you can't patent or copyright an idea; only its material manifestation. Open the source, baby, open source.
We have the wrong idea about money. Money is a creation of politics, and it's therefore about power. Duh. Nobody argues that it's not a measure of power. But the power of money is not justified. It has to be justified politically, and that would mean that the state as owned by we the people has to do more than just to regulate the banks to which we delegate the power to create money by means of credit. We have to do more than to regulate the market.
Nobody argues against a market economy anymore. But we need to argue against capitalism all the time, and especially against the vectorialism which has supplanted it, which means that we have to tax and limit private wealth so that it remains in proportion to public need. In part, this seems to mean that we have to once again limit bank lending to the use of money that they, the banks, already have and hold. Savings and loan and collateral and so-forth. And give the citizenry accounts in the Fed, to be administered by the post office.
For instance. I'm summing up a conjecture made toward the end of the book.
We almost sort-of did that during the pandemic and the crash which came before it. We created money from nothing to rescue the profligate banks and to resupply the global denomination in dollars during the crash. And we did it all over again during the pandemic, having greased the wheels the first time.
What we failed to do is to change the rules so that the wealthy didn't profit from disaster, as they typically or even always seem to do. Will it take another world war? Some people seem to think that WWIII has already started.
Shouldn't we have an economic revolution instead? Eat the rich! They're always on their own side, no matter the politics or how they vote. We the people should stop yelling at each other and making each other miserable by way of unaccountable social media. We should just plain rise up. The Chinese can't do that anymore, even though it's in their national anthem. But we still can.
We need to channel all that Trumper energy in a more positive direction, right? This book suggests a way to start.
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