I was thinking about Riccardo's comments on Colletti in Rivista di Politica Economica (April-May 1999). Here are some playful thoughts on money as a real hypostatization (footnote references to Riccardo, Makoto Itoh, John Weeks, Robert Paul Wolff, Patrick Murray, Edmund Leach are not included, though they'll be obvious to readers here). ________________ For Marx, the puzzle of money already manifests itself in the simple equivalent value form, for as Aristotle already recognized to express the value of five beds by the physical quantity of one house is no different than having it expressed as a physical quantity of so much gold. Marx attempts to 'derive' how one commodity (gold as it turned out) comes to take a monopolistic position of direct exchangeability with all other commodities or, to put it another way, why all other commodities have to express their value by in effect requesting an exchange with the money commodity. Money then has the peculiar property that it can be immediately converted into any form of social labor-it is liquid: its use value comes to be its exchange value. The products of all other concrete labor activities have to be ex-changed into money before they can be converted into any form of social labor. Marx's analysis of money seems shrouded in the rococo of dialectics, but upon closer inspection it seems to be his claim that monetary exchange relations implicate their participants in logically absurd beliefs and practices. The central problem here seems again to be a category mistake. As if the confounded visitor who asks to be finally shown the university after having already been taken to the philosophy, physics, biology, etc. buildings could actually find what he is looking for in a visit to, say, the mining department alone; abstract labor which seems merely to be a general heading comes in fact to be incarnated in a single commodity (gold). It is indeed as if the generalization fruit existed not merely in the mental act of abstracting from bananas, papayas, coconuts, etc. but was rather incarnated in, say, mangoes. Imagine then a tropical island economy in which, by law, only fruit can be traded. The essence of fruit is thought here to have taken the form of mangoes as a result of some special property thereof so if one wants coconuts for his papayas, the papayas first have to prove themselves to in fact possess the fruity property by being ex-changed into mangoes, which alone is always already fruit by its very nature and can thus uniquely be immediately converted into any concrete form of fruit. Routinely accepted as a means of payment, mangoes are money; however, what appears to happen is, not that the mango has become money in consequence of all other fruits expressing their values in it, but, on the contrary, all other fruits express their values in mango, because it is money. So neither papayas nor coconuts can be immediately traded because they do not yet count as fruit which has thus bewilderingly taken on an existence independent of its members; moreover, as a real hypostatization of fruit, mangoes paradoxically lose for all practical purposes the sensuous, concrete attributes of their fruitiness, for their use value has become exchange value, pure and simple, since mangoes serve as the embodiment of fruit as such in the circulation of commodities. Mangoes just as they come off the tree seem to be forthwith the direct incarnation of all fruit. The abstract-universal of fruit, which ought to be a predicate-i.e. a property of concrete or the sensate-has become in mangoes the subject, a self-subsisting entity. The concrete sensate of the mango moreover counts merely as the phenomenal form of the abstract universal-i.e., as the predicate of its own substantialized predicate. The sense qualities of mangoes have been reduced to the attributes or, to use Marx's Hegelian terminology, forms of appearance of fruit in the abstract. As Marx puts it: This inversion (Verkehrung) by which the sensibly-concrete counts only as the form of appearance of the abstractly general and, not on the contrary, the abstractly general as property of the concrete, characterizes the expression of value. At the same, it makes understanding it difficult. If I say: Roman Law and German Law are both laws, that is obvious. But if I say Law (Das Recht), this abstraction (Abstraktum) realises itself in Roman Law or in German Law, in these concrete laws, the interconnection becomes mystical. While there are category mistakes at work here, Marx audaciously argues that these logical inversions by which one commodity is transubstantiated into value itself are not non-sense to those immersed in everyday monetary exchanges. Religious experience provides an analogue to what can be called a practical non-logic. Here the three signs of God as Father and Son and Spirit are brought into metonymic relation and thought to be not only true but also simultaneously true; while this conflicts with the logical rules of physical experience by implying that God is son and father to himself, such mytho-logical statements nonetheless make sense 'in the mind' so long as the speaker and his listener, or the actor and his audience, share the same conventional ideas about metaphysical objects. For Marx, modern humankind is entangled in mytho-logical beliefs about money in its commercial life. In his remarkable expression this ideological and practical world is revealed to be the religion of everyday life. Money fetishism engenders an illusory understanding of the nature of social life. For example, to our mango mad islanders, the collective inability to dispose of their various fruits will then appear as a surplus of fruit commodities vis-à-vis mango money; the general crisis in the interruption of trade and the breakdown of their social relations appear to derive from a shortage of a thing-mangoes. The islanders have come to subscribe to the fetishistic belief that their social intercourse results from and depends on the existence of a fruit which as fruit value itself however may be profitable to hoard under certain conditions. If mangoes were merely a valueless means of circulation, there would be no motivation to hoard; and if mangoes were simply another commodity, there would be no reason why alone it was hoarded. But from our anthropological point of view our islanders are self-afflicted by periodic famines in mangoes which are not even valued (it should be remembered) for their sensuous, concrete attributes but rather as value as such. In these periodic crises, mango money that is the servant of the exchange of commodities, and itself a commodity, is thought by the islanders to have fetishistic properties, i.e., magic powers of compulsion by itself, so it invariably leads to their belief that the shortage in mangoes which has resulted from their hoarding has caused the stagnation of trade. Led by mango reformers, the islanders may then demand the creation by fiat of symbolic or paper mangoes which may not even be convertible into a fixed quantity of real mangoes but which the tribal council will still only henceforth accept as the medium for the payment of taxes. This fiat action would serve to establish the social validity of the symbolic mango as a means of circulation and thus mark the partial end of mango fetishism. More darkly, the islanders may imagine an ethnic sub-group to monopolize the lending of mangoes and attack them with collective outbursts of mad violence for an excessively high mango rate of interest which has choked the supply of the money fruit and crashed the networks of fruit trade. Marx's argument of course is simply that the interruption in fruit trades only seemed in the first place to be caused by the shortage of the special money fruit (the quantity theory of mangoes) so even the fiat creation of symbolic means of circulation cannot fix the underlying problems.*** The fundamental fetishism then is the ascription of our sociality to the power of money which induces the search for solutions to the breakdown of social relations in the realm of money-in the quantity of its bodily form (Hume), in the social validity of its symbolic substitutes (Proudhon, Keynes) or in the stability of the value of currency (Ricardo). __________ ***What happens to Marx's theory when the link between money and its commodity basis has been broken, that is, when convertibility of money to gold has been suspended by governments? There is no consensus here among Marxist scholars of the continuing relevance of any commodity theory of money. One attractive option is the argument that Marx's theory demonstrates that a private exchange economy simply cannot do without money as an actual store of value without destabilizing exchange relationships; this sets a limit to the arbitrary proliferation of symbolic money. For example, the Federal Reserve Board, under Chairman Greenspan, is known to have implicitly followed sensitive commodity prices, such as gold and oil, in the determination of U.S. monetary policy. That is, it has attempted to stabilize the dollar as x amount of gold and y amount of oil. This affords some flexibility; for example, the Federal Reserve Bank deviated from this policy in wake of the 1998 Asia financial panic by increasing the supply of dollars through interest rate reductions in order to stop the commodity price deflation. The price of the 'basket' of sensitive commodities thus fell, including the dollar in gold terms. However since then the Federal Reserve Bank has been forced to play catch up to maintain confidence in the value of the currency. This is especially important of course with respect to the dollar since it functions as world money on which world trade largely depends. In short, one implication of Marx's theory of money may be that the elimination of money fetishism is simply impossible in a private exchange economy.
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