[OPE-L:7623] Re: money and historical contingency

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sat Sep 07 2002 - 07:04:19 EDT

Re [7619]:

> Hi Jerry.
Hi Rakesh.

> So the better question here is not whether money must be a
> commodity but whether once there is  commodity money will anything
> other than an inherently scarce, relatively indestructible precious
> metal likely serve as a commodity money.

Well,  before -- in 76l3 -- you claimed that it was not a matter of
historical contingency whether the money commodity was freely reproducible,
'relatively indestructible', a precious metal, etc..  Now you write instead
about what was 'likely" to serve as the money commodity.   I agree with the
latter formulation.  The particular material characteristics of gold and
silver made them more 'likely' to serve as the money commodity. [Side note:
diamonds are more scarce,  more easily  recognizable, easier to validate as
being genuine, and more  'relatively indestructible' than any 'precious
metals', yet diamonds did not in general serve as the money commodity.
Ditto mercury. This  suggests that there is  no _necessary_, i.e.
reason why gold or any 'precious metal' came historically to serve as the
commodity in particular social formations].

Perhaps we don't disagree here and I was just reacting to your
previous formulation.  It seems to me that in explaining the particular
pragmatic and utilitarian reasons for why gold and silver had
historically served as the money commodity,  Marx's critique
(rightly) emphasized historical contingency.   In emphasizing the material
characteristics of gold and silver that allowed these commodities to
become the money commodity, he was implicitly crititiquing a
'metalist'  (mis-)conception that attributed to these commodities special
mystical and supernatural powers.  That 'metalist' (mis-)conception had
become part of popular culture: note e.g. the quotes from Columbus
and Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" in  Volume l, Chapter 3,
Section 3a ("Hoarding").  At the same time, he was explaining how
the private ownership of money in the form of gold gave social power to
individuals in capitalist society: he remarks that modern society "greets
gold as its Holy Grail, as the glittering incarnation of the very principle
its own life".  This anti-metalist critique, that nonetheless recognizes
the real, fetishized role that a commodity (money) has over society and
individuals,  thus seems to be part and parcel of  a major theme of his
critique of political economy: namely, that much of political economy
mystifies,  eternalizes, and fetishizes social relations.

In solidarity, Jerry

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