[OPE-L:2423] Re: commodity money in Marx's theory

riccardo bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Thu, 30 May 1996 02:57:18 -0700

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At 5:37 29-05-1996 -0700, Allin Cottrell wrote:
>On Wed, 29 May 1996, Costas Lapavitsas wrote:
>> Riccardo asked where the 'evolutionary' view of money would stand if
>> we started with non-commodity money.
>> And why should we do this? What is there to be gained by abandoning a
>> significant part of Marxist (and Classical) theory when this theory
>> actually helps us analyse non-commodity money? Is it simply the
>> abolition of the formal links with gold since 1971, or the
>> progressive diminution of the role of gold in the twentieth century?
>I think Riccardo was referring to the "revisionist" account of the
>origins of money, that has been championed by Randall Wray, among
>others. According to this view, the standard evolutionary
>account (starting with commodity money) is a myth, and money
>really originated as debt (and as a unit of account, rather than
>as means of payment). Personally, I am inclined to reserve
>judgment until I have studied the matter more fully -- but the
>argument is not to be lightly dismissed.
>Allin Cottrell.

As I've just said in the previous letter to Costas, what I had in mind is
the connected, but in my view, more sophisticated view of Schumpeter, which
does not committ himself to the 'revisionist' account. Here a quote:

"I am taking it for granted that theoretical metallism is untenable, i.e.
that it is not true that, as a matter of pure logic, money essentially
consists in, or must be backed by, a commodity or several commodities whose
exchange value as commodities are the logical basis of their value as
money. The error involved consists in a confusion between the historical
origin of money - which, in very many cases, although perhaps not
universally, may indeed be found in the fact that some commodities, being
particularly salable, come to be used as the medium of exchange - and its
nature or logic - which is entirely independent of the commodity character
of its material. This type of error occur very frequently in all fields of
social analysis, especially in its early stages: it requires considerable
analytic experience to perceive that primitive forms of social institutions
may be more complex than modern ones and may hide, rather than reveal,
logical essentials" (SCHUMPETER 1954, pp. 289-190).

As is clear from his Das Wesen des Geldes, Schumpeter even thinks that the
logical order is the *reverse* than the historical one - is there not here
some Marx's family resemblance, especially in the last phrase quoted? If
anything, I would go in this direction: evolutionary reasoning must be
rejected on logcal grounds, rather than historical ones. Of course, if the
revisionist account turns to be the right one, this would add to the
problems of the traditional, Mengerian account, where money arises from
exchange (BTW: I do not think this account is strictly the same as Marx's,
because of the logical status of the first chapter of Capital: but I do not
have time to show it with full force here).

As for the revisionist account, a good starting point is the
Heinsohn-Steiger contribution in Studi economici (I do not have here the
reference, but I think is quoted in Wray's book).


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975