Re: [OPE] All about the money

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Thu Jun 11 2009 - 18:04:58 EDT

Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
> I realize we are in a a fight now about the theory of money and Marx's
> intellectual reputation, but let's remember we are friends anyhow
> united in seeking to pursue the truth although pulling no punches. We
> share the same concerns, even if we may be at odds with each other
> just now.

Indeed, I joined the list for discussions about political economy. If I
had wanted punches I would have gone for political debates on some
web-forum. I'm quite content with agreeing to disagree if the problems
and questions are disentangled and clearly stated for any list-member or

> Why don't you have a read of: Jan Hogedorn, Marion Johnson and David
> Anderson, "The Shell Money and the Slave Trade". Cambridge University
> Press, 2003. Although this one is about Africa, it makes reference to
> the Pacific.

Thanks! That is what I wanted, a recommendation. I have a
straight-forward question about the cowrie shell theory: how did it
enter into the West African societies? What were the means of exchange
with the producers/collectors of cowrie shells?

> I say it again: there is not a shred of historical evidence that it
> was the state which originally invented money. It gives too much
> credit to the state, as the organiser of exchange.

Not necessarily as the organizer of exchange (although it seems to have
been an enforcer of exchange in certain colonial societies, e.g.
Nigeria) but as the establisher of a universal equivalent, without which
it would be unlikely to come into being.

> But, as I said before, this statement is conditional on how you define
> money.

True, the very concept is somewhat elusive. First it would be important
to focus on some invariant properties of 'money' through-out history.
Second, I think Marx's notion of a universal equivalent poses part of
the question in a right way: what is equivalent (despite varying forms)
and how is it universal? I think the chartalist theory answers the
Marxian questions in a compelling way, especially when you consider the
radically different forms that money takes.

> You say: I think there is a significant body of evidence that the
> establishment of a universal equivalent was an act of state power.
> Well then, produce the evidence!

I'm not a researcher in the field. However, I can point to some good
references and research. For instance:

   1. A.M. Innes, "What is Money?", The Banking Law Journal, 1913.
   2. M. Forstater, "Taxation and Primitive Accumulation: The Case of
      Colonial Africa," Research in Political Economy, 2005.
   3. L.R. Wray, "Modern Money", The Levy Economics Institute, 1998.
   4. S. Bell, "The role of the state and hierarchy of money", CJE, 2001.
   5. G. Ingham, The Nature of Money, Polity, 2004.

> 1) There is a universal equivalent, but there is no state.

That is the question. Did it ever exist? To what extent was it a
universal equivalent? How representative is it in global comparative

> The so-called "Marxists" do not understand this, and complain that
> Marx does not serve them up with a complete history of money in his
> chapters, which would be compatible with an article by Innes, since
> all Marx does, is provide a brief sketch of the internal logic of the
> forms of commodity trade, which necessarily lead to the creation of
> money in some or other form, whatever the particular historical
> circumstances may be.

Here your style obscures the substantiative issues. I have no
'complaints' or desires that a book from 1867 should be compatible with
an article from 1913. I'm merely saying that the brief sketch is not a
convincing argument when one considers money-calculating societies in
the past.

> I leave that as an open and unsolved question as yet.
I think we have to recognize that that some of the direct evidence for
all the indigenous first instances of money may never be found. But that
is not necessary to assess the likelihood of theories.

//Dave Z
ope mailing list
Received on Thu Jun 11 18:10:02 2009

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