Money is Different
A long story
I've been working my way through Mariana Mazzucato's very interesting book "The Value of Everything".
I'm a slow reader these days and am still only about 1/3 done. She's taking a Foucaultian approach and examining how the concept of value evolved over time as society evolved.
Some people thought that land was the basis of value. Others thought it was gold. Others pointed at labor The subtitle is: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. She says that we can't rationally think about making and taking without having a clear idea about what value is. She takes a Dreyfusian view on this: Unfortunately there is no agreement about what value is.
Maybe we can make progress by looking at how we actually use the idea rather than get into ontological quibbles about what value is.
We value things for all sorts of reasons. That evaluation can be seen as an interpretation of reality.
We know that we are endowed with the capacity to interpret sense data and make it meaningful.
This is a fairly low level system that other higher level systems like morality or language or perception use.
So we might say that when we think something is beneficial to us in some way or another then we speak of it's value.
We value things for lots of reasons.
Many things have use value.
Many things have sentimental value.
Many things have aesthetic value
And many things have money value.
I value my fork because it's a good tool for eating many foods. I have a spoon that I got from my mother that I wouldn't part with for anything. Each of these values is quite personal - it's my fork or spoon I value. Aesthetic value has the property that the aesthetic experience can be shared by many people at once and that the actual value interpretation can vary a lot among viewers.
Money is different. At a simple level (leaving out complexities like buying and selling money itself) money is a medium of exchange that enables transactions. I hold a $2 coin. It's not much use for anything in itself. I have no sentimental attachment to it. It's too common to be noticeable as beautiful. I can exchange that for something that I do value for other reasons; say a warm drink on a cold day. The thing I purchase soon gets consumed and disappears. But not the $2 coin. It just gets transferred to a new owner in exchange for the drink. The new owner trades the coin to a bank in exchange for the balance of the account rising by $2. The bank transfers the coin to another person and deducts $2 from their account. The same $2 coin can pass around that way for decades. And what matters is that there be enough $2 coins to satisfy all the transactions at any one moment and not the absolute monetary value of all the coins that are extant. That enables an interesting phenomenon - the coins can accumulate in jars - the general term is: we can save money. Other sorts of value don't lend themselves to saving. When I lived in the woods I had an axe and a shovel. I had no motivation to have 10 axes and 20 shovels. I could only use one at a time of either. But I did have motivation to accumulate money.
Accumulated money gives power to those who control it in a way that accumulated shovels don't.
What do you think?