Theology of Money – 5. Theology of Money

I apologize for the possibly excessive length of this summary, but I found it to be exceptionally dense.

Accounting

This chapter investigates money “in relation to its mode of representation and the belief that this inspires” (165), beginning with the question of what counts as money. The impossibility of answering this question definitively “testifies to an underlying philosophical problem that emerges from the nature of representation as such” (165), a problem that stems from the fact that money is actually nothing but its own representation. The value money supposedly represent does not exist outside its representation in exchange. There is no outside standard of value, only the constant flux of representations: “Each act of pricing is a guess, an estimate or approximation. Since there is nothing to which it approximates, then pricing is always an act of faith. It is inherently theological” (166).

Pricing is always ultimately arbitrary. The agreed price reflects only the fact that some determinate agreement has been reached and executed; the quoted price “reflects hopes and expectations, uncertainties and strategies” (166). The same goes for contracts as for quoted prices: “While a price quoted depends on the credibility of the one who makes an offer, a contract depends on the credibility of public contracts within society” (166). This credibility can only stem from particular institutions, such as bank; it’s impossible for money or contracts to reflect the efforts of society as a whole because economic activity never forms a complete system. Economic activity is governed by interlocking contracts among particular people and institutions, and “money is merely the public accounting of contracts” (167).

Money is a shared fiction, which concretely exists only in banks’ record books. These books are a self-referential system; contracts represent links between different sets of books. While these books are made up of representations of contracts, their balance is significantly different from a contract insofar as a balance represents all transactions as being complete: “Account books assume that contracts will be honored and debts and credits will be paid in full, even if those who use them do not. Account books designate possible futures as if they had already occurred” (168).

Account books do not tell us about some external reality; instead, accounting represents a system of ethics and law, directing economic behavior. The moral principles of accounting are as follows:

  1. Income and spending have to balance over the long term, “according to the model of a circular flow” (168).
  2. Accounts are a system of “mak[ing] economic conduct visible” (169) in order to demonstrate that one is worthy of trust/credit.
  3. Accounts promote self-discipline: “An enterprise maintains public credibility only if it maintains private self-discipline” (169).

In short, accounting is a fundamentally social and moral phenomenon, rather than being an objective record.

The shared fiction of accounting, which treats all contracts as if they had already been fulfilled, allows money to multiply. In the time it takes for a contract to be fulfilled, the money it represents could have been spent multiple times in multiple ways — effectively, accounts create money. While common sense objects that fiat currency is not backed up by any real value, the true illusion is the idea that there could be a substantial value (on the model of gold) to back it up. In reality, money can “be in two places at once” and serve as a reserve for itself (170). Specifically, Goodchild seems to be saying that the most important “two places” are the past and future: “Money exists only in memory or anticipation as a record in account books” (170). Money always does its work elsewhere, and allowing money and accounts to handle contracts is a way of “outsourcing” our attention. Once we agree to a contract, it can be taken for granted, leaving us free to seek out further beneficial contracts.

In sum, “accounting measures that which no longer demands attention” (170). Yet paradoxically, a profit-driven society directs its attention precisely to accounting, believing that it measures something worthwhile in itself. A mechanism that should free our attention for what matters becomes a distraction that ultimately leaves no time for what matters.

Since there’s nothing external that accounting actually measures, “all that matters is that such records are not seriously disputed” and accounting can serve as “the basis for credibility and credit” (171). Yet in that role, accounting is deceptive, because it only tells the story of the firm’s supposed self-mastery and prudence, obscuring the reality of its interconnection with others. What’s more, it ignores externalities.

Morals of Accounting

Overall, this narrowing of focus makes accounting a dangerous moral system. For instance, it ignores the fact that not everyone can be a rich capitalist and that every firm requires people to be available for work. In addition, the supposed self-mastery provided by accounting covers up the fact that contracts are binding once entered into and that the “free” decision to enter into the contract is constrained by a wide range of external factors. The fact that accounting obscures these very important facts undermines its claim of self-mastery.

Accounting also constrains freedom simply in itself, by guiding people into particular patterns of behavior. It is guided by “the utopian ideal of determinate prices as an ideal frame of reference,” an ideal that flies in the face of the reality of continual negotiation (174). The overwhelming focus on saving time produces “a world without the experience of time or social relation” (175). By short-circuiting the difference between already realized outcomes and expectations, it fails to respect the “difference between a monetary value and the value of a monetary evaluation” — whatever evaluations have been made are taken as infallible (175). The supposed mastery accounting provides leads to the attempt to bring all of reality under its sway by giving everything a price, which leads one to think of all of reality as potentially lost, broken, or substituted for. Its function is similar to that of a sacrifice and is not much more effective as a way of diverting destructive forces.

Money and contracts are analogous to writing, in the sense of being de-contextualizable and thus able to take on new meanings at the same time as they represent a dead authority that can’t be challenged or changed once agreed on. In a sense, then, money is the ultimate form of writing, infinitely transferable and flexible, possessing its own authority (insofar as it takes away the authority of the person who tries to use its power), and proving its own value through profit. In the full Zizekian sense, money works even if you don’t believe in it.

Overall, accounting serves the function of bringing all of reality under money’s sway, submitting everything to definitive evaluation that then serves as the basis for technical rationality. It poses as neutral, yet it imposes the moral standard of making a profit as the highest possible goal. It attempts to efface the dual nature of money as a promise and a threat by keeping assets and pawning off liabilities on someone else. It sets up a system where everyone is assumed to be a fully responsible sovereign individual, meaning that success in navigating the system provides evidence of moral worth and financial failure implies moral failure. “The culture of modernity is one of universal threat” — freedom is continually threatened by obligation, which one must continually try to push onto someone else (180).

A Revaluation of Value

If we want to pursue a revaluation of values, then Goodchild proposes that we should begin by changing accounting practices. Since money exists as accounting records, new forms of accounting would lead to new forms of money. A new system would have to make up for the serious problems with actual existing accounting: the lack of attention to externalities, the treatment of contracts as completed transactions rather than “enduring relations” (181), and its failure to acknowledge the broader social context that underwrites the credibility of money. It’s not simply a matter of coming up with ways to count or measure life or capital, because they escape valuation: “Instead, it is necessary to discover a temporal and relational mode of evaluation, where value is not encountered within either object or subject but in a relation that exceeds the bounds of mastery of the evaluating subject” (181).

Money is not valuable, insofar as it does not reliably point toward what matters. Yet it has managed to defeat every other mode of evaluation, and a new system must find a way to make use of this power instead of being enslaved to it. This new use of money must begin by clearing away money’s false claims to be a store of value, a unit of account, or a medium of exchange. All these claims rely on an obsfuscation of the social and temporal reality in which money is embedded; a new method of evaluation would take that reality seriously. Once we get past the simple identification of money with value, we can see that value arises from a convergence of “capital, which arises from the production of order; demand, which arises from the experience of time; and credit, which arises from a determinate theology of evaluation” (183).

Accounting leads to the paradox of the representation of evaluation (money) taking the place of evaluation itself, and a new accounting system must start from the premise that “true value resists accounting” (183). We must deal with “that which cannot be evaluated yet demands to be evaluated” (183), namely, all those economic opportunities that arise outside the already existing market relations represented by price. Instead of encouraging competition for the single resource of money, a new mode of accounting would have to promote cooperation, which is the path to true wealth.

What is necessary is a separation of value and price: “Value is that which is not yet represented in a price” (185). True value can only be observed indirectly through price movements that react to news, emerging tendencies, etc. The market really is guided by an “invisible hand,” which is the force of external events that cause a shift in prices. This invisible hand always works inefficiently and unjustly, meaning that the ideals of prudence, self-mastery, and the utopia of market equilibrium all prove to be illusory. We need to recognize that none of these ideals are desirable because they cover over the deeply social basis of the production of wealth and that true economic value is produced only through the unpredictability of economic opportunity. A perfect invisible hand would lead to stasis — it is only the injustice and inefficiency of the invisible hand that drives economic development.

Speculative traders provide us a way of monitoring the movements of the invisible hand by monitoring shifts in confidence as represented by prices. Though speculative markets have a certain degree of autonomy from external forces, they still need some form of real economy to operate on — that is, it needs something to pay attention to. A new form of evaluation will need to find ways to direct attention to what truly matters, a task that is even more urgent given that the current system may be actively undermining our sensitivity to what matters.

Credit

Accounting is narrowly focused on price alone, with no real concern for the product or how it was produced. It thinks atemporally, solely in terms of substitution or substitutibility. From this perspective, ongoing obligations in terms of land, labor, and capital are a drain on value insofar as they are a drain on time and so most economic activity is oriented toward saving time, since saving time is easier than inventing new ways to produce capital: “Indeed, such a large proportion of economic activity and innovation is geared toward saving time that one may wonder whether more time is spent on saving time than time is saved” (188). This is a consequence of a system that makes the generation of profit the highest value.

What goes unexamined is the process of spending time. This is a result of the focus on the management rather than the labor perspective, because the contracts that allow management to save time/attention subject the workers to a certain experience of time that tends to be more and more impoverished. A system that wants to cultivate the most valuable uses and experience of time will have to reverse its perspective. To do that, we need to develop new fictions that are responsive to a wider range of reality.

The current system values things only in terms of money, which means profitability. This blinkering effect means that value is continually being overlooked or wasted. Entropy of value in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, because it spurs economic activity as a negentropic process. Yet the market equilibrium that the current system tends toward as its regulatory ideal would be “a kind of moral heat death” — not a point of balance but a point of the gradual eradication of information about the prior states that led to the equilibrium: “The marketization of society effects the progressive annihilation of history, culture, and value” (190). True value requires more than profit-seeking, because it is a fight against entropy that is prompted by the natural tendency toward entropy, creating desire that motivates the production of order. Rather than being a point of perfect balance, the production of true value thrives on a dual excess: “an excess of potential ordering and its correspondence to desire, as well as an excess of desire beyond what can be ordered” (191). In addition, a third element is necessary: credit, which treats an economic opportunity as valuable and so provides the conditions for it to prove itself. This means that the production of value is not a matter of measurement, knowledge, or certainty but rather of risk: “value derives from speculation” (192).

The credit necessary to take advantage of economic opportunity requires contracts with three parties: “sellers of time, buyers of nutrition, and those who give credit to the contract” (192). Since opportunity can never be proven to be such qua opportunity — once it is proven, it’s no longer an opportunity — the discipline appropriate to credit is not science but theology. Such a theology of credit must look beyond profitability:

The production of value is most valuable either when it contributes to the formation of physical, human, and social capital or when it contributes to the quality of experience. The true value of an economic opportunity, then, rests in its ultimate implications for the production of capital, for meeting desire, and for enhancing credit. The highest form of value to be produced is the capacity to evaluate economic opportunity. (192)

To get to such a new form of evaluation, we have to discard the notion of money as embodying exchange value, because money can ultimately only be exchanged for money: “the veil of perpetual substitution has at last to be discarded, leaving money in its naked state as promise, liability, and reserve” (193). The goal of credit isn’t to obtain the collateral; that’s just a consolation prize if the venture goes wrong. In reality, “no determinate value can … be substituted for credit,” because the referent of credit is economic opportunity rather than future value (194). Because of this, there can be no public standard for credit — economic opportunities are intrinsically not publicly known qua opportunities. A new system of credit would give more credit to new opportunities than to existing methods of production, because it is disequilibrium and unintended consequence that truly drives economic activity.

Evaluation

Ultimately, we need to find a way to evaluate desire itself as that which gives value to capital. This means that an economic system that generates true wealth must go beyond producing capital and produce true values, which don’t need to be reflected in exchange value but do need to “orient desire and production” (195). Though true values can’t be known objectively, it is possible to track them down through a system of divination: “What is necessary for the divination of value is some kind of supple, imaginative body that is capable of being affected by and indicating the potency of forces of evaluation. What is also required for the verification of such divinations is an experimental method for the realization of value” (195). [I'm really not sure exactly what he's saying in this paragraph.]

While the market has hegemonized the process of evaluation, we need to find some way to “invest in values apart from a market system for their verification” (196). Such a method cannot repeat money’s mistake of diverting attention away from the investments themselves: investments productive of true wealth require more attention, not less.

Money creates the illusion that all liabilities can be expressed by some universal equivalent, but in fact liabilities are always specific liabilities of specific institutions denominated in specific currencies. This specificity tells us that there is in principle no limit to the types of liabilities that could be created. If money “indicates the effective desire attached to a contract,” some other indicator is necessary to tell us the “effective value attached to a contract.” It’s not enough for the two signatories to a contract to agree on that value, because contracts affect all of society. In general, it seems appropriate for the state to enforce contracts because in general it’s beneficial for contracts to be honored — yet not all contracts are good for society, i.e., productive of true value. Evaluation must accompany demand and production: “Just as there are enterprises for the production of order to meet demand, in a healthy economy there also need to be enterprises for the evaluation of contracts that assess demand” (197). Money does not suffice for this function, and in fact it actively undermines alternative forms of evaluation through its domination of the mass media, which in theory seems like it could help to educate people in true evaluation. Democratic institutions are undermined in turn by the failure to cultivate the public’s capacity for genuine evaluation. Faced with this unpromising situation, Goodchild concludes as follows:

The short circuit between desire, money, and evaluation must be cut in order to liberate attention to the crediting, critique, and creation of effective evaluations. In short, the ethical economy that coexists with the economy of order requires its own distinctive isntitutions whose primary purpose is evaluation, not production or profit. The creation, critique, and crediting of evaluation is the theological activity that guides the economic order. (198)

Response and Questions

When I first read this book, this chapter was the one that most stood out to me, but rereading it to do the summary, I realized how much I missed. Where before I was mainly caught by the fact that accounting is a moral system rather than a system of measurement, I didn’t see clearly how that fit into the broader argument. Now it’s clear to me that this is a kind of lynchpin of the book, consolidating his critique of money and laying the groundwork for his positive proposal, which — spoiler alert! — involves thinking through how to develop institutions focused on evaluation.

I’m still digesting this myself, but I suppose one idea we might discuss is where this chapter fits into the contemporary theological dialogue that attempts to imagine “the church” as a site of authentic moral formation, etc. — a project that I would support in principle but that all too often performs a short circuit between this imaginary “church” and the actual existing institutions that claim to represent Christ.

There is perhaps a deeper problem with such discourses, though, which is that they tend to be very individualistic or at best communitarian, without really envisioning how a good type of moral formation could take place at the level of society as a whole. Moral formation of individuals or of determinate communities may well prove to be illusory insofar as the broader society renders impossible the types of moral activities that such formation promotes (this would be the situation faced by the narrator of Romans 7, at least in Ted Jennings’ reading). To quote the band Silver Mt. Zion: “When the world is sick, can no one be well?” The challenge is to find some way to intervene on the same level of universality as the sickness itself. The fact that Goodchild takes on this challenge is the true measure of his ambition in this book.

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29 Responses to “Theology of Money – 5. Theology of Money”

  1. Chester Herzog Says:

    Lynchpin of the book? I guess you’re right. I reckon any new system of evaluation has to start by distinguishing kinds of economic opportunities – nearly all speculation and financial trading is about buying and selling risk. It’s profit from anxiety, greed and fear. If it adds stability, that only means that greater risks can be taken, bought and sold. The other kind of economic opportunity involves offering new products and services. It’s profit from desire, even if it creates new needs. The difference between these opportunities is that between fear and hope.

    But the creation of evaluations – is that a response to opportunity? Who really wants the evaluations of others? Don’t we already have enough opinions of our own? Whatever the service offered or the risk covered here, it’s sure to be invisible and largely unwanted. Could it ever catch on?

    That’s the disingenuous thing about Goodchild – his pluralism. He wants others’ evaluations to count. But he seems to be pretty damned sure that nearly all the evaluations made today are completely misguided because of the effect of money. Surely, it’s all about getting the right evaluations to count. These, of course, are always mine (or those of my moral community, when it agrees with me).

  2. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Part of Goodchild’s point about money appears to be its unconscious character. We don’t have to make evaluations, it makes them for us. This is part of its strength, why it works at a kind of ‘infinite speed’. Thus, I think you’ll find, in his chapter on evaluative credit, that the structure will also have to be unconscious in this way, but that requires shifting the structures or the conditions of this unconcious action. The giving of attention to things that matter does not have to be co-constituted by an outside or transcendent thought. The doing and the thinking are immanent to one another, as in money, so I think your comment really misses the target.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Chester, I can see where you get the impression behind your comment, but I think you’re missing the formal aspect of Goodchild’s work — money takes away our attention from what matters because it directs all our attention to money itself. It’s not just that Goodchild is so smart that he knows what’s really important and we don’t, it’s that money as representation cannot possibly be what matters. Notice how reticent he is to say what this “what matters” is — within the money system, we can’t begin to even think about that; in fact, the money system actively degrades our ability to think about “what matters.” It’s not that money makes us want iPods when we should want the complete works of Aristotle — it’s that money makes us want money, which, again, cannot be what matters. And money achieves this by making evaluation into a completely “background” operation, putting forth exchange values (already determined) where it really represents evaluations that need to be tested in practice. Sure, he wants a democratic system of evaluation, but money cannot possibly be it, because money is unconcious.

  4. Alex Says:

    Indeed, further to Adam, Goodchild’s point is that money in fact does not allow any evaluations apart from those that are based on the perspective on money. It is not so much that he is claiming a pluralism while having his own monistic perspective, but that as long as money remains, no true pluralism (or even a single partisan vision) is possible.

    I wonder, and I have spoken to him about it, if Goodchild encounters a similar problem to Marx and other thinkers claiming our thought is shaped by our environment. How is Goodchild able to make the evaluations he makes without them being coloured by the power of money? I remember his response being, and I think he wrote about this in the preface to the US edition, “well, of course, it can’t do – for one, the reason Theology of Money was completed when it was in order for it be ready for the RAE (British neoliberal academic tests)”, which was an interesting answer.

  5. Alex Says:

    The soundtrack to this whole book is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aLjup934Rk – “we are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and this machine is bleeding to death”, given the chapter on Shakespeare “I open up my wallet and it’s full of blood”. Lyrics nowhere close to the power of lyrics plus music…

  6. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    I really like the emphasis on accounting. Anyone who followed the Enron mess-up remembers that the underlying problem was the way that accounting practices concealed debts. Similar problems arose in the recent financial debacle, though here the problem included bond evaluators rating debt packages as less risky than they were. Debt, it seems, is the basis of profit in the financial markets, and the transparent accounting of debt depends upon evaluating risk. Sometimes accounting assists in the hiding of debt, and sometimes it misevaluates debt’s risk (triple-A rating for subprime mortgage credit swaps). Isn’t then what is needed, a way to evaluate the riskiness of debt as transparently as possible? Now, it seems to me, that a true evaluation of debt must see debt as putting our very existence as a species at risk. We are borrowing on the future of the entire planet by our current energy use (we as a species “owe” the planet a debt of energy if we are to sustain our existence on the planet and not create conditions that will lead to mass scarcity and death by the end of the century). It seems to me that what we need is not just new forms of evaluation, but a new mindset entirely, one that makes the risk of debt fully transparent, in all its planetary ramifications. Let me put this theologically: we need to see nothingness (debt, risk) where we currently see substance (money, profit). It’s sort of like a form of gnosis: seeing through a systemic illusion. I take it that this is Goodchild’s basic point.

  7. Chester Herzog Says:

    Alex, “our thought is shaped by our environment”? Yes, I reckon this is true for Goodchild. There are more gentle, subtle and perceptive philosophers, but perhaps they couldn’t write anything as engaged as this. It’s like he’s almost sold his soul to money just to see it properly. So you get harsh, crude, and bold outlines. But even in his account of capitalism, environment is only one factor. There’s all kinds of ways of making things, and all kinds of ways of making yourself. Perhaps Goodchild has come from somewhere else, and his formation (Deleuze? the Church? the teachings of Jesus? direct descent from heaven?) helps him assemble stuff according to a different point of view. Personally, I reckon he’s secretly a mystic, but doesn’t want to write about that.

    If he were to write about that formation, would he write very differently, and see different things?

  8. Alex Says:

    Harsh, crude and bold outlines? So your central critique seems to be his picture of money and capital is too reductive? Perhaps you could say more…

    As I said, in the Preface to the US version, Goodchild gives a specific and concrete example (in a rather mundane, but so true) of the RAE ranking influencing him getting this book out of the door as soon as possible.

  9. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    We’re sure getting a lot of people from the same IP address with questionable names…

    “If he were to write about that formation, would he write very differently, and see different things?”

    Undoubtedly. Yet, this is the text we actually have and it is a fair bit more ambitious and illuminating than other attempts at theological critiques of money (Long springs to mind as one who undertakes a “Church history” critique that hobbles along with a “good” and “bad” history of Christian theology, trying to separate the two out, but we end up with a defense of orthodoxy rather than an understanding money).

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I feel that Chester Herzog has probably made a sufficient contribution for now.

  11. Adam Kotsko Says:

    In fact, no further weirdly insinuating comments from Nottingham IP addresses under false names will be allowed. If you are from Nottingham and wish to comment, use your actual name. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, don’t comment.

  12. danbarber Says:

    I find it a compelling suggestion when C Herzog writes: “Personally, I reckon he’s secretly a mystic, but doesn’t want to write about that.”

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That suggestion may well be compelling, but my experience with the internet makes me suspicious of attempts at “indirect communication.” One man’s artful intervention is another man’s attempt to insult someone personally while maintaining plausible deniability.

  14. Hill Says:

    I, too, think the “accusation” of mysticism is a good one. It’s one of the reasons I love reading Goodchild. He has these stretches where he just goes mantic on that ass.

  15. Alex Says:

    “He has these stretches where he just goes mantic on that ass.”

    That made me laugh out loud. Good show.

  16. danbarber Says:

    I don’t think mysticism should be understood as an accusation!

  17. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Fine, I’m an asshole, or else too jaded by past experiences with shifting pseudonyms. I’ll back down. Comment enigmatically all you want, whoever you are.

  18. Hill Says:

    Hence the quotation marks. I’m with you danb. Someone with his ear should talk him in to writing a “spiritual biography” of sorts.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Yes, a spiritual autobiography would definitely help us to assess his argument about the role of money.

  20. lissamccullough Says:

    Chester wrote: “That’s the disingenuous thing about Goodchild – his pluralism. He wants others’ evaluations to count. But he seems to be pretty damned sure that nearly all the evaluations made today are completely misguided because of the effect of money. Surely, it’s all about getting the right evaluations to count. These, of course, are always mine (or those of my moral community, when it agrees with me).”

    In my opinion the deep structure hovering behind this book is Augustinian. Our only salvation is to get our loves in order. Goodchild does not assume the Fall as Augustine does, that primeval moment when the divine order was shot to hell by self-love. But I think reading an Augustinian “pondus amoris” behind Goodchild’s reevaluation of values via time, attention, and devotion would help us grasp and critique his “theology.” Maybe capitalism, the vocation to pursue accumulation of money as an end in itself (not only shamelessly but with positive self-righteousness, a fruit of the demonic side of Puritan theology), only escalates and super-empowers the entropic disorder inherent in self-centered desire. Goodchild’s wager may be that focusing on “what matters” can catalyze that “salvific” process of reevaluation that is necessary to reorder our loves, at first only by revealing them more clearly instead of masking them behind a monocultural meme–one that tends inherently toward nihilism.

    Anthony wrote: “Part of Goodchild’s point about money appears to be its unconscious character. We don’t have to make evaluations, it makes them for us. . . . The giving of attention to things that matter does not have to be co-constituted by an outside or transcendent thought. The doing and the thinking are immanent to one another, as in money, so I think [Chester’s] comment really misses the target.”

    Anthony, when money makes evaluations for us, those are nonetheless OUR evaluations in alienated or passive form. So Chester is not wrong, but you are helpfully supplementing his point with the unconscious dimension. The question of the need for a “transcendent thought” is a crucial one. If this book proposes a neo-Augustinian reordering of loves after the death of God, what takes the place of God, who was formerly the supreme orderer of loves? Can conscience take over that role? Can love? What can compete with Mammon as the orderer of modern loves?

    Adam wrote: “Chester, . . . I think you’re missing the formal aspect of Goodchild’s work — money takes away our attention from what matters because it directs all our attention to money itself. . . . it’s that money as representation cannot possibly be what matters.”

    It is not “money” that takes away our attention from what matters, but capitalism, or pursuit of monetary accumulation per se. (Goodchild is often careless about precision of terms; we should guard against it.) Pursuit of monetary accumulation per se is a modern beast, now slouching toward apocalypse, whose advent was conditioned by modern institutions and theologies (more on John Locke later!). Pursuit of money per se obscures the fact that, when practiced at its purest, it entails a renunciation and liquidation of all ends for pure means. This is the purest alienation, the purest annihilation of values possible, because it embodies a desire that has no end, unless renunciation and liquidation of all ends can become an end in itself. Even if no one pursues capitalist theology this purely, not even the likes of Cheney or Madoff, this characterizes the ideal type of its modus: the direction toward which capitalism tends as it becomes more purely itself.

    BTW, some of your comments seem to disregard the AUFS comment policy. I wade through enough tiresome drivel and witty repartee on Facebook. Let’s stay on topic here.

  21. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Right, the terminological distinction is helpful — especially since Goodchild tries in the end to come up with ways to redirect money’s power, to make it other than an end in itself (as it was before the advent of capitalism properly so-called).

  22. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To get at the “transcendence” problem, though, I think a good first step is to ask, on a non-formal level, how we can tell that the pursuit of money for its own sake is bad. The answer is pretty obvious: it’s killing us. So there has to be a baseline of survival, right?

  23. Hill Says:

    Lisa’s final paragraph reminds me of the distinction that it is “the love of money” that is the “root of all evil” and not money itself. It also brings up the almost trivial point that money predates anything we might meaningfully call capitalism. This isn’t to try to pull the rug out from under him or anything like that, but I’d be really interested in seeing his theology of money applied to more ancient instances of currency to see what obtains and what doesn’t… an archaeology of money?

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Such a project might be interesting in a curiosity type of way, but I think the only real payoff would be if we could find something that would be useful in the current situation — doesn’t it seem like you’d mainly just find gold-standard type of thinking?

  25. Andy Says:

    I found footnote 30 on page 113 to be interesting in this respect: “Note that these considerations do not simply apply to fiat or debt money in the contemporary economy. They apply to all money as such. Then any currency reform that simply aims to turn money back into a token of legal tender or a valuable commodity will not succeed in neutralizing the power of money. Moreover, money coined by the state and distributed as legal tender, valid for the payment of taxation, is already created effectively as debt money, however valuable its intrinsic metal content.”

  26. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Hill,

    I think you’d find your answer in a condensed form in Chapters 3&5 of Capitalism and Religion.

  27. Hill Says:

    I need to go back to that book. My last readthrough went off the rails in Chapter 2.

  28. lissamccullough Says:

    Hill wrote: “… an archaeology of money?” Yes, an archaeology and a genealogy. Certainly, a careful review of the variable empirical and symbolic roles of money in different societies in history is instructive. Goodchild has done his homework here, though one can always go deeper into a mine of information that extensive. The essential thing to grasp is that money as we know it today—in the form of capitalist debt structures—is a product of historical institutions and theologies, not of money as such. Goodchild rightly emphasizes this (e.g. 239). Pursuit of money as an end in itself is a modern virus being actively hosted and fostered by government, judicial, corporate, and international institutional structures. Without these sustaining institutional structures, no go. Like a marionette whose strings are cut.

    Hill also wrote: “…it is ‘the love of money’ that is the ‘root of all evil’ and not money itself. It also brings up the almost trivial point that money predates anything we might meaningfully call capitalism.”

    Money is as money does. Sometimes, in limited circumstances, one can love what money does. Much more often, overwhelmingly in fact, one cannot. It is our loves (desires) that need to be put in order; then we would be able to employ money in a way that is mostly healthy for the corporate body of society (though there is always that dark shadow of “sin” lurking at our doors). I would gladly love money if it were employed as an instrument of love, rather than as a means to negative forms of power, greed, self-aggrandizement, hence exploitation, humiliation—in short, as a weapon of mass destruction. In the current context, one cannot use money in good conscience to do works of charity because the money is dripping with blood (human and nonhuman) that, like Lady Macbeth’s hands, cannot under any circumstances be made clean. Modern history has arranged things this way. But that need not be so in principle.

    Goodchild’s analysis of the “single primary product” of capitalist systems is brilliant (81), but he makes a terminological mistake when he writes that “economy and ecology are mathematically incompatible” (22, 81). If this were so, it would utterly doom us! But he actually means to say that “capitalist economy and ecology are mathematically incompatible.” Thankfully there are many, many forms of economy possible; indeed, this is one of the richnesses of human culture, as every society has a different one, and “money” is only one functional element of any particular economy. And yes, money predates—and will post-date—capitalism. No problem with that. Do you want to carry around seashells or bags of soybeans to pay for things you cannot supply for yourself? (Well, those shell and beans are “money” anyway.)

    We can only fight capitalism with capitalism. By that I mean, we must think like courtroom prosecutors, assembling the legal brief that amasses all the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence of capitalism’s destructiveness and nihilism in order to argue on humanitarian and ecological grounds that capitalism is an evil, anti-life empire. Goodchild is a leader here. Then, to the extent that fight is successful, we need to fight capitalism with realist powers of imagination, designing alternative economies that might (or might not) save us and what is left of the earth under our seven billion pairs of human feet and rapacious hands.


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