Goodchild begins by defining capital as “the means of production that has itself been produced.” Money represents capital, but only one form of capital, whereas an ecology of money looks at the relationship between money and other forms of capital. Capital is a form of wealth, and it is not simply human production but also natural production. Here Goodchild goes beyond most philosophers and theologians by refusing to constrain his analysis solely to symbolic and ideal levels. Goodchild demonstrates the fundamental incompatibility between ecology, where the production of capital is tied to finite natural resources and energy flows, and economy, which posits unlimited growth by measuring capital solely in terms of rates of profit. Modern economic activity only measures rates of profit, which defines capitalism, rather than all of the various inputs, natural and human, that produce wealth. Ecology and economy are mathematically incompatible.
Economically, money functions as the value of value, the value that allows exchangeability or interchangeability of values. The nature of money explains exchange: it is represents an anticipation of the future, which means that money is essentially credit.
Money promises value, and when viewed solely in terms of exchange, money’s power is absolute, because no other value or power can withstand it.
Following the work of Geoffrey Ingham, Goodchild understands money as a promise to pay which is a process of production that creates money as debt. Ironically, the more money you have the more debt you create, which spirals out of control until you have a crisis of credit like the one that began in 2007, the year A Theology of Money was published in the UK.
Money is the promise of value, which means a promise to pay which creates a debt, a form of capital that works for awhile when supplied with sufficient energy flows, but the creation of financial wealth is at the same time the creation of debt, which means that modern economic freedom of purchasing power ends up being deeply constraining. Money is generally understood narrowly, in terms of one of its functions rather than broadly, ecologically. Goodchild shows how money as promise of value is essentially credit, which leads to an ecology of credit and the need for new forms of social evaluation.
Modern industrial civilization is based upon the ability to capitalize upon new sources of energy, primarily fossil fuels, and these deposits of “ancient sunlight” have reached peak rates of extraction and exploitation, which means that the financial crisis is also an energy crisis. Goodchild mentions the fact that capital is a neg-entropic production process; it involves self-assembly and intermediation. Goodchild does not explicitly discuss thermodynamics, but I think part of the schizophrenia of the 20th century is a legacy of the inability to reconcile in thought or action the twin legacies of the 19th—thermodynamics and particularly the Second Law, and evolution, which appears neg-entropic. Complexity theory is a potential solution, and it emphasizes complex self-adaptive systems, or self-organization, which occurs through self-reinforcing feedback loops and dissipative structures far from equilibrium.
The problem is that we haven’t been able to fully integrate complexity with thermodynamics, although Ilya Prigogine has come the closest I think in his book The End of Certainty. Deleuze gives us a sketch of a solution in chapter 5 of Difference and Repetition, the “Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible,” but it is not fully fleshed out. He does mention the “transcendental illusion of entropy,” where intensities of difference are preserved underneath extensities in a kind of hysteresis. Rod Swenson takes this idea further in his idea of autocatakinetic systems, where he supplements the law of entropy with a law of maximum rate of reduction of gradient differentials. This is why evolution is NOT neg-entropic. Entropy, understood correctly, is the same process that leads to self-organization and production of capital, and it is not primarily thermo-dynamic. Entropy is also time, but that’s a different story. I think Goodchild’s understanding of capital here gives us tools to understand nature as immediately and essentially productive, even if he does not engage all of these issues I’m raising.
The split that Goodchild refers to between economy and ecology is similar to the one between the sciences (which are rendered blind) and the humanities/philosophy (which becomes impotent). As animals, we cannot process solar radiation directly; we consume plants or other animals and burn up their carbohydrates for fuel. Oxidation is burning, and mostly we get energy from burning stuff, which is a powerfully constraining thermodynamic mindset. So we strip mine the planet and burn it up to fuel our economic growth and wealth, and we are now consuming the means of production themselves in a desperate attempt to sustain current rates of profit.
Einstein and Feynman showed us another option, and it is the same one that M.K. Hubbert called for in his diagnosis of “peak oil.” But at present we can only utilize nuclear energy for bombs and boilers. We burn nuclear fuel to heat water to turn a turbine, which is a carry-over from 19th century thermodynamics. There has to be another way, even if it may be too late to deploy (but I hope not too late). I’ve been working with someone who has developed a proposal to revamp nuclear energy, based upon the processes of the earth’s production of its magnetic field, which are not fully understood. It’s a radical idea, and it involves entraining nuclear elements in rotating shells and generating a magnetic field directly, that would then generate electricity. This is a little far afield but I think it is something that is opened up and profoundly related to Goodchild’s extraordinary analysis.