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Origins of money; kings and democracy

There's a book out there, David Graeber's Debt: the First 5000 Years, which I've heard about but not read, talking about the origin of money. This is one summary/review, including:

Graeber notes that the mainstream view of money as emerging from barter spot trades goes back to Adam Smith (Graeber 2011: 24). The modern neoclassical economics profession is obsessed with barter because they regard money as a neutral veil and their “real” analysis of economies is essentially that of a barter system

I'm currently reading The Big Problem of Small Change, a book Amy was reading sometime after we met. It includes (page 93 hardcover, Medieval Ideas About Money; Qualifications) the following translation of a bit from the Roman Digest (of law), 18.1.1, written by the Roman jurist Paulus before AD 235 (when he died.)

All buying and selling has its origin in exchange or barter. For in times past money was not so, nor was one thing called 'merchandise' and the other 'price'; rather did every man barter what was useless to him for that which was useful, according to the exigencies of his current needs; for it often happens that what one man has in plenty another lacks. But since it did not always and easily happen that when you had something which I wanted, I, for my part, had something that you were willing to accept, a material was selected which, being given a stable value (aestimatio) by the state, avoided the problems of barter by providing an equality of quantity (aequalitas quantitatis). That material, struck with a public design (forma), offers use (usus) and ownership (dominium) not so much by its substance (ex substantia) as by its quantity (ex quantitate), so that no longer are the things exchanged both called wares but one of them is termed the price (pretium).

(Source in Google Books, I think. I doubt we have any idea whether he was making this up, expressing common knowledge of the time, or referring to sources now lost to us.)

The author calls this obscure; seems pretty clear to me. Nothing says it's an accurate story, of course. But it is 1500 years earlier than Adam Smith, though still several centuries after the invention of coinage.

A few pages later is another translation, this of the words of Pope Innocent IV, who lived in the 1200s.

We believe, however, that the king, by his right, and by the fact that money receives authority and general acceptance from his effigy or mark, can make money of somewhat less, but not much less value than the metal or matter from which it is made. Therefore, in the first case, when he wants to diminish a money already made, we do not believe he can do so without the consent of the people, but with its consent we believe that he can, just as anyone is allowed to renounce his right. And because the business of the king is considered to be the business of all, for this reason the consent of the majority of the notables of the kingdom suffices.

Bolding mine.
The authors add:

The passage comes from viewing seigniorage as a tax. At the time, kings were expected to live from the revenues of their own lands, and taxes could only be levied with the consent of the people. The treatise on money by the Germany scholar Gabriel Biel repeats this doctrine and adds arguments that debasement is a relatively efficient and fair form of taxation, falling on all classes alike.

I'm guessing most of us don't at a gut level think of "no taxation without representation" or "consent of the people" in association with medieval kings, thus this blog post. At one level that's from not correlating the contents of our minds properly, as "The Call of Cthulhu" put it, at least for those of us who know what the basic function of Parliament or the Estates-General was, i.e. to be persuaded by the king into approving taxes. But I think it's one thing to know of a couple instances of that (or more, after I read about Spain's Cortes-General), and another to read a 1200s Pope say so, so casually.

Of course the bit about 'notables' means we're not talking super democratic here. But still.

Also, this article on the Estates-General said things I condensed as

elective component: elected by monks, by rich people in towns, in 1302.
1468 towns elect an ecclesiastic, noble, and burgess. 1484 invites all
estates to elect; universal and direct suffrage for all orders, but
countrymen couldn't get to town, so elected electors to represent them.
Early lots of control over taxes, ceded during Charles VII out of
"weariness" in Hundred Year's War. Refused to grant a regency in 1484.
1484 had deliberation in common; 1560 had orders deliberate separately.
Advisory on legislation; petition; could grant right to modify
fundamental laws of the regime.

And finally, just because it's too cool not to share at every opportunity, one version of the oath of allegiance of Aragon's nobility:

"We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are no better than us, to
accept you as our king and sovereign, provided you observe all our
liberties and laws, but if not, not."

I have to say, while I hate to buy into "democratic Europe, Asian despotism", I haven't heard of anything similar in Asia, particularly in China, Japan, and India. At least on a robust scale; early India had some republics, and Buddha was probably born in one than as a prince, but my reading of medieval India did not include kings having to wrangle taxes out of their subjects. Then again, India's history is kind of lacking in detail. China and Japan seem more pointed examples.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/322838.html#comments


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)
LUCCA, 18/4/2012 Well! Isn’t it dreadful to discover that our forefathers were not all brutes and savages whom we can comfortably despise. “I hate to buy into democratic Europe, Asian despotism”. Congratulations on getting beyond your prejudices. About Europe and representative government: http://fpb.livejournal.com/141494.html Another peculiarity of the Catholic West: http://fpb.livejournal.com/368548.html About the decline of representative government in the so-called “renaissance” (this is not mine): http://fpb.livejournal.com/621701.html
May. 24th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC)
You could be less snarky; it's not like this stuff is totally new to me, or to my journal. I had the Estates general and oath of Aragon ready to hand in my private log.

Interesting links. I left a couple of comments in the appropriate places.
May. 24th, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
Just an effing question: are you going to insist marking my contributions as spam? It hardly encourages reasonable debate.

Edited at 2012-05-24 03:26 pm (UTC)
May. 24th, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
I'm not doing it! I think it happens when non-friends post comments with links. I don't know how to change that without 'friending' you and I've got restrictive criteria for that.

Though oddly it didn't happen with your first comment. Maybe links within livejournal are considered not likely to be spam.

Edited at 2012-05-24 05:05 pm (UTC)
May. 24th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)

Talking about the origin of money, the books reviewed here might interest you. I have started on Seaford, but lost it, but it was full of good ideas.

May. 31st, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
Origin of money
It was your lucky day if you lost Seaford I think.

I recommend P N Ure and Leslie Kirke on coins.

Is Seaford as bad as Sargent and Velde tho? - that is a tough one.

S & V has the positive feature that a lot of people believed them, so its not a total waste of time to expose their very serious shortfallings

May. 31st, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Origin of money
I don't much like one-line dismissals of books, and if I am invited to NOT read a book, I would like some idea of what that book has done that is so bad. Is it a James Boswell case? a Dan Brown? Or is it just that you disagree with its conclusions? Because unless facts are obviously falsified (which I didn't see, and I am sensitive on these things) or invented, I would rather read even a bad book myself and find out by myself whether it is bad and why.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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