Robert Leonard's "Curious Currency"

Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 6 months, 4 weeks ago to Economics
28 comments | Share | Flag


Add Comment

FORMATTING HELP

All Comments Hide marked as read Mark all as read

  • Posted by CircuitGuy 6 months, 3 weeks ago
    "No example is known of a society that moved from barter to money"
    I've heard the story of how people moved from barter to exchanging a widely valued item to exchanging coins or notes representing ownership of the valued item, and eventually to a modern banking system where new money is created as people create new value.

    But this says that although we've seen failed economies resort to barter, we don't have solid historical records of a society going from barter to money.
    Reply | Mark as read | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by LibertyBelle 6 months, 3 weeks ago
      I doubt that that is true. But even if it were, perhaps money was invented before writing was; maybe it was a pre-historic custom first.
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
      • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
        You are right: gift exchange ("money") was invented before writing.

        Writing was invented to keep track of goods. Written inventories are older than written poems by at least 2000 years.
        Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
        • Posted by CircuitGuy 6 months, 3 weeks ago
          "gift exchange ("money") was invented before writing. "
          I wonder if there's a continuum of money.
          1. Barter - Mutual Coincidence of wants
          2. Intermediary Barter - I have tools and want groceries. I provide tools to the furniture maker in exchange for furniture that I give to the grocery store in exchange for food
          3a) Media of exchange with real value - People use something like a pound of coffee to represent about a solid hour's worth of unskilled work. Even people who don't have use for coffee accept it in trade knowing they can give it to a coffee drinker.
          3b) Media of exchange with real value but also value by virtue of being rare and medium of exchange - Precious metals
          4) Notes representing 3a or 3b so you don't have to carry them around
          5) fiat money - Government or large entity issues money or script whose value comes from fiat
          6) Fractional reserve money - Money is created when financial institutions lend out deposits to people with profitable ideas to create value

          I have not studied this, but I suspect it happened in degrees.

          I don't know if the etymology is related, but every time I wrote real value I thought about how in Spanish "real" means royal or a small unit of currency.
          Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
          • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
            The Spanish "real" is from the Latin regno, regulus, etc., as in English "regal" and "royal."

            Real in the sense of actual or factual comes from "res" which means "thing" as in Res Publica. ("Thing" btw is old Norse for a gathering as in Iceland, their congress has been the Althing (all-thing) for over 1000 years.)

            As for money, barter, and gifts, you would have to read the ethnographies for yourself and take into consideration first that Europeans wrote them. The white guys show up. It's a party. Everyone brings something. They cook it in big pits and open fires and everyone shares. Like Thanksgiving. But is that how they always did it? If one guy kills one deer how does that work out? The Europeans might have drawn a sketch showing a large field with planted corn, but was it tribal or was any of it for the one family? I do not know.

            Anyway, barter had to be invented and could only have made sense if ritual gift exchange were an accepted social practice. The idea of barter for personal gain is probably much, much later than most of us guess. Some other posters here know the works of JULIAN JAYNES on the "bicameral mind." He said that if you examine The Iliad versus The Odyssey, in the first book the heroes seldom speak of their inner states. In the second book, the hero is well aware of the fact that his motives are hidden from others. He is not at all in any way raging and yelling for revenge. To me, it indicates that private motives followed the invention of wriiting.
            Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
            • Posted by CircuitGuy 6 months, 3 weeks ago
              "Thing" btw is old Norse for a gathering as in Iceland, their congress has been the Althing (all-thing) for over 1000 years."
              I've been to Thingvellir and the modern Althingi. That area where people used to camp out at Thingvellir waiting to have their disputes or lobbying heard is amazing. I could imagine people in this isolated place, at a time when no one in the world knows that blood circulates in the body, meeting.

              I knew modern Icelandic speakers can read the Sagas in Old Norse, but I didn't know that thingi was related to English thing. I figured it was a false cognate.

              "that private motives followed the invention of writing"
              I will have to read that. It simply doesn't make sense to me. We see religions, presumably since antiquity, urging people to put their gods' and fellow humans' interests above their own. I figured that was because there were people following their own interests, while kings and religious leaders wanted people serving them. But maybe it is just natural for people to feel duty toward their family and any larger group that's an extension of their family. Maybe it's not until recently that very concept of private motives existed.
              Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
              • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
                Wow! Being there makes all the difference. Congratulations.
                Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
                • Posted by CircuitGuy 6 months, 3 weeks ago
                  "Being there makes all the difference"
                  In this case it's really true because it's at the intersection of the tectonic plates, making for amazing geological features.

                  Thingvellir is not far from Gullfoss waterfall. I wasn't prepared for how huge it was. The first thing I thought of was how much electricity could be generated. The placards explain they attempted to use it to generate electricity. I would have been eager to do that 100 years ago, but I'm so glad the plans fell through so I could see it in its natural state.
                  Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
              • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
                In her book, When Writing Met Art, DSB discusses the evolution of naming conventions. The names of kings were marked with stars. We think of religion as being very old and it may be that such thoughts were very early in the history of human cognition. But I agree with you that it seems that family, group, and tribe were primary long before the word "I" was invented. Religion as we understand it probably began about the same time as other cognitive leaps such as money with the invention of writing.
                Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
      Right. You have take Graeber's work in context. He is a leftwing anarchist. Sorry. But despite that and with full knowledge going in, I did not find any reasson to question his findings. He is an anthropologist and deals with the question of debt like a scientist. The only drawback is that as he gets closer to us, he becomes moralistic about evils of international debt banking... a lot like the rightwing populists and some libertarians here.

      I am about to review The 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, 2nd Editiion, Whitman, 2019, by Harlan Berk. I intereviewed him back in 2008 for the first edition. But, again, he just repeats the old stories about barter. Other than that, the book is charming, a thin coffee table presentation with double page spreads for the Top Ten.
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
      • Posted by CircuitGuy 6 months, 3 weeks ago
        I didn't know about his leftwing anarchist background. I just think it's neat that we don't have historical examples of the process of adopting money.

        "he becomes moralistic about evils of international debt banking... a lot like the rightwing populists and some libertarians"
        Rightwing and leftwing populists seem alike to me. They seem to think value is in fixed supply, can physically be put in safes, and is obtained by gangs joining forces to make sure their own group gets its fair share.

        This seems like such a childlike view that I wonder if I actually misunderstand what they're saying.
        Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
  • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 6 months, 4 weeks ago
    Thanks Mike. interesting read.

    I think that mediums of trade will always present and necessary.

    I think we are going in the wrong direction with digital...one burp from the sun and it's all gone with no record.
    Block chain thinks they can and will shut down their satellites if a CME is detected but I wouldn't count on it.
    Reply | Mark as read | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by  $  6 months, 4 weeks ago
      But you cannot eat gold, either. To an ancient farmer, people who put their money in metals were in precarious circumstances. Same here. Banks fail. So what?

      I read a biography of Alan Turing. He convinced his aunt that the war was going to drive up sterling and drive hard money out of circulation. Already, current coins were 50% silver only. So, she converted some money into old coins and he buried them. Then, he could not find them. Risks are real... Cryptocurrencies are not going away; and after a massive solar flare, they will come back.
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
      • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 6 months, 4 weeks ago
        There will always be risks but one needs to divest in a host of items to trade order to at least average out the risk of one thing or another...right?
        Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
        • Posted by  $  6 months, 4 weeks ago
          Well, I agree with that: diversification minimizes risk. If you read the book, just about all of the "curious currency" examples, except coins and a few things like salt, tend to be immediate and local. One interesting exception is cowery shells. They appear in several cultures. But I think that I would buy a 10-lb block of zinc before I bought the equivalent in coweries.
          Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
          • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 6 months, 4 weeks ago
            Yea...that would be a safer bet...laughing
            The only way, I think, that the cowery shells were of value would be scarcity or desirable for one reason or another.
            It is curious. Maybe like you say, they represented debt or a promise to pay or receive something.
            Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by  $  6 months, 4 weeks ago
      For myself, the take-away from Curious Currency is that money and trade are social interactions. It is the social context that makes trade possible. Economic calculation for personal gain is secondary, though we all engage in it. I certainly would not give it up. But there is a reason why at each transaction, both parties say "thank you."
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
  • Posted by  $  jlc 6 months, 3 weeks ago
    One of the benefits of being on the Gulch was being introduced to the work of Denise Schmandt-Besserat. I have her "How Writing Came About" and "When Writing Met Art", the reading of which has changed my perception of the roots of civilization.

    If "Curious Currency" builds on this, I will be glad to add that to my collection...but from the review, I am not certain that it does.

    Jan
    Reply | Mark as read | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by  $  6 months, 3 weeks ago
      No it does not. That was one of my criticisms. As indebted as I am to Bob Leonard for helping me with other research of my own, in a forum we both belong to (Numismatic Bibliomania Society), we are about exchange letters on that and another point.

      I am happy to know that you benefited from the works of DSB, I will tell so when next we have lunch.
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
      • Posted by  $  jlc 6 months, 3 weeks ago
        The concepts she presents are crucial to understanding humankind. While I am NOT an expert, my interpretation of the Neolithic token clusters was that they were tallies of private ownership classes in a flock kept mutually for the security and efficiency of its management. The observation that in all of the societies (of which I have any knowledge) the next step after Neolithic tally-clusters was bills of lading and tags of ownership - mercantile records - shows that 'ownership' was the linchpin of early literacy and numeracy. After that, official contracts - perhaps held by a third party in some cases - paralleled the rise of the city-state and signaled fair trade; but temple taxation also occurred at this time and it was that (geeze - some good from taxes!) that probably caused the existence of a class of literate people. Another huge revelation from DSB was that true literacy was probably triggered by religion and the desire to use writing to continuously invoke a deity for the continuance and protection of your soul (Linear A barely got to this point) and that this evolution was manifest through art.

        Wow. All these incredible ideas...from the work of one woman. Please pass to DSB the appreciation and thanks from a total stranger. Her work and insights have adorned the halls of my mind.

        Jan
        Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  
  • Posted by  $  25n56il4 6 months, 3 weeks ago
    I really like having a 'gold stash!' There is a certain comfort level to it. I know it can go up or down, but you gotta admit gold coins are fun to collect! I mean oil wells and such are boring and real estate is iffy! But gold is so pretty! You can always melt it down for jewelry if you want.
    Reply | Mark as read | Best of... | Permalink  
    • Posted by jimjamesjames 6 months, 3 weeks ago
      Over the last 30 years, I have accumulated about 42 pounds of silver rounds from 1/4 oz through 1 oz and from time to time get them out of the safe and play with them, like Scrooge McDuck. Just feels wonderful
      Reply | Mark as read | Parent | Best of... | Permalink  

FORMATTING HELP

  • Comment hidden. Undo