The Currency of Politics
Princeton University Press US$35 hb, 339 pp
What is money? To most, it is currency in the physical form of bills and coins. To others, it encompasses any form of financial credit that mediates present versus future consumption. To the author Stefan Eich, it is an institution that was historically conceived to promote social justice and democracy, but over time has been neutered of its political nature as a public good.
Over six chapters bookended with a short introduction and epilogue, Eich traces a genealogy of monetary thought from Aristotle to Karl Marx to John Maynard Keynes, who each differed on what money represented but agreed on its symbolic value, not just its transactional use. In doing so, Eich aims to recover money’s political past so that governments might become accountable for the social consequences of restrictive monetary policy and use it to reduce economic injustice and inequality.
Economists usually describe money by its functions: a store of wealth, a medium of exchange, and a unit of account. As a political theorist, Eich challenges this technical definition in his opening chapter with a discussion of ancient Greek coinage, where the word for currency (nomisma) differed from that for wealth (chremata). According to Eich, this linguistic distinction mattered in that, while wealth can be measured with currency, the use of the latter also represented reciprocal exchange among equals and solidarity with the values of a democratic state.