What Is Money?

The money which a man possesses is the instrument of freedom; that which we eagerly pursue is the instrument of slavery.

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, I

Podcast of the Day

There's not much money in philosophy, but then there's not much philosophy in money, either. In classical times and the Middle Ages, philosophers were often interested in money (in thinking about it, that is) but since then they've tended to ignore the subject. This week, we meet an Australian philosopher who has turned his attention to the neglected subject of cash and its role in our practical and moral lives.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode on The Philosophy of Cold Hard Cash

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

From ApplePay to Bitcoin or Kenya’s famous M-Pesa mobile money system, digital payment systems are proliferating at a pace never before seen. People are predicting the end of cash and coin. And many promoters and start-ups in payments pitch their service as the next stage – even the final pinnacle! – in the evolution of money. Advertisements for mobile phone-based payment systems sometimes exploit this. PayPal’s iPhone application, which can allow users to send small amounts of money to each other just by tapping their phones together, was released with an advertising campaign that explicitly drew upon this evolutionary story. The ad included mock cave drawings, hieroglyphics and even a narrator speaking in tones familiar to many people as those of a natural history documentary. The narrator identified the two characters in the ad as ‘specimens’, again invoking the familiar terms of popular natural history. Similarly, the mobile phone provider Zain advertised its mobile money service, Zain Zap, with images of ‘ancient’ systems of barter and money, before bringing the story up to the present or near-future with the advent of its mobile service.

The evolutionary narrative is important not just because it has a starring role in advertisements. It is also important because it structures people’s understandings of what money was, is, and thus what money – and mobile money – can become. And if we think money really did go through this evolutionary process, from barter to shells, coins, paper, plastic and electrons, we risk making several related assumptions...

Continue reading Bill Maurer's article: How money evolved from shells and coins to apps and bitcoin

Further Reading

The history of money concerns the development of means of carrying out transactions involving a medium of exchange. Money is any clearly identifiable object of value that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts within a market, or which is legal tender within a country.

Due to the complexities of ancient history (ancient civilizations developing at different paces and not keeping accurate records), and because the true origins of economic systems precede written history, it is impossible to trace the true origin of the invention of money and difficult to trace the transition from a "barter system" to a "monetary system".

In the ancient histories, we find evidence that money has taken two main forms divided into the broad categories of money of account (debits and credits on ledgers) and money of exchange (tangible media of exchange made from wood, paper, bamboo, metal, etc.), and it is debated which was created first...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on The History of Money

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

 Anthropology | Capitalism | Culture | Economics | Sociology

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