|Athens c. 450 BCE|
Oddly enough, Ludwig von Mises agreed with Karl Marx that money derived from trade and that by natural selection, gold and silver became the best forms of commodity money. (Compare Mises, Human Action, Chapter XVII “Indirect Exchange” with Marx, Capital Volume One; Chapter Two: “Exchange and Volume,” One Chapter Three: “Money, or the Circulation of Commodities.”) In our time the across the political right wing, it is perhaps impossible to find anyone who describes themselves as conservative, libertarian or objectivist, who does not believe this.
|Summary of Traditional Moneys|
In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs posited that the cities derived from permanent hunting camps, not from agricultural settlements. Successful hunters exchanged their bounty, more for novelty than for need. According to Jacobs, grains that were not eaten before the next gathering were tossed aside. When they grew, agriculture was discovered within the city walls. The need for space took agriculture outside. According to her theory, where today we find pastoral people, somewhere near the center of their range, we can find a lost city.
If gold and silver as money derived from trade as economic calculation, then tin and copper (and bronze) would be the basis for money. And there is support for this. We know bronze blocks the shape and size cowhides. The first Roman metal money was in blocks of the stuff, weighing one pound, cast with the images of pigs and elephants. The value in silver and gold is that they can be exchanged for bronze. At the same time, however, there is no doubting the beauty of precious metals. That, too, is valid. Durable, uniform and malleable, they excel over other pretty stones and attractive feathers. But as such, they have no utility except exchange. Fundamentally, the value in money is that it allows us to make peace. Economic calculation then becomes possible, but that is not the origin of money.
Once coinage was invented, money took on a new dimension: it carried images, and eventually words. For pre-literate and proto-literate people, coins spoke in symbolic images. Ancient coins were read in a depth of meaning that even numismatists too often glide past. But no one mistakes what Junius Brutus meant when he issued coins celebrating the Ides of March. Roman imperial coins announced military victories and the subsequent enslavement of peoples, as well as the emperor's tours of the provinces, the liberality of his gifts to the people, and the renewal of his appointment to office by the senate.