the first chapters (pdf. pp.7-11) of the book’s translation appeared in the Irish art magazine Printed Project
Money issues a command. It goes “More!” for money counts. And since we count not 0-1-0-1 but 1-2-3-4… the demand for ever more is already marked in the nature of counting.
Money is a number with an owner. And it is in fact the money owner at whom the command for “more!” addresses itself first of all. But not to worry! This command will affect everybody else as well — subject to different rights and liberties.
Money emerges from debt, though not every credit is immediately money. Through the process of a bank loaning money – without really possessing it – to someone, new money will have been generated.
Banks “create” money by attributing the borrower with a monetary figure. By “granting” him a credit, as they say. Because they trust in him repaying more? Yes. Because they want him to repay the money? No, incurring more debts is positively encouraged.
Initially money is nothing but a set of numbers in a table. The central bank creates money by furnishing another bank’s ledger with a tally. From here a bucket chain, from debts to debts and credit to credit, leads all the way down to the consumer. Thirty years ago, making the consumer the last one in the chain – the debtor of last resort – would have been frankly impossible. Until then, the investor had still occupied this place.
By creating money, debts occur which equal new credit. Income is acquired by spending it; and growth by taking out a new loan. It is irreversible and self-perpetuating. More debt = more money = more turnover = more profit. The result is an economy that only continues to grow if credits further increase.
Has there ever existed a money without the demand for “More!”?
Aristotle was the first to present a distinction between two types of money, with regard to the economy of Athens – the first state with a stamped national coinage, as we would understand it today. Aristotle distinguished between two forms of economic activity: economy and chrematistics. Economy, in its literal reference to the single household (oikos = house) or; put differently, as business administration, supplies households and the broader community with goods needed, insofar as the simple production and distribution of commodities is concerned. Chrematistics – “there is, however, yet another form of trade which is for apparently bearing no limit to wealth and profit rightly regarded as the art of money-making.” 1
It was precisely the illimitability of the “more” of money-making / chrematistics which frightened Aristotle.
“Money is what money does.”2 To pay, to account, to store.
No matter as which store of value and in which medium it circulates money always fulfils the same functions. It is in fact nothing else but these functions – with speed and volume being the only changing features or variables. Still, these quantitative differences do effect whole new systems of circulation.3 In the light of our present object of analysis, it becomes apparent that less than dealÂing with any genuinely new functions of money the crucial thing is the very stretching of those same functions evoked by the newly created financial instruments. Thus, to be said in passing, the saving of time, which the information and communication technology, the activity of stock quotation and the movements of chrematistic speculation assure for the market, is by no means a secondary or contingent asset; one could say rather that this is the unfolding of the very essence of money as time (money is time), as acceleration of social time, as quantification and economy of time.4 Most of the so-called financial innovations go along as money changes from one medium to another. They are not random contingencies but emerge together with new technologies.
In the past fragments of data were transferred bit by bit from bank to bank, stock-exchange to stock-exchange. But today we are dealing with a large network structure gazing back at us from the screens, an entity consisting in a social network of simultaneously acting players.
Since it is really the involved market participants who generate new social structures stretching across time zones and monetary flows, the digitally powered circulation is by no means independent from their decisions and activities.5 What the screens reveal to us is a world afloat a stringent flow in which money and prices reflect a future of bundled expectations.
Is the digitalisation of money the critical break?
The 19th century, too, had its new media. Telegraphy did not transfer information any slower than today’s Internet. But what does make a difference is the sheer amount of data and its predictability. And the latter constitutes that which the expanding derivatives market6 most significantly depends on. What kind of changes regarding the functions of money do the digital possibilities trigger regarding the functions of money and participants? We have to scrutinise coinage, paper money and digital data to apprehend the implementations of their monetary function; and – instead of examining how they have been put into practice – ask more abstractly, what would be possible in theory? This leads us to the conception of three different types of money.
We can distinguish between three areas in which money fulfils quite different tasks: the first being the mediation of finances; the second an allegedly free consumerism; and the third one of poverty, distress and the restraints of bare life. Nominally it is one and the same money that circulates in each of these three domains. But in reality we are facing considerable differences regarding both the way in which money circulates as a number, and in terms of its relationÂship to its owner.
Cash still signifies the amount of coinage or paper money an owner has to hand. What is important here is the maintenance of anonymity:7 the materiality of coins and paper assures anonymity because there is no authority noting the owner’s name.
Consumers funds on the other hand – having become almost entirely digital information – usually rely on bank accounts; and the banks must know the names of the owners. In this way the State too indirectly gains access to their monetary flows. The immaterial numeric value must know its owner for without his identity it would not be money.
The same – though with an essential difference – can be said for funds of the high finance or financial capital. While the consumer is subordinate to the State, these funds elude public control. This happens for example when transnational companies shift sums of money beyond national borders, and keep them in offshore accounts to conceal the owners’ identities from the regulators of their home countries.8 On a supranational level these institutions thus serve to re-establish the anonymity of money and its owners.
Perhaps we should now assume a fourth type of money, the money of the shadow banking system. Also digital, it exists only in the form of credit derivatives where banks assess the propinquity of their financial assets to money in levels. On level 1 proper prices still exist, on level 2 they are merely derived, and on level 3 not even the price of the underlying asset is known anymore. Credit Default Swaps (CDS) serve as one example: originally developed to insure credits, they have become increasingly popular and circulate as a substitute for bonds in a continuously inflated market. Banks trade these papers – contracts referring to a third party’s debt – “over the counter”, that is, behind closed doors amongst themselves. If money is a numeric value with an owner, these papers are money only in their underlying assumption that someone might own some money at some point in the future. Can we still refer to money, which has been generated in such a bubble as simple digital financial capital? Perhaps we should instead call it secondary or derivative money.9
Hence we are dealing with a three or fourfold division of the monetary circuits – each part characterised by different constellations of power, control, quantity and circulation, and their dividing lines differing considerably from those of federal borders or of the first, second and third worlds. Quite to the contrary: the divisions can even interÂsect within one single individual.
Any money-saving consumer submits a part of his money to the financial sphere. An investor also has to yield his assets partly to the consumer. But those who are bound to the sphere of bare cash face much greater difficulties in leaving their financial straits in order to consume more than what is necessary, let alone to put aside any savings from their already scarce allowance.
Assessed in relation to the quantity regarding both the individuals as well as the global turnover, these differences become strikingly evident. The proportion between hourly wage and equal labour time diverges from domain to domain by a factor between one hundred and one thousand. In opposition to the manager of a hedge fund who can earn a whole million in a single day, those in the grip of poverty often have nothing more than one single Dollar to cover their daily expenses.
Money changes, and with it, too, does the role of capiÂtal.10 Since it apparently remains the most precise definition, we will continue to speak of “capitalism” with respect to our system. Capital still rules in terms of being the money that goes to work.
What is the function of this kind of money?
Capital does not save nor assess anything. It is money that goes to work by buying workers, production goods, resources, and pooling them into that construction kit called the factory in order to produce the stuff that sells. If the operation is a success, profit will follow. Hence the factory operates as an organisational frame of the comÂmand “More!”.
Are banks factories?
There are offices, screens and people who develop products, even if they only consist of consultation and speculation.
Seen as an investment the situation seems clear: you invest money, hire someone and finally you account a profit. Subsequently a bank should also be regarded as a normal enterprise, a factory. Yet, in their concern for other factories, a bank rather constitutes a meta-factory. However, this factory investment model had already been abandoned by the 1990s, when the business model for banking switched from productive investment to consumer credit and securitisation.
With the factory investment model thus in decline the question to ask is: is this still capitalism or have we boarded onto something else?
Even if floating money ends up with the banks, it does not constitute an investment in the financial sector. Banks will hand it on.
Positively put, credit signifies trust. First, financial credit depends on the faith in the borrower to pay interest on their credit: the debtor can make themselves happy by fulfilling themselves a wish, by starting a project. Hence others will be pleased too, namely through earnings – enabling those people, yet again, to pay their own credit in order to justify the confidence that has been shown in them, and to increase their creditworthiness.
Money demands “More!” and singles out the competiÂtively most suitable methods of multiplication.
In this sense, ought we not regard money as a subject?
No, rather as an agent for it does not reflect anything.
Those in charge of constructing the different forms of organisation are our leading subjects. In capitalism, it is speÂcifically the entrepreneurs who are most directly subjected to money in the literal sense of the word. This is what makes them capitalism’s main subjects.
It is the providers of capital who execute money’s command for “More!”. There are two types of people who we perceive as its governors: those who own it and those who administer it. Those, that is, who must give the command and those entrusted with its enforcement.
This is not the whole truth though since in reality the command is always already inherent in money itself. The providers of capital are left therefore only with the option of disobeying the command “More!” by not surrendering their liquidity. At this point, squandering it all unscruÂpulously would indeed be a clever decision.
Administrators act as specialists in enforcing the command:11 “We who serve the rich”, is how a banker once put it. More than a simple adherence to the command for “More!”, their work is in practice centred upon launching investments. Somebody is needed to make those decisions and here we encounter the moment when money, this automatic subject, merges with whoever is its subject. A subject, that is to say, in the ancient, pre-Kantian sense. “And indeed from that moment Saccard ceased to be his own master. He belonged to
the millions which he was making.”12
Put differently, money is regarded as an apparatus of power, perhaps even the supreme power. By expressing itself concurrently as freedom and constraint, money is the most generic apparatus that envelops us, in every instance and in all our deeds. Liberation for some, limitation for others.13
Is money reflexive? No, but those who play with it are.
And if money is a function, what we are dealing with is a reflexive over-coding of this function.
We assume that money places a structure into the world, emitting the simple command for “More!”. By counting everything, moreover, money forces all other things of this world into its one-dimensional scheme.
The command “More!” emphasises a certain kind of future, namely a certain concept of time that differs considerably from previous models. The present does not inherently also manifest a future. In fact, only the present exists.
But because economic action is determined by our expectations, money compels us to be obsessed with the future, all of the time.
Perhaps it is a matter of religion: since capitalism does not originate from China but from Europe and Christianity has always been extremely future-oriented. Whilst Confucianism demands an all-permeating stability apt to support the Meritocracy, the Christian, in contrast, is indebted from the beginning. Salvation may well lie in the hope of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But hope is the future and so too is redemption.
The oldest counting system is the calendar. AdminisÂtering time, it grants the construction of a future. With the schedule – a linear way of counting – meeting the cycle of seasons, we encounter a clash between difference and repetition, future and multiplication in place of eternal identity. At stake here is a circular versus a linear concept of time: the clock-face versus the digital display.
We encounter this same difference again in the opposition of secular and cyclical developments. While the former runs straightforward the latter oscillates around an equilibrium.
The problem today is that many values, albeit usually regarded as cyclical, have actually run straightforwardly for quite a time: witness for instance the sheer amount of creÂdits drawn in relation to economic production.
Here are the two resulting possibilities:
Either, whatever looks linear at the end of the day will turn out to be in fact cyclical. The last time this happened it led to a massive pauperisation and consequently a world war.
Or, the linearity can be kept up. In this case money would have changed its face fundamentally for to maintain the linear development of the credit system money would have to be loaned to people who can never refund it. Mortgages for low-income earners, as practised in the US, would have to become the rule. Hence money would be akin to air, something simply “there”, existing for free. No longer necessarily associated with categories like work and salary it would have to be distributed according to whatever random criteria: as long as our credit-history is in order we get advance payments â€“ and that is not only for the next car or the next house, but indeed for our entire life.
How do things transmute into quantifiable goods? Transmute, that is, into goods payable with money?
Initially there is nothing. You partition that nothing. Then you count its parts. Let’s take a plot of land. Until the economy of property takes it over, the plot is extra-economical, common land. Already in its ancient Egyptian inception geometry had been the tax collectors auxiliary science.14 As long as real estate property exists there needs to be a method of determining its borders.
In order for a territory to become conquered by money the ground has to be made into property first, and a regulating authority has to then erect an economy on top of it. Moreover, by turning the formerly public, non-economised activity of land surveying into a service fit for business, various chargeable regulations have now been introduced, adding their twist to this practice. No King would ever have to wait days on end in front of the palace whose masters summon him only to then fail to admit him entrance. Privatisation, after all, equals profitability.
So you design the regulating authority itself as commercially efficient, achieving bureaucratic regulation through tax increase: house, development scheme, tax liabilities extended over carports, conservatories, green houses etc. These kinds of extensions procure tax revenues high enough to continue to ensure sufficient and lucrative paperwork for the publicly appointed land surveyor.15
Since the system would collapse with too many areas of unproductive regulations the key question in this process is whether the acquisition costs of infrastructures produce a benefit or only accumulate expenses. That is, whether in this process something is created with which others can work productively.
Let’s take Climate Change as another example of the same business. Obviously the real issue here is not the prevention of CO2, for we can be certain that even the last drop of oil will be found, extracted and burnt. Emission rights serve the generation and cultivation of a new economic field, which will in the end perform two tasks:16 on the one hand installing a monetary flow where formerly none existed, and on the other hand making permanent the dominance of the developed over the underdeveloped countries. Though why exactly the environment? It may be that people’s levels of motivation played a role here. Being a topic of public attention the question of the climate lent itself to selection. In a similar way that voting for a candidate is dependent upon the likelihood of his success.
Currently, due to the fabrication of an artificial scarcity and tightened regulation more and more aspects of life are increasingly becoming objects of commercial assessment – be it geriatric care or the climate change. Of the different methods some emerge collaterally from others. So when traditional family structures crumple for the sake of more efficient labour, the remaining domestic tasks can then be auctioned off to the marketplace. These circumstances make evident also that the family can only posit a promising life model for the financially better off. For the less wealthy it signifies not only dis-profit and a consequent deprivation of freedom, but also, moreover, the absurdities of forced public administration with regard to their children.
Through its withdrawal, the money sphere liberates part of our economised and short-running time. Sacking the cleaner, we mop up ourselves.