Theology of Money – 4. Politics of Money

Goodchild begins this chapter by noting that money is “inseparable from the institution of the market” (123).  What then is this institution that is the market?  He focuses on ways in which the nature of the market may be concealed by its appearance.  There is a fundamental egalitarianism to the market, for any person has the right to participate in it as an “owner of goods” and an “owner of labor,” and to do so as “a free agent capable of entering into voluntary exchanges and contracts” (123).  But this is a pure formal egalitarianism, for the market-subject is an abstraction.  In reality, there are a number of dependencies—material relations, physical existence, and social obligations—that contravene the autonomy of the market-subject.  Similarly, the functioning of the market is not possible apart from “political relations of force,” which ultimately have recourse to “the threat of sovereign power to enforce contracts and to safeguard property” (125).  In short, the market appears to—and, insofar as it is an institution of representation, does—engender freedom and peace precisely as it disavows its dependencies and relies on a foundational violence.  The politics of money is a representational violence.

According to Goodchild, any resistance to this politics of money will have to find—to invent—a new modality.  Protest (at least on its own) fails, for money promises, it responds to and creates desires, and so the negation of protest cannot compete in any sustained manner.  Violent confrontation also fails insofar as it is already conditioned by the politics of money, by which such confrontation obtains the wealth for its military power.  Resistance, at least as it is presently imagined, does not escape the orbit of the politics of money.

The market, Goodchild argues, “is a form of recording” (131).  If we wish to see how the politics of money is enacted in/by the institution of the market, then we must look to the contract.  The contract records, and by recording it institutes.  This is to say that we misapprehend the politics of money when we look to exchange value or property, which are abstract and atemporal.  We must look instead to the contract, for in doing so we apprehend the diachronic character of the politics of money.  Centrally, Goodchild claims that we have taken the effect (synchronic exchange value) for the cause (diachronic enactment of the contract).  “Exchange value represents social relations apart from temporal contracts in the form of private property.  Exchange value is an abstraction that results from inverting the priority of contract and property, as though enduring contracts were an effect of atemporal property rather than the reverse” (133).

Consequently, when addressing the question of distribution, Goodchild emphasizes that one should “be concerned primarily with the distribution of nutrition and time, not with the distribution of exchange value” (134).  In other words, we should not imagine that exchange value is incarnated through time and nutrition.  On the contrary, what is primary is the determination of time and nutritional value (which is fundamentally by means of contracts).  They must be distributed, and the modality by which they are distributed is constitutive of society.  Nutritional value and time must be distributed because they have in common an inability to be accumulated; they cannot “be owned or hoarded” (140), they are best understood in terms of flow.  It is for this reason that the “expenditure of time and nutrition are forms of economic entropy” (141).   Of course, this process of entropy enables negentropic formations, which ideally would enable the flow of value through broader circuits and the complementary existence of diverse forms of life.  Such “communistic” (note that this is my word/interpretation, not Goodchild’s) flows are inhibited, in the present politics of money, by the tendency to promote a small number of centers of accumulation.

The capacity to issue credit provides one way of evading this entropic tendency, for it engenders new flows—it is “an active economic force” (147), which is to say it is creative rather than defensive, cooperative rather than reactive.  According to Goodchild, the creation of wealth depends on “the accumulation, invention, and construction of capital,” the “presence of demand,” and finally credit, which is “the power to enter into contracts” as well as that which “facilitates the binding of nutritional value to time” (151).  Wealth will be maximized through the distribution of all three of these sources, and Goodchild provides a nuanced analysis of the complex ways in which private investment, public spending, and speculation variously inhibit and enable such maximization of wealth.  Generically, what is necessary is a prudent investment of “nutrition, attention, and credit in the formation of capital” (156), but this is inhibited by private property (and the politics that empower such a right) and the morality of self-interest.  Taken together, these inhibitions are determinative of the private individual.

Goodchild makes clear that these inhibitions (or the process of individuation that they set forth), naturalized though they may be, are the effect of the logic of money.  Just as money is “able to measure itself and promise itself” because it “may substitute for itself,” so “the modern subject takes itself as an object of reflection and an object of desire” (159).  Of course, such a subject can be identical with its concept only insofar as it is able to free itself (or be freed) from its relations of dependence, and this liberation, or “absolution” (160), is promised by money.  This operation of absolution—or perhaps the operation that makes such absolution the object of desire—indicates the fundamentally spiritual nature of money.  The market is conditioned by the politics of money, which requires credit, but credit “is dependent on properly spiritual potencies” (160).  The poverty of our society can be traced to money’s ability to capture spiritual power.  Any significant resistance to the politics of money must take place at the level of such spiritual power.

Question: Goodchild shows how the politics of money rests on the power to absolve, or at least the power to command belief in its power to absolve.  Is it necessary to conceive directly this operation of absolution/belief in absolution, prior to its determination by the politics of money (such that it would be possible to think about this operation prior to its capture by the politics of money)?

6 thoughts on “Theology of Money – 4. Politics of Money

  1. Very interesting question. This is one of those places where Goodchild indicates that theological commitments decide everything, yet hesitates to change discourse and decide what theological commitments should be made. The implicit message is radical: absolution, forgiveness, the non-payment of debts and obligations – so central to Christianity, but, in a very different manner, also some of the religions deriving from the renouncer traditions of India – is called into question. Detachment dissolves bonds of nutrition and care, yet these are the basis for wealth. It’s the same as with his depiction of sovereignty in chapter 1, which is not really about political power, but about the conditions for a detached subject who has an illusory mastery over representation. It’s the same analysis: money produces denied dependencies. But so does faith. We can’t live without debts. The key question he proposes is, how do we direct credit, including time, attention and devotion? What do we trust? Something conceived as detachable or separate from this world (money or God), or some productive depth within this world? If the latter, does Goodchild get any further than proposing a metaphysics of stocks, forms, assemblies, energy, desire and promise – with the latter term the most decisive, so that we are exhorted to trust in credit itself, or at least a new political body/religious institution that will guide where we direct credit?

  2. I think that this chapter actually points us toward a more radical problem than that of forgiveness: if money has made us into the type of people we are (or the type of people we erroneously believe we can really be and impossibly attempt to be), then getting beyond money means actually creating a new humanity. Some of that process might mean releasing us from the (bad, impoverishing) forms of relationship that money imposes on us, but it also has to be a positive project — forgiveness alone isn’t enough, because forgiveness of one particular money-bond might mean little more than the exchange for another money-bond. (Here I’m drawn toward Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, where in the “morning after” of God’s self-sacrifice, it becomes clear that what we thought was a clearing of the slate was actually a consolidation loan.)

  3. Re: Adam’s comment …

    1. Looking ahead to the recommendation of credit-giving institutions, I take it this is a question of whether that is enough — whether, in other words, we need to think about a new kind of subjectivity/sociality/new humanity (a new patristic?). In other words that would be necessary in itself, and not just something that would be generated by new kinds of credit-giving institutions. (Though I suppose that these new institutions would be formed by various religious and social justice traditions that would bear an alternative subjectivity/sociality.)

    2. I think that absolution here does not concern exchange of money-bonds for one another. Rather, absolution is a power that money has captured (or at least that’s what I’m suggesting as a reading). So we are screwed insofar as we look to money for absolution from money. We need to think of absolution as prior to money, i.e. as something that can provide a condition by which money would be resisted. In that sense, I don’t think we’d be in the vicious circle pointed out by Adam.

    Further, i think that such absolution is positive, or positive enough — it may not map out exactly where to go, but it does give us the power to get out. Absolution allows us to absolve ourselves from money — a line of flight, an exodus.

    To fill in where to go, we’d need new fables, that’s where I’d put the “new humanity”. In the Nietzschean sense, if we can kill God we can generate or be new ones, and if we can absolve ourselves of the fiction of money, then we can generate new, hopefully better ones.

  4. Re. Pros OKey … those are really good questions, i think – connecting to the comments of Brad and Lissa regarding the emphasis placed on unmasking, on showing something as illusion, etc. As to what to place trust in, as you note he looks to new credit-giving institutions in the concluding chapters, which I think is really interesting. I suppose my interest would be in the relation between such a constituted institution and the constituent power to generate that institution.

  5. I was responding more directly to Pros O Key than to you, but your comment helps to clarify. We might say that there’s an absolution of money and an absolution from money and that we want the latter. And I suppose I have been downplaying the negative somewhat — the exodus is necessary to give us space to really experiment with something new, outside our own heads.

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