Political theology and money

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. The project provides an interesting lens for thinking through American political institutions, but I have one major reservation that might be at the root of the other reservations I have about the book. The problem arises in his discussion of Schmitt’s idea of a sociology of concepts. The reading he offers of Schmitt’s own usage is similar to what I arrive at in the linked post, but he concludes that Schmitt was wrong to assume that every epoch will have its own correspondence between political and metaphysical outlooks, because our age doesn’t even have a metaphysical outlook:

In the postmodern world, the sources of fundamental belief, the diversity of metaphysical approaches, the conflicts between religious and secular outlooks, and even the conflicts between the biological and physical sciences are just too many and too deep to think that we can offer a single theoretical model to characterize the epoch. Perhaps we should say that we live in a “postepochal” age. We find that people operate with diverse systems of belief, which do not fall into any coherent order. We have discovered that we can live with this incoherence. The center does not hold, but things do not fall apart. (118)

I suppose this is true as far as it goes, but I’m not sure Schmitt is really thinking about explicit metaphysical systems — he’s thinking about the deep assumptions about the order of the world, which will often surface in the most representative metaphysical systems. And in our contemporary postmodern era, that role is filled by economic reasoning. Yes, any particular school of thought has trouble gaining hegemony, but that’s just the nature of our contemporary “marketplace of ideas” (for example).

Kahn can’t see this because he, like Schmitt, has already dismissed economic rationality as a kind of anti-idea. “Follow the money” is his chief example of the kind of reductionism that he and, by his account, Schmitt are trying to avoid — yet isn’t it reductionistic not to think of economic rationality as a form of rationality, one with its own assumptions and values? At the risk of being pedantic: don’t you at least need to concede that the accumulation of money is valuable in itself before you would act in a way that is explicable by means of “following the money”?

Hence I propose that Kahn’s account needs to be supplemented by Goodchild’s Theology of Money.

Value banks: Goodchildian reflections

Last winter, I was at a restaurant that periodically has days when all tips are donated to a particular charity. This time around, it was Howard Brown, a Chicago-based LGBT health organization that is probably best known for its Brown Elephant thrift stores. The call for donations was particularly urgent: if Howard Brown did not raise a certain amount of money (something like $50K), it would have to close its doors.

It struck me as ridiculous that such a valuable organization could be permanently lost due to such a small shortfall. (As it happens, they were able to raise the money and continue to be doing fine as far as I can tell.) But when I read that announcement — inspired in part by an article about North Dakota’s mini-Fed — I turned to The Girlfriend and declared that they needed to band together with other charities and create a bank. Continue reading “Value banks: Goodchildian reflections”

Goodchild on “helicopter drop” monetary policy

I asked Philip Goodchild what he thought of the article on “helicopter drop” monetary policy I linked earlier this week, and he has given me permission to post his response here.

I am willing to entertain the ‘helicopter drop’ or citizen’s income recommended by the Social Credit movement (who are one of my primary influences) as part of a wider set of policies – here it is recommended as a tool of monetary policy.

In some ways, for the purposes of monetary policy, this does not differ too much from current practice in money creation – the Federal Reserve buys Treasury Bonds against its own account, the US govt holds the debt, and the money can be spent on whatever the govt prioritises. Money supply is then controlled by open market operations of the Fed, buying and selling existing Treasury Bonds to and from commercial banks. But there is no need for this money ever to be repaid.

But what is often missed here is that the US govt has this privilege of seigniorage because treasury bills are in demand internationally – for banking reserves, or because oil is priced in dollars. No other economy has such a privilege – and it is dangerous to start an analysis as if a national economy is initially an independent unit.

Yes, the primary problem any local economy has is a shortage of money, but where does effective demand for money come from? Continue reading “Goodchild on “helicopter drop” monetary policy”

Inflation fears

Following the financial news in the last year, I have become convinced that Goodchild’s Theology of Money is even more clearly relevant than it was during the peak of the crisis. My reason is the pervasive “inflation fears” that continue to dominate public discussion and, much more importantly, central bank policy, despite the fact that inflation is very low and falling. The Federal Reserve is content to ignore the second half of its dual mandate to control inflation and maximize employment, while the European Central Bank appears to be narcissistically obsessed with its “credibility” as an inflation fighter — in both cases, widespread human suffering brought on by unemployment and cuts in government services are to be preferred over not just present inflation (which is, again, not really happening), but over the prospect that there might be inflation at some future time.

Rarely has the worship of money been so obvious — worship extending even to the sacrifice of merely human concerns on the altar of the credibility of our money. Let the weak suffer, so that our currency may be strong!

Philip Goodchild Live from California!

Philip Goodchild will be giving a paper tomorrow morning (PST) at the Rethinking Capitalism conference, which you can watch live. The relevant information is below.

Participate in the discussion with people from all over the globe, submit your questions to the panelists (through our moderator) or simply send us your thoughts and comments.  We’d love to hear from you.

Three decades of advances in financial economics have transformed global markets.  As a matter of theory, the valuing of options (financial products) became increasingly central to understanding the market in any commodity; as a matter of politics questions the direction and to better understand what is new, and what is not, about conceiving of capitalism as a whole in this way.  This conference brings theories of economic value and regulation into conversation with the study of culture, institutions, ethics, history, geography, and theology.  Its aim is to consider in what ways capitalism is producing a future that is unlike its past.
This event is made possible by the Bruce Initiative for Rethinking Capitalism and co-sponsored by the UCSC Division of Social Sciences, UCSC Institute for Humanities Research, and UCSC Colleges 9/10.  For further information and to join our mailing list visit our website http://www.rethinkingcapitalism.org/


6:00 PM PST: Welcome
George Blumenthal, Chancellor, UC Santa Cruz
Stephen Bruce, Bruce Trust
6:30 PM PST: Derivatives and the Capitalist Crisis: What’s New?
Robert Brenner, UC Los Angeles
Randy Martin, Art and Public Policy, New York University
Prabhat Patnaik, Jawaharial Nehru University
Discussants: Dick Bryan, University of Sydney and Robert Meister, UC Santa Cruz

9:00 AM PST: Welcome
Georges Van Den Abbeele, Dean of Humanities, UC Santa Cruz
9:15 AM PST: Financialization and Political Theory: Economies as affective and material worlds
Philip Goodchild, University of Nottingham
Bill Maurer, UC Irvine
Robert Meister, UC Santa Cruz
Discussants: Randy Martin, New York University and Tyrus Miller, UC Santa Cruz
11:30 PM PST: Break
1:00 PM PST: The Politics and Economics of Global Financialization

Panel 1: Neo-Liberalism and Governmentality
Andrew Barry, University of Oxford
Julia Elyachar, UC Irvine
Michael MacDonald, Williams College
Discussants: Wendy Brown, UC Berkeley and Lisa Rofel, UC Santa Cruz
3:15 PM PST: Break
3:30 PM PST: Panel 2: Ethics, Valuation and Accountability
Dick Bryan, University of Sydney
Prabhat Patnaik, Jawaharial Nehru University
Shyam Sunder, Yale University
Discussants: Daniel Friedman, UC Santa Cruz, Andrew Barry, University of Oxford and Andrew Matthews, UC Santa Cruz

9:00 AM PST: Welcome
Sheldon Kamieniecki, Dean of Social Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
9:15 AM PST: Roundtable 1: Rethinking Capitalism by Rethinking Marxism
Robert Brenner, UC Los Angeles
Gopal Balakrishnan, UC Santa Cruz
Dick Bryan, University of Sydney
Dai Jinhua, Beijing University
Michael MacDonald, Williams College
Randy Martin, New York University
Robert Meister, UC Santa Cruz
Tyrus Miller, UC Santa Cruz
Richard Walker, UC Berkeley
12:00 PM PST: Break
1:00 PM PST: Roundtable 2: Financialization as Culture, Technology and Ritual
Andrew Barry, University of Oxford
Julia Elyachar, UC Irvine
Daniel Friedman, UC Santa Cruz
Philip Goodchild, University of Nottingham
Bill Maurer, UC Irvine
Darel Paul, Williams College
Shyam Sunder, Yale University

3:15 PM PST: Closing Remarks

Theology of Money – Final Reflections

The summary aspect of our book event ended over the weekend and I feel it was overall a success. I want to thank all those who participated in the book event. There were some interesting thoughts put forward for future work in the comments and I hope that we see some work that builds off of Goodchild’s coming from folks like Clayton and Lissa. I hope that those readers throughout the blogosophere that linked to us over the book event will feel free to use this post to continue any discussion as they digest the method and concepts in Theology of Money. Below you’ll find an index to the individual summaries and Goodchild’s response. Thanks, finally, to Adam, Brad, Lissa, Michael, Alex, Clayton, and Dan for the outstanding job on the summaries.

An index to the posts is provided here:

Again, for those who were unable to keep up with the pace of reading, please feel free to use this post for further discussion.

Theology of Money – Response from Philip Goodchild

Philip Goodchild, Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, has been kind enough to write a short response to the book event which you will find below. In the coming days I’ll put together an index of all the posts for future use and perhaps more discussion is to follow. – APS

I want to express my gratitude to all those who have committed so much time to reading, thinking through, and writing about Theology of Money on this blog. I was especially impressed by the work of those who did the chapter summaries. The standard of explication and understanding has uniformly been truly outstanding. One rarely deserves such attentive readers.

Such efforts demand something by way of response, but I felt it important not to comment on the discussion while it was underway, lest my presence should entirely skew the discussion. Even so, I suspect that some of you have felt my presence looking over your shoulder.

The questions and objections raised have been thoughtful, and I now have much to reflect on, but sadly I do not have time to address them all. As for the mischievous pseudonyms, I shall confine myself to one remark: “That’s the disingenuous thing about Goodchild – his pluralism. He wants others’ evaluations to count.” That comment, in and of itself, is truly disingenuous. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The book is, of course, about money, and the way in which it structures thought, desire, action, environment and trust. It is not about the authorial subject Philip Goodchild, who is himself perhaps something of a pseudonym. After all, those of you who know me will know that I do not normally declaim in a stentorian voice (except when I’m reading from Deuteronomy). The writing of an author is simply a sedimentation of those thoughts that achieve a certain metastable equilibrium, and so become for a while necessary and resilient to questioning. The person who writes, by contrast, has to be continually questioning, looking over one’s shoulder, listening out for what has not yet properly been thought. It is a task that never ends.

Perhaps the most significant matter that my work can pass on to others is not a fresh worldview, but the capacity to pose problems, to hear the voice of alternative perspectives. Perhaps those closest to me are those who will question the most, both myself and themselves. I am grateful for all those who have been attentive to other possibilities of thinking in this discussion. And I do believe that the Conclusion is lacking a parable . . . Continue reading Theology of Money – Response from Philip Goodchild”

Theology of Money – Conclusion: Of Redemption

Goodchild concludes with a short meditation on how the theology of money affects the task of theology going forward. The result, he affirms, is nothing short of calling for a revolution (258). I appreciated his summation, and think it presents us with a nice schematic:

  • “Does money promise value in such a way that value may be advanced? If so, then any effective theology must do likewise.”

By this, he means the job of theology is not to replace illusion with fantasy. “True meaning” or “final realization of truth,” glory now or glory later, are not its promises. Theology must, rather, be attuned to the immanence of its “situation,” the ecology in which it participates, and from there realize its potential from a fully embodied mode of evaluation. Continue reading Theology of Money – Conclusion: Of Redemption”

Theology of Money – 8. A Modest Proposal: Evaluative Credit

Chapter 8 of Theology of Money is a tentative attempt by Goodchild to construct his alternative to the current hegemony of money.

Goodchild begins with a note of caution. The construction and planning of institutions is not something that comes easily to philosophers. While Marx spent much time critiquing the system of capitalism, he spent scant time writing about how his communism society would look like, other than a few fragmentary notes. Philosophers tend towards high levels of abstraction necessary to their craft, that often makes it impossible for them to imagine concrete change. Yet at the same time, certain philosophers have certainly had a major influence upon our economic life, and often a negative one. But this should not prevent us There are, of course, myriad extant proposals about how to change the current capitalist system, but none begin with the critique embodied in the theology of money. Goodchild proposes to sketch a system that begins with his own critique of the credit-money system. Doubtless, this is again a quite complex chapter, so please forgive the length of this description.

Continue reading Theology of Money – 8. A Modest Proposal: Evaluative Credit”