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The Society of Money

In the society of money everyone and everything has its price. This “everything” extends to politics.

The society of money: its utopian vision and grim reality

That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Karl Marx, from The Power of Money

The above passage, from Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, reveals a fundamental fact about the society of money: its driving force is that it offers the richest among us a utopia of personal possession — money will transform all of our incapacities into things others will do for us, and so we need not feel disabled if we are rich.

Of course, this utopian vision says nothing of the world it objectifies, thus the rest of human society (not to mention its resource base) exists as a mere object for the possessors of money. Marx concludes the passage by saying that:

Money is the alienated ability of mankind.

Money is not a thing in the ordinary sense, then, although to be a thing in any sense there has to be something representing money — and here the human race has creatively moved from gold and silver to paper-cloth to pixels on a computer screen. Money is a psycho-social entity, a universal fetish, a marker of social status, a redirection of collective human will and of the totality of nature toward the satisfaction of the whims of its owners. Money alienates our will-power — we do for money what we wouldn’t otherwise do for free. There is, in short, a society of money. The society of people cares about its members; the society of money cares about money.

Oh, and how does that “Power of Money” piece end? From the final paragraph:

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc.

The Marx utopia is one in which human relations are relations between human beings, instead of relations between individuals and money. [cont’d.]

Photo by Ramberg Media Images under Creative Commons license.

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The society of money

The society of money: its utopian vision and grim reality
money

That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Karl Marx, from The Power of Money

The above passage, from Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, reveals a fundamental fact about the society of money: its driving force is that it offers the richest among us a utopia of personal possession — money will transform all of our incapacities into things others will do for us, and so we need not feel disabled if we are rich.

Of course, this utopian vision says nothing of the world it objectifies, thus the rest of human society (not to mention its resource base) exists as a mere object for the possessors of money. Marx concludes the passage by saying that:

Money is the alienated ability of mankind.

Money is not a thing in the ordinary sense, then, although to be a thing in any sense there has to be something representing money — and here the human race has creatively moved from gold and silver to paper-cloth to pixels on a computer screen. Money is a psycho-social entity, a universal fetish, a marker of social status, a redirection of collective human will and of the totality of nature toward the satisfaction of the whims of its owners. Money alienates our will-power — we do for money what we wouldn’t otherwise do for free. There is, in short, a society of money. The society of people cares about its members; the society of money cares about money.

Oh, and how does that “Power of Money” piece end? From the final paragraph:

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc.

The Marx utopia is one in which human relations are relations between human beings, instead of relations between individuals and money.

The society of money as a capitalist society

In the society of money everyone and everything has its price. This “everything” extends to politics. When everything is a commodity, political services are a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. In the society of money we know what “more and better Democrats” means — it’s advertising for Democrats backed by money, just as “more and better Republicans” would be advertising for Republicans backed by money.

In the society of money people “have principles” to adorn their self-images — because everyone is, in one frame or another, selling themselves. People are more saleable when they claim to have principles, don’t you agree? In fact, political power means very little apart from the power of money in a society in which certain individuals have a greater net worth than nation-states.

The columnist Ian Welsh offers a similar sentiment about money to the one I argue here: (more…)

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