Saturday, August 20, 2011

Money dissolves social ties

Buchan also talks in his book( Frozen Desire: Meaning of Money, below) about how money dissolved the feudal order (p56).

Feudal services have none of the precision of a sale or purchase for money; they might be as specific as a spring campaign or as vague ad loyalty of you or yours until death. Money, which extinguished the sensation of obligation - you may wish to return to the bookshop where you bought this book, but you do not have to - would appear to be fatal to this world of enduring interconnections; and that is indeed what happened. Money gnawed at the foundations of feudalism in Europe from the end of the twelfth century, Japan from the seventeenth , and the Arabian sheikhdoms from the twentieth.

Other social technologies soon evolved to change the nature of money. Buchan talks about the invention, or at least publication of double-entry bookkeeping by Luca Pacioli in 1494. ( It may have been used by Venetian and Genoese merchant houses long before.) It was a rational system of debits and credits, much more sophisticated than simply amassing gold in storehouses. That first system of accountancy eventually led to modern large-scale business accounts and objectives, outside ownership by shareholders, and eventually the foreign trade, national accounts and GDP measures of our own day. Says Buchan,

Above all , Luca laid the foundation of the modern conception of profit, not as some vague increase in possession, but as something hard, even crystalline, mathematical and open to empirical test at any to e whatever through an interlocking system of books.

Even land itself was no longer just land. Much of medieval Europe was owned by great monastic estates and feudal lords tied to the land. Before long the land was mortgaged and alienable property and subject to money rents, culminating in the enclosure of common land in 18th century England.

Money replaces social reciprocity and obligation. It changes the nature of ownership and property.

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