Money Changers – Currency Reform from Aristotle to e-cash

    David Boyle is the editor of radical economics, the bi-monthly newspaper of top think and do-tank, The New Economics Foundation. He is also the author of Funny Money (1999) which examines complimentary currencies, and The Tyranny of Numbers (2001).

    His latest work, The Money Changers: Currency reform from Aristotle to e-cash is a supremely encouraging book. It consists of 73 bite-sized essays on the nature of money and economics, by 73 authors dating from Aristotle (350BC) to Bernard Lietaer (2001).

    Boyle gives a short introduction to each essay, which then lasts for no more than 3 or 4 pages.

    He has grouped the essays under the headings, “The failure of money”, “The trouble with money: there isn’t enough of it”, “there’s too much of it”, “it’s corrupt”. And “democratic money”, “future money”, “Create your own: real money” and “Create your own: free money”.

    It’s a handy, easily-read format which allows the reader to dip into the book casually, and get the point quickly.

    It’s exactly the sort of thing we try to do with the essays we publish in Prosperity.

    All our favourites are here, from Social Credit founder CH Douglas, to Michael Rowbotham of Grip of Death fame, to James Robertson of Creating New Money, Edgar Cahn Time Dollar man, Richard Douthwaite and a great essay by Boyle himself on “Why London needs its own currency”.

    Earlier Money Reformers such as Frederick Soddy and Silvio Gesell get a platform, as do mainstream economists like John Kenneth Galbraith and Friedrich von Hayek. George Soros even gets to speak!

    This mixture ensures the reader is exposed to a very wide spectrum of opinion. It also ensures the book is able to appeal to mainstream economists who may be exposed — perhaps for the first time — to the alternative theories.

    There’s a lot of wisdom, and a lot of powerful stuff in these 274 pages. For example, Democratic nominee for the US Presidency, William Jennings Bryan’s words of 1896 echo down through the years:

    “If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the labouring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labour this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

    In the January 2001 issue of Prosperity we examined how The Wizard of Oz story was related to Bryan’s attempt to achieve the Presidency. Boyle includes an extract from L. Frank Baum’s novel here.

    I was particularly pleased to see an extract from the Henry Ford article from the New York Times, 4 December 1921, which gave the source as The Social Creditor, May-June 1998. I remember well the time it took me to painstakingly transcribe that particular article from the original, when I was Secretary and Production Editor for the Secretariat!

    Of Michael Rowbotham’s, The Grip of Death, Boyle states that it “wasn’t published by one of the big publishers — yet it has had an enormous influence, and has got people discussing the design of money for the first time in half a century. The book is a sparkling piece of detailed research and logic …”

    The essays in The Money Changers can be understood by the general reader and the academic alike.

    We’re very encouraged by it and very impressed by the tremendous work coming out of the group of thinkers and doers based around the New Economics Foundation.

    For example, in the January/ February 2003 issue of radical economics, David Boyle writes:

    “How can we sustain the financial system when speculation is now more than 20 times as powerful as trade, and has more than 20 times as much financial clout — and when the people who run the system in Tokyo, London and New York have more to gain from instability than they do from stability? How can we possibly organise a reliable system of global investment when the financial underpinning — the combined reserves of all the central banks in the world — could now be overwhelmed in just a few hours of foreign exchange trading?

    “How can we create a free society when there is now less money in the economy than there is outstanding debt — in the UK, about £100 billion less? Isn’t the inevitable outcome of such a situation that the ownership of business, land and property will slip inexorably into the hands of the financial institutions, leaving people increasingly enslaved by their mortgages and credit cards?

    “Why is it that a broadly similar percentage of the population has been considered poor for getting on for two centuries? The proportion of people in poverty in London is broadly similar to what it was in the 1880s, though it was measured differently — and the proportion of national income we spend on welfare is broadly similar to what it was in the 1820s, though it was administered differently. Isn’t it possible that the reason this continuing third of the population, and third of the world’s countries, are still considered poor implies some hitherto undiscovered economic ‘law’ about money creation?”

    David Boyle is asking all the right questions.