A - I n f o s
a multi-lingual news service by, for, and about anarchists **

News in all languages
Last 40 posts (Homepage) Last two weeks' posts

The last 100 posts, according to language
Castellano_ Català_ Deutsch_ Nederlands_ English_ Français_ Italiano_ Polski_ Português_ Russkyi_ Suomi_ Svenska_ Türkçe_ The.Supplement
{Info on A-Infos}

(en) The commoner #7 The Power of Money: Debt and Enclosure - by George Caffentzis

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 22 Jul 2003 09:25:44 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

What originally appeared as a means to promote production [i.e., money]
becomes a relation alien to the producers. As the producers become more
dependent on exchange, exchange appears to become more independent of
them, and the gap between the product as product and the product as exchange
value appears to widen. Money does not create these antitheses and
contradictions; it is, rather, the development of these contradictions and
antitheses which creates the seemingly transcendent power of money.
-Karl Marx, Notebook 1 (1857)
Q.Why do the IMF and WB, which are, after all,
just glorified banks that lend money, charge
interest, and engage in foreign exchange manipulations,
have such "transcendental" powers, as
you claim?

A. Here is my argument: The WB and the IMF
are the coordinators of flows of money, the
payments of debt and the determination of interest
rates among the states of the world. And money, debt
and interest are essential for the survival or extinction
of governments today. Therefore the WB and IMF
have enormous power.
The previous section showed how the WB and
IMF became the money mechanicians of the world,
but what of the second premise of the argument? Why
is money so important? In one sense it is obvious--
just try to do without it--but why it is obvious is not
obvious. For most of human history, money either it did
not exist (before roughly the 7th century BC) or it was
of marginal importance for most people on the planet
(until roughly the19th century AD). Why is it so
important now?
Many economists now tell a sweet tale, brimming
with reason, about money in order to explain
why money is indispensible to rational social life.
Come, listen:
Money becomes vital only in societies where
buying and selling (commodity exchange) affects
every aspect of life. Simple commodity exchange (or
barter) has a notorious flaw: some one might want to
exchange A for B, but no one in the vicinity who owns
B might want to exchange it for A. This lack of
coincidence of desire (which has within it the
presupposition that people who produce A are not in
communication with or are hostile to the desires of
those who produce B) is often taken to be the motive
force for the development of money. Barter also has
very high "transaction costs" (since it takes much time,
energy and risk for sellers to find suitable buyers); the
institution of money (which cuts down on time,
energy and risk) in a network of commodity exchangers
"saves" everyone an enormous "cost." Since
everyone is better off, then it is reasonable to accept
money once it is introduced. This the way the origin of
money is discussed in "economics."[The "transaction
cost" approach to telling the tale of money is one of
the most sophisticated; for a now classic exposition of
this approach see (Clower 1967)]
But this economist's fairy tale poses more
questions than answers. For example, is the cost of
money clearly less than barter?, why has "everyone"
become buyers and sellers?, and finally, why have
the hypothetical people in the tale become so distant or
hostile to each other?
Let us take them in order.

Q. Is the social cost of the money system less
than that of a barter system?

A. Money too has its "transaction costs," as that
most voluminous yet most penurious writer on the
topic of money, Karl Marx, wrote: "Money can
overcome the difficulties inherent in barter only by
generalizing them, making them universal." (Marx
1973) As people who live in a monetary society, we can
well attest to the fact that the lack of coincidence of
desires often occurs with a vengence where money
predominates. For those with money are often not
interested in spending it on any particular commodity
http://www.thecommoner.org 1

(they hoard it or try to get more money with it) and
those without money often have nothing to sell to get it.
These mutually antagonistic "failures of coincidence"
have enormous costs: from depressions, famines, and
slavery to police, prisons, and execution chambers to
banks, stock markets, and all sorts of expensive
"financial services."(de Brunhoff 1973) How much they
cost and who suffers the cost is not often
quantified by the tellers of the tale of the rationality of
money, but certainly this cost is enormous, and the
billions who suffer the cost are rarely those who tell the
The money system's priests always present it as
an abstract but purely rational reality, as not only
the ideal language of commodities but as the truly
universal mode of human coordination transcending the
vast and endless multiplying varieties of human
intercourse on the planet. They say: "only the irrational can
refuse it." But it is perfectly rational to survey the total
cost of the money system and conclude that it is
much greater than the alternatives.

Q. Why is it then that "everyone" is involved with
the money system, if it is not based on an
utterly transcendental reasonability, i.e., if its costs can
be greater than its benefits?

A. Most people can find in their geneology or in
their own lives some point when their ancestors or
they themselves were forced from lands and social
relations that provided subsistance without having to
sell either one's products or oneself, i.e., they suffered
Enclosure. Without these moments of force, money
would have remained a marginal aspect of human
history. These moments were mostly of brutal violence,
sometimes quick (with bombs, cannon, musket or
whip), sometimes slower (with famine, deepening penury,
plague), which led to the terrorized flight from the land,
from the burnt-out village, from the street full of
starving or plague-ridden bodies, to slave ships, to
reservations, to factories, to plantations. This flight
ended with "producers becoming more dependent on
exchange" since they had no other way to survive but
by either selling their products or selling themselves or
being sold. Thus did "exchange become more
independent of them," its transcendental power arising
from the unreversed violence that drove "everyone"
into the monetary system.
It often is money itself that serves as the pretext
for this expropriating violence, for unpaid debt has
frequently been the basis for being taken into slavery,
or losing one's land, or giving up "a pound of flesh."
For those on the margins of a monetary society, debt
can be a way to try to buffer for a while the demands
of surviving in a monetary system or to try to enter into
the system with some strength. But since these
debtors are on the margin, when conditions change and
expectations prove faulty, repayment becomes
impossible. The power of money then becomes
positively Jehovah-like, all escape is blocked, and the
debtor is ruined, i.e., everything he/she had to subsist is
taken away by banks, the police or the debt
collector's goons, and what was to have been a way to
"promote production" becomes "alien to the
This scenario happened often in the past to
individuals and groups, but recently there have been
New Enclosures where unpayable national debt is used
by the IMF and WB and complicitous national
governments to change laws that restricted the
expropriation of land that provided some guarantees of
subsistance to workers. The classic example of this
New Enclosure was the Salinas government's repeal of
Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution in 1992 in
accordanace to the SAP that had been put into place in
the mid-1980s under the guidance of the WB and IMF.
Before Article 27's repeal, Mexican farm workers had
the right to claim some of the land they were working
on and no one could buy the land they owned, now
they have no such legal laims and they can be forced to
sell their land because of bad loans.
The essence of these Structural Adjustment
Programs (SAPs) in Mexico and in the more than 80
other countries, then, is to make it impossible for
anyone to retreat from the monetary system and make
them totally subject to the "transcendental power of

Q. Once one is forced into a monetary system
why does it often appear impossible to create
other alternatives?

A. Clearly there is a whole array of powerful
(and armed) organizations that immediately threaten
such attempts (from police, to death squads, to
armies), but there appears to be another more reasonable
and even more inexorable force blocking the escape
from money, the famous "flaw" of non-monetary social
exchange: the lack of coincidence of desires. The
continued existence of money depends on this lack of
coincidence of desires while the money system and its
agents develop and deepen this lack in their
relentless effort to convince everybody that collective
discussion and understanding of desires can never
lead to coincidence. The cultivation of hostility,
suspicion, competition and fear of scarcity (especially
the scarcity of money) creates the preconditions for
everyone to depend on money for exchange (with all its
flaws). These preconditions are also consequences of
the monetary system's production and reproduction
so that the only terror worse than money is its lack.
The WB's and IMF's power, therefore, lies not
only in their ability to directly threaten governments,
political parties, labor unions, indigenous organizations
that attempt to escape the circuit of money with a
commodity blockade and to subtly suggest a
subsequent violent invasion by contras, the UN "humanitarian"
army, or former colonial forces. The Bank's and Fund's
power depends upon the "transcendental power of
money" itself which it is their sworn duty to develop
throughout the planet ad infinitum. Hence their innate,
instinctual hostility to the use of land (or any other
potentially "free space," e.g., the field of linguistic
exchange, electromagnetic frequencies, the high seas,
the atmosphere, the past) for the development of
anti-monetary forms of social coordination, so that
human beings can again gain confidence in creating
fatal (for the money system) coincidences of desire.
Consider the WB's new policy towards the
"cultural property" of indigenous people in, for
example, the Amazon Basin or the rainforest of
southern Mexico. Places of religious, traditional and
artistic importance have been loci where people, especially
indigenous people, have coordinated together the
widest spectrum of their needs and desires (including
plotting war against invaders), often without having to
pay an admission fee. But now the WB is now
committing itself to investigate what goes on in these
places and to transforming the "good" ones into investment
In keeping with this new "respect for indigenous
cultures," the WB issued its 1992 Operational
Directive on Cultural Property. The following is a WB
description of this directive:
"Cutural property" refers to sites,
structures, or remains with archaeological,
historical, religious, cultural or aesthetic
value. It is Bank policy to protect and,
where feasible, to enhance a country's
cultural property through its policy
dialogue, lending operations, and economic
and sector work. The operational
directive will be grounded in the recognition
that maintaining a society's cultural
values is important for the sustainability of
its development, particularly where
those values are reflected in cultural
property of national or regional
significance.(World Bank 1992b: 108)

Thus, the WB is now arrogating into its hands the very
places that are often used by people to gather
together to plan struggles against SAPs. Under the
cover of a newly discovered concern for the indigenous
peoples, it is trying to turn these sites of free
coordination into places of monetary "value" and "significance"
(the dimensions of which its experts will decide, in
consultation with the indigenous communities, of
course). In this touching display of multicultural
awareness, the WB shows itself on par with the Nazis
who were also concerned not to lose the invaluable
"indigenous knowledge" of the Central European Jews, so
that they gathered the best Jewish scholars together
and had them construct a "Museum of the Extinct
Species" in Prague. After cataloguing, interpreting, and
placing the beautiful artifacts of the Prague ghetto
in the Museum's archive according to their Nazi
masters' specifications, the scholars were taken out

Clower, R. W. 1967, "A reconsideration of the
microfoundations of monetary theory," Western
Journal 6, December, 1-8.
de Brunhoff, Suzanne 1973, Marx on Money. New
York: Urizen Books.
Marx, Karl 1973, Grundrisse: Foundations of the
Critique of Political Economy. Harmondsworth:
World Bank 1992b, The World Bank and the
Environment. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

****** The A-Infos News Service ******
News about and of interest to anarchists
COMMANDS: lists@ainfos.ca
REPLIES: a-infos-d@ainfos.ca
HELP: a-infos-org@ainfos.ca
WWW: http://www.ainfos.ca/
INFO: http://www.ainfos.ca/org

-To receive a-infos in one language only mail lists@ainfos.ca the message:
unsubscribe a-infos
subscribe a-infos-X
where X = en, ca, de, fr, etc. (i.e. the language code)

A-Infos Information Center