IT WOULD SURPRISE MOST PEOPLE IN TODAY’S United States to hear that in the past, political groups demanded that lawmakers create money and told them how they thought this new currency should reach the population. During the depression of the 1890s, for instance, hundreds of people who were looking for work, mostly white but some Black, marched on Washington, D.C. They demanded that Congress create currency and advance it to state and local governments. State and local authorities could then use this currency to pay workers who would improve neglected roads. Through their demands, these marchers highlighted the power of Congress to create money, employ people in situations of forced idleness, and improve public infrastructure. They also advanced an understanding of money as a public good. After they had entered the capital, police prevented their leaders from making a speech, arresting and beating several of them (Alexander 2015; Prout 2016). The first march on Washington—by what became known as Coxey’s Army—was not an isolated event but part of a larger pattern of popular involvement in money creation.
In this book, I show how users of the monetary systems from seventeenth-century British colonial North America to the New Deal took part in shaping monetary institutions. I call knowledges and practices that enabled people to shape money creation “moral economies of money,” and processes that disabled such patterns “monetary silencing.”
Because most of the moral economies of money I discuss in this book were part of settler colonial projects, it would be a mistake to idealize them. Moral economies of money helped constitute colonizer-colonized relations by monetary means (chapters 1 and 2), excluded Black people, and replaced an institutional understanding of money with anti-Semitism (chapter 6). Most moral economies of money sought to secure a white men’s ideal of living as “independent” small producers, which they attempted to realize at other people’s expense and at other people’s peril.1 In this book, I address aspects of the racial history of moral economies, but this dimension requires further investigation,2 as does their gendered character.3 Despite its limits, this book provides elements for a historically grounded understanding of one condition of present-day political life: the disconnect between money creation and public knowledge about it.
This book allows readers to understand this disconnect as a historical outcome. In the eighteenth century, large groups of people understood money creation as a political process in a context in which monetary institutions were intelligible. In the antebellum era, people lost sight of money’s character as a malleable governance institution when they focused their critique exclusively on corporate banks and demanded money made of gold and silver but forgot about the possibility of democratizing money creation. The Civil War’s public currency (greenbacks) made money’s political character visible again, inaugurating a period of moral economies that lasted until the 1930s. Finally, New Dealers developed monetary institutions and rhetoric that obscured the stakes of public money creation and began a period of monetary silence that lasts to this day.
Because money users’ disconnect from knowledge about money creation limits people’s potential to stabilize their lives and avoid mass impoverishment, bankruptcy, and unemployment, the stakes are high. Money users’ response to Covid-19 illustrates its cost. In the pandemic’s first weeks, Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, appeared on national television (Pelley 2020). The interviewer asked the central banker: “Can you characterize everything that the Fed has done this past week as essentially flooding the system with money?”
Kashkari: Yes, exactly.
Interviewer: And there’s no end to your ability to do that?
Kashkari: There is no end to our ability to do that.
Kashkari emphasized his institution’s capacity to create money, and in the weeks after the interview the federal government illustrated its power over money creation through unprecedented levels of spending. At the same time, the government left many victims of the pandemic out in the cold. For instance, a Covid-19 patient on an inhalator wondered who was going to pay for his medical care before he called his family for the last time (Elassar 2020). On a larger scale, state and local governments faced budget shortfalls.
But when the Federal Reserve offered advances to state and local governments, it found few takers. The central bank’s Municipal Liquidity Facility (MLF) could have helped public institutions such as municipalities or school districts, prevented more unemployment and business closures, and stabilized many people’s lives.4 But no major social movement urged state and local governments to access these funds. Before it ran out at the end of 2020, only the State of Illinois and New York City’s Metropolitan Transport Association had accessed the MLF. During a crisis that was existential for many money users, no shared knowledge enabled people to pressure municipal and state-level politicians to access these funds. Today, most people do not think of themselves as money users who stand in a relation with the institutions authorized to create money.
Money Users and Money Issuers
Neochartalist monetary theorists distinguish between governance bodies that can issue money and money users who cannot.5 Money issuers, such as the US government, are not revenue constrained. Only the resources that actors offer for sale in the issuer’s currency limit what it can purchase and hence the character and scope of projects it can undertake. Money users, in contrast, cannot issue a generally accepted pecuniary medium. Money users, including households, firms, and municipal and state governments, are revenue constrained and face severe sanctions if they cannot balance income and outgo. Therefore, their capacity to mobilize resources is more limited than the money issuers’. The distinction between money issuers and money users expands possibilities for democratic governance because it enables debates about which resources a money issuer should mobilize for public purposes, and to what end, while undermining the idea that money-issuing governments are revenue constrained.6
But why should money users accept the issuer’s cash? Neochartalists argue that the issuer makes its money current when it imposes taxes and fines. To discharge the debts the issuer has established, people need to get the currency that the issuer has created—the only one it promises to accept. Because of the pressure to acquire this currency, a population begins to use it in everyday payments. In sum, the issuer forces its pay tokens on money users through taxation and the threat of penalty for failure to comply.7 In such a situation, people need to sell their labor power, their products, or assets they own. Unable to issue money, they have to act as economic individuals: they work for a wage, attempt to buy low and sell dear, and so on.
While such activities are common across time and space, in this book I show that money users can develop other forms of agency.8 In the British North American colonies and the United States, money users reshaped money creation mechanisms, revising the neochartalist script and enriching the role of economic individuals in which it casts them.9 They participated in what the historian Christine Desan (2014) calls “monetary design”:10 making decisions about the principles that govern money creation.
Monetary design varies over time and across space, shaping possibilities for different groups and constituting society. For instance, if a government establishes loan offices that issue currency against real estate, it empowers landowners relative to their creditors. Landowners might support such a monetary design, while their creditors might be skeptical (see chapters 1 and 2). If a government issues cash against agricultural staples, it empowers farmers who control their production relative to those who market them. The former might be in favor, and the latter might be opposed (see chapter 4). If a government issues money against gold or silver, it empowers those who have access to specie relative to everyone else (see chapters 2 and 5). And if a government issues money against labor power when it hires people, it stabilizes workers’ lives and strengthens their position vis-à-vis private employers (Tcherneva 2020). In sum, when societies design money creation mechanisms, they constitute themselves.
Banking is a form of monetary design in which legislatures place profitoriented institutions at the center of the money creation process (see chapter 3). When today’s commercial banks extend loans, they create deposits: that is, the bank marks up a debtor’s account to the amount it advances.11 Banks decide who should, and who should not, get credit to mobilize resources. For instance, a bank can decide to extend credit for luxury housing, enabling a developer to purchase labor power and building materials. In this example, banks shape the built environment and help choose the kinds of people who inhabit a space. Those who receive credit spend money into circulation and pass it on to other money users. But those who receive money first (Desan 2014) can decide where it flows, shaping social spaces as they do so.
The practice of delegating money creation to banks is a little over three centuries old and represents a world-changing break with medieval patterns. The currencies of British colonial North America, the starting point for this book, emerged in the period in which medieval money was replaced by bank money, a distinct form of money creation with democratic potential.
Settler Democratic Currencies
Seventeenth-century English policy makers considered that the inflexible medieval currency supply (coined alloys of silver and gold) was insufficient for financing wars, and they sought to create a currency that could expand when needed. In response, Parliament established the Bank of England, which could create tax-receivable paper currency and operate for the profit of its owners. Thereby, Parliament made the profit motive a legitimate driver of money creation (Desan 2014). The controversies that led to the Bank of England Act involved Parliament, pamphleteers, and financiers (Desan 2014; Carruthers 1996), but at a time when only a fraction of the population could vote, most money users did not take part in them. England thus developed a routinized way of producing elastic money insulated from nonelite pressure long before the franchise became generalized.
Like English policy makers, colonists in British North America sought to create a currency that could expand, but political conditions were distinct because generalized voting for European men began earlier. In the very decades in which corporate banking spread in England, the colonies printed public currency, and electorates learned about monetary matters through political practice. They asked and answered central questions of monetary design: How should public money enter circulation? Which groups should have access to currency, and under what conditions? How much of it should they create? Whom could they force to accept a currency in payment of a debt? (chapters 1 and 2).
Monetary controversies occurred across the early modern world, but the British North American colonies and, later, the United States stand apart as the clearest examples of large groups’ recurring involvement in creating those currencies that are generally accepted within a jurisdiction.12 In Europe, monetary policy, in addition to economic policy writ large, was insulated from popular pressure until much later. Bordo and Eichengreen (2004:58) note that “in many countries the right to vote was limited until after World War I,” restricting “the ability of those subject to unemployment to object when monetary policy was targeted at other variables.” In France and Germany, for instance, there was no popular involvement comparable to that in the United States during either the crises of the nineteenth century or the interwar period.13 In the colonized part of the world, overwhelming European violence made democratic money politics impossible. European money issuers forced colonized societies to become users of their currencies while destroying Native ones, a process that also occurred in the lands the United States claims today (see chapter 1; Forstater 2005; Braudel 1981; Pigeaud and Samba Sylla 2018).
In sum, the United States and its predecessor polities are the clearest example of a recurring pattern of broad but exclusivist involvement in governmental money creation. Therefore, they constitute a privileged terrain for studying the changing character of money users’ agency over time and are a productive starting point for comparative inquiry into what I call moral economies of money.
Moral Economies of Money
When money users understood the stakes of monetary design, moral economies of money flourished.14 Money users’ capacity and willingness to take part in the politics of monetary design characterize such moral economies. From a moral economic perspective, money is not a neutral quantity of things but an integral part of democratic processes. For instance, after the Civil War, farmers who were forced to do business with local credit monopolists wanted to redesign monetary institutions so that affordable public credit could reach them. They demanded that the federal government establish warehouses and issue currency against staples they would store there. Redesigning money creation, these money users claimed, was the only way of bypassing usurious creditors and holding on to their land (chapter 4). To realize their vision, moral economic actors petitioned legislatures, published periodicals, organized massive educational and electoral campaigns, and resorted to direct action.
Moral economic groups argued that current money creation mechanisms were unjust and did not reward their efforts adequately. For instance, in the first years of the Great Depression, national farmers’ organizations claimed that the value of their contributions was indisputable, while monetary institutions were malleable and needed to be rearranged to reflect desert. “We’ll eat our meat and ham and eggs,” one of them wrote, “and let them eat their gold.” A gold standard and bank money creation were institutional choices, but food production was necessary (chapter 6). In moral economic situations, communities of useful people challenged the idea that money could be neutral and considered “money” to be a process that, to become just, required public vigilance and institutional change.
Moral economies were more than collectively articulated policy preferences with distributive consequences. When money users took part in them, they understood they were rearranging social relations on a large scale, what Desan (2014, 2017) calls the monetary constitution of society. As they did so, they also constituted themselves as agents capable of ordering their relation to others. Whenever moral economies flourished, there were clashes about money users’ legitimate role in money creation. For instance, while postbellum defenders of a gold standard argued that impoverished and indebted people had no right to participate in monetary design, Populists claimed it was their duty to take part in critical reflection and political action (chapter 5). If the category “money user” seems static and individualistic, recurring controversies about people’s capacity to improve money creation processes show it is not.
Moral economies of money are distinct from claims about the right to financial support for those deemed in need, such as impoverished persons or those looking for work. They are distinct, also, from claims about the right to a living wage. While today, demands on the government or employers bracket money creation, moral economies placed it front and center: for those who took part in moral economies, the institutional conditions under which money issuing happened shaped possibilities in almost all areas of social life. Such moral economies were not romantic attempts to create a society based on barter. Instead, they imagined the promise of money as both a political and an individual one and sought to create accountable and just institutions.
But moral economies are also distinct from controversies about bank nationalization and central banks’ insulation from other governance institutions. During the twentieth century, central banks’ institutional character changed, from midcentury nationalizations to the later trend of independence. Even if public controversies accompanied these shifts, and even if they changed the lay of the land from policy makers’ perspective, these processes were not moral economic in the sense in which I define it here because they did not involve large groups of money users who attempted to promote a monetary design they considered just.15 Even if the relations between today’s central banks and their publics are politicized (see, e.g., Braun 2016; Riles 2018), they unfold within the current framework of money creation and governance. When it emerges, public criticism focuses on policy choices, not broader questions about monetary design. If it assumes current money creation arrangements, such criticism can even become part of what I call monetary silencing.
Moral Economies and Monetary Silencing
I call the processes that reduce money users to individuals who have no role in shaping money creation “monetary silencing.” If they are disconnected from knowledge about the choices involved in institutional design, money users cease to relate to monetary institutions as political beings.16 Silencing processes discourage questions like “Who ought to make currency, and according to what rules?” When silencing is successful, monetary design and its stakes disappear from view, and monetary sleepwalking replaces moral economies (even if the question “Where does money come from?” lingers on). I call the pattern of agency that is the outcome of silencing “monetary silence.”17 In situations of monetary silence, and only in such situations, the category “money users” is stable and can appear static: except for individual acquisitive practices, money users seem passive.
Silencing processes are multifaceted. Because money users take cues about what “money” is from the way it is currently institutionalized, the restructuring of large-scale governmental money creation can become an important silencing process. For instance, treasury-issued currencies—such as Civil War greenbacks (chapters 4 and 5)—created an intelligible link between legislative decisions and the currency in people’s pockets. These pay tokens made it plausible to think of money as a mundane creature of the law, comparable to postage stamps.18 Treasury currencies encouraged money users to ask questions about the rules that governed money’s making and became typical starting points for moral economies. Today, creating central bank accounts for all money users would establish a direct relation between federal money-creating authorities and the US population, which could lead to far-reaching debates about monetary design and the relative advantages of bank and public currency creation (Grey 2019).
In contrast to treasury currency, today’s bank money is more difficult to understand from the perspective of everyday life, and this difficulty has silencing effects. When banks make loans, they create “new” money as deposits. But to the public at large, these deposits are not visible as such, and their relation with central bank and treasury operations is difficult to grasp. Money users relate to myriad entry points—from ATMs to payday lenders—without grasping them as part of larger institutions and larger relations (Scott 2013). In such contexts, money users perceive a rupture between money in everyday life and the monetary system.19 Their knowledge is limited to practices such as paying with a banknote or reading the ATM message “withdrawal not authorized,” while the monetary system seems unintelligible. In contrast to treasury currency, bank money creation tends to have silencing effects.
Besides institutions, authoritative knowledges can also contribute to monetary silencing. Today’s professional interpreters of money—economists—theorize money in a way that has silencing effects when it discourages its users from engaging with monetary design. For most economists, “Money is what money does”: it is a means of payment, a measure of value, and a store of value.20 This logic emphasizes functions over relations, suspending inquiry into the process of money creation and the relations through which it reaches a household, or fails to do so—the chain of credits that connects public governance and bank money creation to someone’s account and wallet. If money users limit their understanding of money to a list of functions, their capacity to relate to money as a malleable institution remains truncated.21
Today’s economists typically also claim that money is neutral, comparing it to a veil that lies over “real” economic activities and prevents people from seeing a world of barter in which individuals swap goods and services. From this perspective, money facilitates exchanges, but its presence leaves the barter dynamics of the “real” economy unchanged. In the absence of money, we could see what money quantifies—that enriched individuals have contributed more than impoverished ones. The metaphor helps justify questionable activities if they are rewarded with high incomes (Graeber 2011:44; Jennings 1994:557–58). And those with money can feel validated by the veil metaphor, since having money shows that one has done useful work. “Money is a veil” is a message to money users: what you have is what you deserve. As the critical economist Ann Jennings (1994:557) put it, we uphold money’s centrality in creating hierarchies “by denying that it matters.”22 The idea that money is neutral contributes to monetary silence because it eclipses always-political monetary design processes.
Claims consistent with the veil metaphor are common in popular literature, and they have similar silencing effects. In the words of the twentieth-century motivational speaker Earl Nightingale (1986): “Money is the harvest of our production. Money is what we receive for our production and service. . . . Try to remember this formula: the amount of money we receive will always be in direct relation to the demand for what we do, our ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing us.” Money reflects individuals’ contribution to society and rewards them in exact proportion. If money is neutral, wealth cannot be unearned, and money users cannot question money’s verdict.
Knowledges that accompany bitcoin and the family of related projects also have silencing effects. This statement may appear paradoxical because these “currencies” seem to enlarge monetary possibilities as they bring money creation into public view. Yet if they promote a libertarian logic that dismisses the possibility of democratic governance and seek to substitute a seemingly nonarbitrary money creation mechanism claimed to be distinct from nation-states’ authoritarian and exploitative fiat currencies, bitcoin advocates advance monetary silence.23 Instead of encouraging money users to rethink their agency vis-à-vis the money issuer, and the democratic redesign of monetary institutions, they reject such institutions wholesale when they try to purge all “third parties”—not only banks but also governments—from monetary life (Amato 2018), much as Jacksonian monetary critics did (chapter 3). Instead of redefining social life as they reshape money in an open-ended process, bitcoin promoters fix their identity as individuated bitcoin “miners” and exchangers. In sum, they promote a way of thinking about money that is distinct from moral economies of money that emphasize money’s character as an always-political “governance project” (Desan 2014).
Silencing can also take the form of short-term political projects. Opponents considered that moral economies of money threatened the existence of society as they knew it, and they worked to reshape money users’ agency in ways that were compatible with their vision of social order. To do so, they attempted to redistribute monetary knowledge and agency in such a way that the range of people who related to money as political beings shrank. For instance, during the postbellum era, writers and politicians encouraged money users to relate to money as acquisitive individuals only (chapter 5). And counterintuitively, the New Deal stabilized access to money, primarily for white men, while silencing moral economies (chapter 6). At the other end of the spectrum of silencing lies military mobilization, most prominently against Revolutionary War veterans (on Shays’ Rebellion, see chapter 3) and World War I veterans (on the 1932 Bonus March, see chapter 6).
When institutions, knowledges, and political projects disconnect money users from the politics of money creation, monetary silence can enable an upside-down world in which actual resources and skills come to appear as an appendix to what really counts: money. The creature of laws, keystrokes, and mints becomes precious and scarce, while that which is priceless indeed—the skills and labor of real, living individuals who as part of ecosystems reproduce societies—seems to be useful only if there is money to put it to use. Politicians, policy makers, and pundits then invoke a “lack of funds” to justify cuts to social spending or education. Yet the idea that the quantity of money in the public coffers limits what societies can do is a myth. Since money is a malleable institution, it can mobilize existing resources and build new productive capacities.24 In contexts marked by silencing, money can appear to dominate all actors—even governments that claim sovereign status—instead of appearing as a flexible instrument that constellations of users and issuers can deploy to serve democratically defined purposes.
In the following chapters, I map the repeated back-and-forth between moral economies and monetary silence from the seventeenth to the early twenty-first century in the British North American colonies and the United States. The goal is not to offer a comprehensive political history of money but to inquire into the structuring of money users’ agency.25 I provide case studies that are based on an analysis of selected colonies/states for which ample published primary and secondary sources are available. In the chapters, I show to what extent these cases can illuminate other spaces and offer parallels and comparisons with other colonies/states. The method varies from chapter to chapter, depending on the sources money users have left. For the eighteenth century I infer money users’ knowledge from documented behavior, but in later periods a wealth of sources allows me to reconstruct moral economic and silencing processes more directly.
The money users that appear in this book include participants in colonial-era town meetings, members of social movements and political parties, lawmakers, academics, journalists, politicians, and policy makers. These actors documented then-existing patterns of agency in periodicals and pamphlets, petitions and best-selling books, town and legislative records, blueprints for money creation mechanisms, memoirs, letters, and radio broadcasts. These documents, which I analyze as part of a changing institutional and political context, allow me to show how people thought about their rightful place in the monetary system and their capacity to shape it. The resulting narrative is a sequence of moral economies of money and silencing processes that traverse money creation in the British North American colonies, the antebellum era, and the Greenback and Populist eras, as well as the New Deal and its aftermath, which extends to today.
1. Moral economies of money are an instance of what Aziz Rana (2010) calls the “two faces of American freedom.”
2. Given the exclusivist character of almost all the moral economies of money I discuss in this book, O’Malley’s (2012:5–6) claim that those who de-reified money tended to also undermine the racial ordering of society needs to be revisited. Debates about anti-Semitism and money politics so far have focused on the late nineteenth century and the question of whether Populists were more anti-Semitic than other groups. For arguments about monetary anti-Semitism and Populism, see Hofstadter (1955:77–81), Rogin (1967:173–74), Pollack (1962), Mayo (1988), and Postel (2007:6, 152–53).
3. Todorova (2009) and Jennings (1994) provide theoretical starting points for such a historical analysis.
4. On the MLF, see Federal Reserve (2022). For detailed analyses of the MLF and Federal Reserve operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, see Nathan Tankus’s analyses at www.crisesnotes.com.
5. See, for instance, Desan (2014, 2016), Forstater (2005), Ingham (2004), Kelton (2020), and Wray (1998).
6. This means that a money-issuing government can mobilize existing labor power and resources. If it attempts to mobilize resources that are scarce, inflation may result as other actors who compete for labor power or other resources will offer higher prices. On the limit to government spending from a Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) perspective, see, for instance, Kelton (2020) and Fullwiler, Grey, and Tankus (2019).
7. For historical evidence about tax-driven money, see, for instance, Forstater (2005) and Graeber (2011).
8. Scott Ferguson (2019) introduces the concept of monetary agency.
9. Carruthers and Babb (1996) offer a different theorization of how an almost-worthless object such as paper becomes money. They argue that money’s reification and depoliticization—a collective forgetting of its social construction—are necessary for money’s functioning and that they are a historical norm. From a neochartalist perspective, reification and depoliticization are not necessary dimensions of a monetary system because tax acceptance suffices to create generally accepted pay tokens. The evidence I present in this book supports the neochartalist claim: money users continued to accept currency in periods of politicization, and silencing is a contingent outcome, not a necessary aspect of money’s functioning. Geoff Mann (2013:211) has also proposed a theorization of money’s “non-politics.” He argues that the “monetary exception” to democracy underlies capitalist societies: “The premise behind the entire modern capitalist state is that for capitalism and its attendant liberties to thrive, money is the one social relation in which we must contract with the sovereign, subject ourselves to total authority, and welcome a permanent state of exception.” The evidence I marshal in this book suggests that the monetary exception to democracy, if and when it exists, is a contingent outcome of silencing processes.
10. French monetary institutionalists have developed the concept “monetization regime,” which is similar to Desan’s “monetary design” (see Alary et al. 2020).
11. There are two common ways of misunderstanding banking. (1) According to the intermediary myth, banks are mere money users that intermediate when they lend one customer’s money to another. This view hides bank money creation and mischaracterizes banks as money users when in fact they are today’s main money creators. (2) According to the money multiplier theory, banks “multiply” money deposited with them when they “lend” it to others. In fact, today’s banks extend credit first and then seek to obtain required Federal Reserve settlement balances, also known as “reserves.” See, for instance, Hockett and Omarova (2017), McLeay, Radia, and Thomas (2014), and Ryan-Collins, Greenham, and Jackson (2014). For a nontechnical explanation of bank money creation, see Galbraith (1975).
12. Local currencies were common across the early modern and contemporary world (e.g., Amato and Fantacci 2020). Today, money users often view local currencies as a way of rearranging social relations to correspond with their views of justice (see, for instance, Lee 1996; Dittmer 2013).
13. Unlike the Continental Congress, France’s National Constituent Assembly could not draw on popularly understood money creation forms when it created its revolutionary currency (e.g., Spang 2015:57). Neither were there comparable controversies in the field of money creation in nineteenth-century France, where popular money politics focused on a rejection of banks (Bonin 2011). The United States continued as an outlier in the interwar years and the Great Depression. Political denunciations of banks were common in Europe, for instance when Left governments in France accused financial actors of sabotaging their agenda, an accusation they would continue to make throughout the twentieth century (Feiertag 2010). But unlike in the United States, debates about monetary design were limited to narrower groups of policy makers (Perrot 1955). In interwar Germany, the Left had internal policy debates about public money creation (Gates 1974; Winkler 1990), but broader money user involvement was absent. As in earlier periods, only in the United States did money users systematically attempts to shape public money creation (chapter 6; Feinig 2017). There are partial exceptions such as Proudhon in France, the Owenites in Britain, and, later, the Social Credit Movement in Alberta (Canada), but, to the best of my knowledge, in no other polity was popular involvement as systematic and widespread as in the British North American colonies and the United States.
14. In this section I draw on E. P. Thompson’s work (1971, 1993), who developed his studies of moral economy as an antidote to historians’ tendency to analyze crowd actions as irrational outbursts of popular energy. He discussed successful crowd attempts to shape the relation between starving families and merchants who withheld grain to sell it elsewhere at a higher price. For him, moral economies include “substantive and knowledgeable arguments about the working of markets, but about actual markets rather than theorised market relations” (Thompson 1993:275). In a moral economic logic, institutions are servants of social justice, and the “the market” cannot constrain possibilities for rights. Thompson’s concept of moral economy enables historians to analyze crowd knowledge and actions while avoiding the assumption that they are reckless and uninformed intrusions into otherwise pristine markets.
15. Central bank or commercial bank nationalization tends to leave money users’ knowledges and agency unchanged: For instance, the French economist Lipietz (1988) tells the story of a conservative deposit holder who, outraged by a wave of bank nationalizations, wanted to close their account—this money user had not realized that the bank had already been nationalized for decades.
16. Bruno Théret (2008:818) distinguishes between situations in which the “modes of emission, distribution, and circulation [of money] appear to ensure the reproduction of society” according to established values and norms, and situations in which money’s design diverges from these values and norms. In contrast, thinking in terms of moral economies and their silencing highlights that there may be situations in which money users are not in a position to evaluate monetary institutions politically because they have become disconnected from collective knowledge that allows them to understand the institutional functioning of money issuers such as banks.
17. The social theorist Paulo Freire (1985:72) suggests that silence about central political issues is part of a relation between those who have a voice and those who do not. “Understanding the culture of silence,” he writes, requires “an analysis of dependence as a relational phenomenon that gives rise to different forms of being, of thinking, of expression, to those of the culture of silence and to those of the culture that ‘has a voice.’ Monetary silence is a form of dehumanization because naming, understanding, and transforming the world are the very activities that make us human (88), and the culture of monetary silence is a denial of the openness at the heart of democratic processes. For another important theorization of silence as a relational practice, see D. Smith (1987).
18. In this book, “treasury currency” denotes pay tokens that a treasury issues without promising to convert them into anything else (such as a fixed quantity of gold). The treasury promises only to accept these pay tokens in payment to itself.
19. D. Smith (1990:103) argues that such disjunctures—which she calls “ideological breaks”—are a general feature of capitalist modernity’s institutional world.
20. See, for instance, Mankiw’s (2004:321) popular textbook.
21. Not all silencing processes are intentional. For instance, the idea that individual financial literacy alone can help oppressed and exploited groups get ahead has silencing effects because it moves the emphasis from monetary design to the individual level, bracketing the all-important question of who can create money in the first place, for whom, and according to what rules. At the same time, I know of no evidence that promoters of financial literacy have the intention of contributing to monetary silence.
22. From this perspective, they veil metaphor is a form of symbolic violence that targets those who have less. On money and symbolic violence, see Théret (2008:836).
23. On the vernacular political theory of bitcoin, see Golumbia (2016).
24. See note 4.
25. Two contemporary pioneers in the sociology of money, Viviana Zelizer and Geoffrey Ingham, approach their topic from opposite directions. Zelizer (1994, 2000) privileges the micro level, viewed through a cultural lens, while Ingham (2001, 2004, 2006) interrogates large-scale institutions from a political economy perspective. In contrast, the focus on the constitution of money users and money issuer(s) over time compels me to straddle the culture-political economy divide and to investigate the connection between money’s institutional design and money users’ everyday knowledges. In other words, I see the monetary constitution of society as a matter of culture as well as institutions, everyday experience as well as political economy.