What Money Wants: An Economy of Desire

What Money Wants: An Economy of Desire

What Money Wants: An Economy of Desire

What Money Wants: An Economy of Desire

Synopsis

One thing all mainstream economists agree upon is that money has nothing whatsoever to do with desire. This strange blindness of the profession to what is otherwise considered to be a basic feature of economic life serves as the starting point for this provocative new theory of money. Through the works of Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen, and Max Weber, What Money Wants argues that money is first and foremost an object of desire. In contrast to the common notion that money is but an ordinary object that people believe to be money, this book explores the theoretical consequences of the possibility that an ordinary object fulfills money's function insofar as it is desired as money. Rather than conceiving of the desire for money as pathological, Noam Yuran shows how it permeates economic reality, from finance to its spectacular double in our consumer economy of addictive shopping. Rich in colorful and accessible examples, from the work of Charles Dickens to Reality TV and commercials, this book convinces us that we must return to Marx and Veblen if we are to understand how brand names, broadcast television, and celebrity culture work. Analyzing both classical and contemporary economic theory, it reveals the philosophical dimensions of the controversy between orthodox and heterodox economics.

Excerpt

Keith Hart

During a period around 1900, five books came out, each of them offering a radically new perspective on the modern economic system that was then given a name, “capitalism.” They were V. I. Lenin’s The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), which is still the best available account of capitalist development in backward areas; Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), which launched the study of consumption and institutional economics; Georg Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money (1900), which has a claim to being the most profound meditation on the topic since Karl Marx; Werner Sombart’s Der Moderner Kapitalismus (1902), which is the original source for the name of our economic system; and Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–5), which is possibly the most famous essay in sociology ever written.

All of these were in some kind of dialogue with Karl Marx’s work that was published in the mid-nineteenth century. This was also a time when the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and cubism were being formed. Not much later the Federal Reserve and the first fully-automated production line saw daylight in 1913, and twentieth-century capitalism was born.

Noam Yuran’s book is likewise in dialogue with Marx, and it draws heavily on Veblen and Weber, but only indirectly or not at all on the others. We are living through a watershed in world economic history when the doctrines of orthodox economics have been discredited by financial crisis. It ought to be a time of intellectual renewal and discovery, but the contours of such change are not yet obvious. By revisiting that epoch just over a century ago and, especially, through his interpretation of Marx’s theory and method, Yuran may well have produced a classic of our era. His argument is by no means solely an exercise in intellectual archaeology, nor is it an explanation . . .

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