01 July 2009

Money, an essentially useless substance?

Dmitry Orlov recently posted an article titled Definancialisation, Deglobalisation, Relocalisation.

For those not familiar with Dmitry, he is the author of Reinventing Collapse, which is all about "prepar[ing] for life without much money, where imported goods are scarce, and where people have to provide for their own needs, and those of their immediate neighbours."

In this article, Dmitry has a go at money and suggests barter can do the job but then suggest this is probably a better solution:

One option is to organise as communities to produce certain goods that the entire community wants: food, clothing, shelter, security and entertainment. Everyone makes their contribution, in exchange for the end product, which everyone gets to share. It is also possible to organise to produce goods that can be used in trade with other communities: trade goods. Trade goods are a much better way to store wealth than money, which is, let's face it, an essentially useless substance.

I can't say I share Dmitry's belief in this socialist nirvana. The catch for me is “everyone makes their contribution” bit. Anyway, my main beef is with his belief that trade goods are a better way to store wealth and that money is essentially useless. Now I'm not going to discuss why money is better than barter (either between individuals or “communities” it doesn't matter), as I think most people reading this get it. I'm more interested in why Dmitry would be so negative on money given its obvious efficiency it brings to exchange. The explanation is in this statement later in the article:

When we use money, we cede power to those who create money (by creating debt) and who destroy money (by cancelling debt). We also empower the ranks of people whose area of expertise is in the manipulation of arbitrary rules and arithmetic abstractions rather than in engaging directly with the physical world.

This has to be one of the best examples of the infiltration of the idea of fiat into society. This guy's whole shtick is about radically challenging society yet he can't conceive of money as anything but debt, so much so that he proposes returning to barter rather than retaining the benefits of money, but money which is directly engaged with the physical world – gold.

Another example of this misguided thinking is his statement that a lack of money “makes it more difficult to hoard wealth”. Professor Fekete has often debunked this demonisation of hoarding. Dmitry himself is confused on this matter – he thinks it is OK to hoard wealth in the form of trade goods, but not money.

I considered replying to Dmitry's article on these matters, but thinking about how brainwashed (I can think of no better word) he is on money, I considered it a futile task. I could see a stereotypical negative perception of gold as some goldbug doom and gloom eccentricity. I see a need to condense Professor Fekete's work into an easy (and quick) to understand case for sound money. Another one for the to-do list.


  1. I thought gold was a good produced to be used to trade with others a.k.a. a trade good?

  2. Therefore, Mr Orlov is in fact advocating the use of gold as a means of exchange a.k.a. money, though maybe he doesn't know it.

  3. It is interesting that Prof Fekete is advocating a kind of bartering with the Real Bills Doctrine. Merchants would barter not with goods, but with invoices for goods, denominated in gold coin.

  4. I think in the real world real bills probably won't be used much and instead the extending of credit to your customer down the value chain, plus ability to factor your accounts receivable will continue and in my view is effectively the same outcome as real bills.