(Why) Money Matters

Sunday, November 27, 2022
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 26, 2020

What Is It

Money, they say, does not buy happiness; but having none can make life extraordinarily hard. Whether we have a little or a lot, we are all familiar with how much money matters in our daily lives. But what exactly is money? Is it a commodity that evolved spontaneously from systems of barter? Or is it purely an invention of government, used as a means to pay off tax liability? What difference would the answer make to things like job creation, inflation, and government spending? And how do modern inventions like cryptocurrency fit into a theory of money? Josh and Ray run up the bill with Graham Hubbs from the University of Idaho, editor of Pragmatism, Law, and Language.

Listening Notes

Ray and Josh open the show with a brief discussion on money – its forms and origins, uses, and potential problems. Given the recent resurgence of cryptocurrency and government response to Covid-19, these conversations may prove useful as our idea and treatment of money continue to evolve.

Ray and Josh welcome the show’s guest, Graham Hubbs, a professor of philosophy at the University of Idaho. Graham acknowledges Ray’s point on the origin of money – a tool for government taxation – as well as Josh’s example of R. A. Radford – bartering. Furthermore, Graham describes four main functions of money. He then proposes that they first analyze money as a concept before considering money as objects. This in turn raises several questions. Where does the practice and concept come from? How do we use it to assign prices, especially when some things seem invaluable? How do we address problems like transgenerational wealth accumulation and monopolies? These are some of the questions the hosts and guest consider.

In the last segment of the show, Josh questions what the world would look like if Graham had total power to address the aforementioned problems with money. In response, Graham proposes implementing an education campaign to teach youth about economics, history, and anthropology. In light of questions about funding this new curriculum, Ray more broadly asks how much of citizens’ needs as a whole should be paid for by the government. Finally, the hosts discuss the connection between ideas and money with a brief concluding note on Bitcoin.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (4:49): Holly J. McDede offers insight on the arbitrary nature of money. She draws from Scott Fitzpatrick, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon who has closely studied stone money called “rai.” On the island of Yap, these large stone disks were traded, gifted, and displayed at the owner’s residence, or in many cases, traded without moving physically. Now, these abandoned stones can still be found throughout the island, though they are perhaps not nearly as valuable as they once were.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (46:02): Ian Shoales addresses the recent scandals concerning Kelly Loeffler, particularly the politician’s wealth, private properties, and career. Shoales also acknowledges the protests regarding Covid-19 supposedly impeding on personal freedom as well as its ties to broader political and economic systems.



Ray Briggs  
Is money the root of all evil?

Josh Landy  
Or is it just a technology that makes our lives more efficient?

Ray Briggs  
Should some things just not be for sale?

Comments (3)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, September 18, 2022 -- 6:22 AM

I would give a perspective,

I would give a perspective, based on recent experience. I needed a car. Found an ad for one that looked appealing. It was older and had a high mileage, but appeared to be in good condition for all that. The price was affordable. We made contact and agreed to the seller's price. Then, the curveball: the seller wanted payment in crypto currency. (Bitcoin). This did not seem right. We ended the transaction. So, yes money matters. For us, the kind of money is the distinction.

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Daniel's picture


Tuesday, September 20, 2022 -- 12:27 PM

The pronoun "us" is not

The pronoun "us" is not correct, as counter-exampled by testimony of experience in the case of the present author. Your belief in an independent typology of monetary kinds is a personal one, and can not be inter-subjectively shared on account of its logical inconsistency. Euros and dollars, for example, are of different size-types, but not of different historical types (i.e. they both emerge from coinage). So-called "cryptocurrency" is not essentially different from bank notes on durable fabric in that any standard exchange value has to be tied to a presumed retail contract in the context of a valued good for which two elements are determinative: use of a product and its production (labor + materials). The price is what the contract stipulates, to which both parties must agree. The means of this agreement is called "exchange-value", so that currencies that have it, conditioned by prior consensus in the community of retailers, are typically identical, differing from other types primarily in their independence from the contractors. What I argue here then is that you've made a serious error in reasoning by concluding that because cryptocurrency seems like a different type of currency than exchange in bank notes, that it therefore must be a different type, valid for everyone who considers it. Do you agree?

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Daniel's picture


Tuesday, September 20, 2022 -- 1:38 PM

It may be of some value to

It may be of some value to note Aristotle's discussion of currency in book I of the Politics. He believed, as participant Neuman does, that because trade requires currency of some kind, there can't or shouldn't be more than one kind, which in Aristotle's day consisted of smelted metals, its material cause, and the shape it's put in, its formal cause. What this value consists of is described in tripartite form (1257b36):
1) Money-acquisition is in principle unlimited, since wealth itself, and not any use to which wealth is put, is its purpose.
2) Money as means to an end is limited by the design of its use in trade, and has value only in relation to the goods for which it is exchanged.
3) The goods for which money is exchanged can in turn be unlimited is acquisition, or limited by specific uses, but in either case will constitute the grounds of currency-value, once it has been exchanged.

Independent of considerations of this paraphrase's accuracy, two consequences can be drawn:
1) Without private property, currency would have no value; and
2) money is analogous in Aristotle to digested food, beginning in abstract quantity, continuing in absorption of nutrients, and ending as excrement, biologically understood as soil-enrichment for continued agricultural product. Might it be relevant to the current discussion that money could keep its value without having to bring it through the first and third stages, leaving just its nutritional value? Asked differently, if the drive to increase wealth in the abstract could be given up so that it's only needed when some specific use is put to it, would private property then be just a bunch of s**t?

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