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What money promises

Guadalajara, Mexico
2016y09sep19mon—38w263d72%— 14h41m12s—-5utc

Of all the systems in society, money was the first to fascinate me. My recent years on bitcoin certainly built on that interest but it’s something I’ve been asking since I was a kid: what the hell is money? (Almost all responses have been annoyance at asking something so obvious.) I’m looking both for a theoretical, philosophical explanation, as well as a concrete, practical mapping of the huge system that is money now (it changes often!).

Felix Martin describes money a social networking technology in his brilliant 2015 book Money: The Unathorized Biography. Here’s a simple diagram of one of his dazzling perspectives:

Diagram of What Money Promises


Last night I finally watched 🎬 The Big Short. I loved it, though Margin Call remains my favorite film of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Anyway, it reminded me that a few months ago Felix Martin’s book was a mind-expanding read.

I have this weird habit of lighting up books with 7-color depths (using fancy imported markers). Partly I do it to focus attention & make reading more interactive: it’s a great, fun challenge to try to structure linear text in place into something higher dimensional. The other reason is that my lighting becomes the physical evidence of my reading, the 🐜 pheremone trail networks of my thoughts, what surprised me & what I valued then.

Here’s an example of my lighting of pages 140 & 141 of Felix Martin’s Money:

Page 140 of Money Page 141 of Money

As I read the brilliant paragraph that splits across the pages I was surprised at how effotless it was to light into a complex structure. I couldn’t resist drawing a quick sketch trying to unfold it:

Sketch of What Money Promises

This has now become the more stylish diagram at the top of this post. I see the subtle argument serving as a corrective to both the conservative right —insisting on the sanctity of the network of indebtedness even when it has become clearly harmful & unsustainable— and to the self-righteous left —always seeing the readjustment of the network in terms of moral perversion & injustice in need of punishments and redress.

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