The money basket
Money should not be considered by itself, but as part of a money basket. In this basket, there are both pluses and minuses. We must both look to see where the money economy is working, and where the gift exchange economy is not working, or rather has ceased to work. There are a number of different criteria by which the effectiveness of money as a means of choice can be determined.
These can be arranged under under five headings. Firstly, the economic. Money should lead to markets and markets should lead to a market economy, that is an economy where the main distribution of products and life choices is done by money. It is the opposite of the ‘gift exchange’ economy. A major criterion is the existence of corvée labour, where the individual is required to labour for his Lord, or to fight in his army. Similarly the replacement of tribute, that is payment of a percentage of the crop by a taxation system where a fixed sum of money is paid, is another important criterion of the difference between barbarism and civilisation
Secondly, political. Money means choice, and this choice looks to be exercised in the political sphere. At its extreme, this means democracy. Admittedly democracy is not perfect. The Greeks often pointed out that democracy often alternates with tyranny that is rule by one man, and the real opposite to this democracy/tyranny is oligarchy or aristocracy, the rule by a limited class, as notoriously in Sparta, and an oligarchy often provides less choice than is available under a tyrant.
Thirdly, social. Market economy is the opposite of gift exchange economy, which in turn is closely linked with the Kinship Society. A kinship Society is often highly stratified by castes and a caste is something rigid, that you are born into and can not change – an extreme example being the castes of India or mediaeval Korea.
The best example of this is a feudal system where every sector of society owes its allegiance to the higher rank. A good indication of a kinship Society is the existence of Mafia gangs which extort money and the existence too of revenge, often lasting over generations. Class society is far more forgiving. (An interesting question of choice is who chooses your wife or husband – you or your mother? or the tribe? This is a major question to ask in determining how far a society is civilised.)
Fourthly comes the rule of law. In a barbarian society, where a system of law exists, it normally is a matter of referring disputes to the ruler who decides on the basis of what seems to him to be ‘right’. In a money society, merchants will demand a set of laws so that the outcome of a dispute can be determined by reference to a fixed law and not according to the whim of a ruler. One should note that ‘human rights’ are a reversion to barbaric norms and are the opposite of the rule of law.
And finally, architecture. As I argue throughout, one should look to see how cities are structured. Are they structured round palaces, around temples, around castles or churches or monasteries, or around marketplaces, or indeed as in the modern world, around railway stations or football stadiums. I believe that the best way of studying the nature of a society is by studying the architecture of its cities.
Only when a sufficient number of these criteria join with the advent of sound money, can we talk of civilisation. Civilisation involves individual freedom, and this in turn brings with it an outburst of creativity. We see this in fifth century Athens, when the advent of money accompanied by democracy led to an outburst of creativity in many forms of arts, from the plastic arts of sculpture and painting, to theatre, philosophy, and the writing of history. Interestingly, we see a similar outburst of creativity under the rule of Augustus, where there was an outburst of poetry and literature and architecture and wealth generally throughout the Roman empire. Interesting this comes with the advent of a benign dictator who brought peace and prosperity and a sound currency.
And then there was the Industrial Revolution of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries with the outbreak of creativity in so many different aspects, of industry, medicine, — and as I often like to point out, the invention of archaeology. Though we should note that in the Industrial Revolution, Art lost its way. But we should use the full basket of money and choice to understand the nature of civilisation.