The Nexus

It’s time to delve into the murky waters of the nexus between money, central banks, governments, banks, and humankind. Most of my thoughts are focused on the present and the future, rather than the past, so that means there will be a certain amount of informed speculation. It’s much more interesting to look forward and consider where we are going (using current/recent events as a guide) rather than be constantly looking backwards for a guide to the future. Everything is subject to change at all times, so it’s best not to have a fixed view, but to treat matters on the balance of probabilities having considered all available evidence. So, some readers may need to cast aside any existing biases and prejudices they may have around this rather meaty subject, as the future is likely to make those biases irrelevant.

Where to begin? I’ll start by stating that I have seen plenty of evidence that money is and always has been debt, and that it simply evolved that way. The best anthropological evidence of this evolution is contained in the early sections of David Graeber’s book ‘Debt: the First 5,000 Years’.

The Big Picture

One of the biggest challenges I have confronted in trying to discuss money is the difficulty many people have in thinking of money as a type of debt. On a personal level we use money in ways that can make this concept very counter-intuitive. We use currency to settle debts and make purchases. We get paid in money. There’s no obvious creditor and debtor relationship with money as there is with the contract for a housing loan or a car loan.

When a person has paid for something with money I don’t think it’s easy for them to reconceptualise that transaction as actually being an assignment of a debt. Yet, on a system level we can clearly show that money is a type of debt. We can identify the sources of the stock of money and point to their balance sheets where the liabilities (debts) reside that correspond to the total stock of money in the economy.  (Incidentally we can, as Jacques Rueff does in “Balance Of Payments”, also apply these insights to the international monetary, financial and trade system.)

My interim solution to this problem is to apply two different approaches to defining money. I think we need to use multiple functional definitions of money to describe people’s personal relationship with it as a way to try to establish some common ground. But we cannot discuss money from a monetary system perspective without agreeing that it is a type of debt regardless of where that system lies on the spectrum between ‘realist’ and ‘nominalist’. We need a “systems thinking” approach to get the big picture perspective.