A Money-lender and his Wife, Quentin Matsys c. 1514
Thousands queue for hugs from Amma of India: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15769467
The Artist is Present, Marina Abramovic: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/marinaabramovic/
Alternative Economic Cultures, Professor Manuel Castells: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n9yg1
Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber (Extract below taken from Mute: Culture and Politics after the Net, The Creative City in Ruins, Vol 2 #12, June 2009, pp 74-75)
V.Current Era (1971 onwards) The empire of debt
'The current era might be said to have been initiated on 15 August 1971, when US President Richard Nixon officially suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold and effectively created the current floating currency regimes. We have returned, at any rate, to an age of virtual money, in which consumer purchases in wealthy countries rarely involve even paper money, and national economies are driven largely by consumer debt. It’s in this context that we can talk about the ‘financialisation’ of capital, whereby speculation in currencies and financial instruments becomes a domain unto itself, detached from any immediate relation with production or even commerce. This is of course the sector that has entered into crisis today.
What can we say for certain about this new era? So far, very, very little. Thirty or forty years is nothing in terms of the scale we have been dealing with. Clearly, this period has only just begun. Still, the foregoing analysis, however crude, does allow us to begin to make some informed suggestions.
Historically, as we have seen, ages of virtual, credit money have also involved creating some sort of overarching institutions – Mesopotamian sacred kingship, Mosaic jubilees, Sharia or Canon Law – that place some sort of controls on the potentially catastrophic social consequences of debt. Almost invariably, they involve institutions (usually not strictly coincident to the state, usually larger) to protect debtors. So far the movement this time has been the other way around: starting with the ‘80s we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system, operating through the IMF, World Bank, corporations and other financial institutions, largely in order to protect the interests of creditors. However, this apparatus was very quickly thrown into crisis, first by the very rapid development of global social movements (the alter-globalisation movement), which effectively destroyed the moral authority of institutions like the IMF and left many of them very close to bankrupt, and now by the current banking crisis and global economic collapse. While the new age of virtual money has only just begun and the long term consequences are as yet entirely unclear, we can already say one or two things. The first is that a movement towards virtual money is not in itself, necessarily, an insidious effect of capitalism. In fact, it might well mean exactly the opposite. For much of human history, systems of virtual money were designed and regulated to ensure that nothing like capitalism could ever emerge to begin with – at least not in its present form, with most of the world’s population placed in a condition that would in many other periods of history be considered tantamount to slavery. The second point is to underline the absolutely crucial role of violence in defining the very terms by which we imagine both ‘society’ and ‘markets’ – in fact, many of our most elementary ideas of freedom. A world less entirely pervaded by violence would rapidly begin to develop other institutions. Finally, thinking about debt outside the twin intellectual strait-jackets of state and market opens up exciting possibilities. For instance, we can ask: in a society in which that foundation of violence had finally been yanked away, what exactly would free men and women owe each other? What sort of promises and commitments should they make to each other?
Let us hope that everyone will someday be in a position to start asking such questions. At times like this, you never know.'
Pi, film by Darren Aronofsky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo18VIoR2xU
Some influential books
Headdress from Samu’ah in the southern Hebron hills, dating from the 1840s but with later additions. In the nineteenth century, Palestinian women in some areas wore a bonnet to which coins were attached. Part of a girl’s bridal jewellery, they belonged entirely to her and could not be touched by her husband (Money: A History, Eagleton & Williams p103)
‘We’re in the Money’, Gold Diggers of 1933: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJOjTNuuEVw
Page’s jerkin with gold decoration worn at the coronation of George IV, 1821 (Gold: Power and Allure, Clifford, p100)
Chalcedony brooch set with a nugget of Australian gold c. 1890 (Gold: Power and Allure, Clifford, p12)
Prêt-à-planté, both from my series of wearable window boxes for sterile environments (2008)
Rihanna, LED dress: Moritz Waldemeyer
Panopticam, my wearable surveillance device (2007)
RFID badges, quick prototypes for my 'Hug & Pay' donation system