money

Money in regard to media is best described away from its physical attributes.  The comprehension of money is generally in its paper and coin form, or at the very least plastic or electronic accounting form.  Money as a concept, a form of exchange is the relationship that must be built here.  The word money is derived from the Roman goddess of warning: Moneta from where the word mint is also derived. (Davies, 89) The Oxford English Dictionary has as its first definition of money; “Any generally accepted medium of exchange which enables a society to trade goods without the need for barter; any objects or tokens regarded as a store of value and used as a medium of exchange.”  Historically these accepted forms of money have included beads, wampum, whales teeth, grain, eggs and gold. Those who used it for trade gave the value of items used for money.  What has to be agreed upon is the general medium of exchange of the object, “which is habitually and without hesitation, taken by anybody in exchange for any commodity.” (Wicksell, 17)  If eggs or banana leaves were items of necessity for a culture these items would have a set value in the community or certain acceptability among people.  “The acceptability of an object [is] the probability that it is accepted in exchange by other agents at a given price.” (Kiyotaki/Wright, 1) This acceptability or giving the item value and worth to the individuals using the item in purchase or barter is what makes money.  The term value here is being defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “that amount of some commodity, medium of exchange, etc. which is considered to be an equivalent for something else; a fair or adequate equivalent or return.”  Money as a medium is given value by the individuals’ needs and desires who are party to the transaction or exchange.  If the values of both individuals are being equally met in the trade then the purchase or trade can be considered a fair value or a good value or deal based on either parties’ specialized needs being met at the time.

Before the concept of a common currency, man bartered to acquire goods and services. In ancient Greece money as we understand it today was not known.  “Tripods or slave girls were given in exchange for cattle, iron or bronze.” (Groseclose, 8) It is only as the culture slowly becomes more literate that the concept of a common coinage and eventual currency develops. The Greeks were the first to stamp pieces of metal with a symbol of weight for clarification.  “It was when the state stepped in – in the person of the city or temple – and gave its seal and certification of the weight of these pieces of metal that true money, as distinct from barter, began…” (Groseclose, 10).  In Rome, during the reign of Augustus Caesar money was in either gold, silver of copper.  The gold coin or aureus was most commonly used followed by the silver denarius and then the sesterce , which could be of copper or a combination of silver and bronze. (Groseclose, 33) These coins carried with them a medium of power as well.  Gold was used to pay imperial taxes, fund government offices, and finance the military.  Caesar’s image was pressed upon the gold coins while coins of lesser value could have a variety of images upon them.  Silver was readily used in trade with foreign lands, while copper was the money of the poor.

McLuhan argues that the emergence of money as currency rather than the commodities used in trade allowed man to “…extend trading to the whole social complex.” (McLuhan, 132.)  Through this extension of money in trade, man was also able to exchange ideas, opinions, and theories while they were exchanging money for goods and services.  A social medium eventually evolved from the emergence of money as items began to attain a value to society.  “Money as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive creates social and spiritual values…” (McLuhan, 135)  Money/Value can be seen in items worn or used by individuals, they send a message to the rest of society; a Rolls Royce, a house in the Hamptons, Harry Winston jewelry are examples of money or what it can acquire.  If we follow McLuhan’s belief that the content of any medium is always another, the consideration of money as a medium would beget conspicuous consumption, platinum cards or the lack there of as a medium as well.  These items show the appearance and effects of money (or poverty) and send a message to the rest to society.

“That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I , the possessor of the money.  The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power.  Money’s properties are my properties and essential powers – the properties and powers of its possessor…I am bad, dishonest unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and therefore so is its possessor.  Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good.” (Marx, 103) [See dialectic, material.]

Through the use of money and the value that people put upon the objects it can acquire, people are able to send a message of what they have or have not to others.  The assumption that someone who has money worked hard for it or married it or was gifted it also sends a message; it decides what place the person with money has in the society, a giver or taker, someone who works hard for their wealth or someone who just coasts through life without anything or everything.  “Since all media are extensions of ourselves, or translations of some part of us into various materials, any study of one medium helps us to understand all the others.  Money is no exception.” (McLuhan, 139) On a personal level, money can transmit wealth, power and even beauty; on a larger plain money can transmit change in business, technology, the arts and education.  The injection of money into any of these fields can expedite or facilitate their value and scope worldwide.  By utilizing money to advance a business, the arts, technology or personal well being people are allowing money to work for them as opposed to the usual scenario of having to work for one’s money.

Work is a concept that was in essence created by money and an activity which helps define who people are in society.  Before the concept of money people did not technically work.  They farmed for their food, spun cloth for their clothes and bartered to get what else was needed.  With the advent of money people began to work for a wage and became specialized in their craft in order to accumulate more money to lift their standard of living or enable them to work for themselves instead of working for someone else.  Money created a division of labor by having people specialize in their work and thus helping to create competition in the marketplace.  The market can also be considered an extension of ourselves as well as an entity on its own.  “The “market system” [as a] rule [is] deceptively simple: each should do what [is] to his best monetary advantage.  In the market system the lure of gain, not the pull of tradition or the whip of authority, [steers] everyone to his (or her) task.  And yet, although each [is] free to go wherever his acquisitive nose [directs] him, the interplay of one person against another [results] in the necessary tasks of society getting done.” (Heilbroner, 21)  The money or market as a system added another facet to those who worked within it.  Money in this situation acts as a medium in translating ideas into opportunities.  One’s ability to think of new advancements in a field becomes more valuable once these advancements can be put into play.  Through the constant motivation to realize new ideas in order to get an edge in business, technology, etc. we are able to work, to live and to “have” more.  Society has more technology, more media, more objects to show the possession of wealth and in order to be part of the society, one must work for money to take advantage of these advancements.  “Modern economic order…this order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force.” (Weber, 123)

Money as a medium has evolved from cattle and slaves to currency to even less cumbersome alternatives.  Where once the “representative money…created new speedy dimensions of credit [and] …enabled Western industry to blanket the globe.” so now has technology expedited money. (McLuhan, 140-41)   The development of bank cards, credit cards, checks and electronic trading has removed man from the equation of the transaction by allowing purchases to be done through other forms of media such as the phone, television and computers.  The evolution of money has at least partially removed currency from the action of purchase as well, forgoing one medium to another in its advancement.  Through this monetary evolution the new medium of money has become “hotter” in individual participation, less is involved in the use of money. (McLuhan, 23)  Though McLuhan already considered money a hot medium, in any of its present day forms one has the ability to have bills paid, paychecks deposited and payments received into and out of accounts without any effort on his part.  Money was once considered an amplifier or translator in substituting something for another, money is now be translated and amplified through itself.  It has created other forms of media to represent it. The evolution of trading in the specialized markets of commodities and stocks has gone from the communication of traders in a pit of “open out-cry” to a computer screen which simply lists and executes trades automatically for the owner of the commodity at a specific price.  The medium of money has met the medium of technology and the computer has altered its physical characteristics, speed and influence in a way man has not seen since before the use of a common currency.  The use of technology to assist the medium of money in essence removes the human element from the equation. Where once the movement of  “…the principle of grasping and letting go in an oscillating cycle.” was a common occurrence and an act of human involvement whereby those involved in the transaction where aware of the precise amount of the transaction, money now has been reduced to a card or check number. (McLuhan, 132)  Money as a medium has evolved through the very essence of what it has created, a desire to specialize, to compete in its market and to advance.

Lynn Olejniczak
Winter 2003

WORKS CITED

Davies, Roy and Glen Davies. A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996.

Groseclose , Elgin. Money and Man A survey of Monetary Experience. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. 1961.

Heilbroner , Robert L. The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.1953.

Kiyotaki , Nobuhiro and Randall Wright. Acceptability, Means of Payment and Media of Exchange. Minneapolis: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Quarterly Review. Summer 1992.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online.

McLuhan, Marshall . Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 1964.

Tucker, Robert C., ed. The Marx-Engels Reader . Second edition. The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society by Karl Marx. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. 1978.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. by Talcott Parsons. London: Routledge Classics. 2001.

Wicksell , Knut. Lectures on Political Economy. Vol. 2., Money. Second Edition. New York: Kelley. 1967.