The Blurb On The Back:
What does money mean? Where does it come from and how does it work?
In this highly topical book, Mary Mellor, an expert on money, examines money’s social, political and commercial histories to debunk longstanding myths such as money being in short supply and needing to come from somewhere.
Arguing that money’s immense social value means that its creation and circulation should be a matter of democratic choice, she sets out a new finance system, based on green and feminist concerns, to bring radical change for social good.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Mary Mellor is Emeritus Professor in Social Sciences at Northumbria University. In this informative, easy-to-follow book she examines and debunks many of the myths surrounding money as a concept. However while I found her convincing on myths surrounding the origins, development and functions of money, she was less so on money as a public resource and democratic right as she doesn’t acknowledge the downsides of that theory, e.g. hyperinflation.
The strongest chapters in the book for me were where Mellor takes apart the myths surrounding the origin of money and the history of its development. I thought she was particularly convincing at looking at anthropological evidence regarding the development of symbolic currency and its place within the customs and rituals of specific societies while also cutting through the pernicious idea of money having to be backed by something of value (usually gold). She links her arguments in with the development of banking such that money becomes a matter of IOUs and promises to pay that are based on trust and credibility and skilfully brings to play the notion of national economics and the pernicious notion of ‘handbag economics’ as nations come under pressure to manage their debts in line with their revenues. Although her chapter about the build up to the 2007 financial crisis doesn’t add much that’s new in terms of material, she offers a concise and easy-to-follow explanation for what happened and how the bail out operated so if you’re new to the topic, you gain an understanding of what happened while also seeing how it works in the context of Mellor’s arguments.
Where the book fell down to me was in her examination of crypto currencies and the Euro, which she sees as being deeply problematic due to the the way they “misunderstand the social and political nature of money’. I’ve read a number of books about problems with the Euro and the European Central Bank over the last couple of years, which is why I felt there was a lack of depth in Mellor’s examinations of what those misunderstandings are. There’s a lot of detail on the history of the Euro’s creation, but less on what the appropriate social and political nature of money is and how the structures could be adjusted to meet the same and while she decries the severe austerity forced on Greece, she doesn’t consider whether they would have fared any better had they not joined the Euro in the first place. Similarly her examination of crypto currencies and communal money are good at explaining what they are as constructs, but she doesn’t really seem to tie in the problems with them, specifically what happens when the trust that underpins them falls away.
Finally, I was unconvinced by her arguments about the democratisation of money which, to me, seems like a recipe for hyperinflation, a concept that barely gets a mention within the book, which was glaring to me given how much of what Mellor is writing about is essentially about trust and reciprocity. I thought that she rather sidesteps it as an issue, framing it in terms of being able to reclaim money spent by nations from tax avoiding companies but that overlooks the fact that tax avoidance is a supranational rather than a national problem and with countries increasingly engaged in competition with each other to secure the presence of such companies through low tax rates and tax breaks, it’s difficult to reconcile this with commercial and political reality.
Ultimately, there’s a lot here that is of interest and Mellor deals with a remarkably complex subject in a clear, easy-to-follow way within what is a slim book. While I disagreed with some of Mellor’s conclusions, I think her workings are worth a look by anyone with an interest in the subject.
MONEY: MYTHS, TRUTHS AND ALTERNATIVES was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd July 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.