Christine DesanMaking Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism

Oxford University Press, 2015

by Siobhan Barco on August 25, 2015

Christine Desan

View on Amazon

Christine Desan, teaches about the international monetary system, the constitutional law of money, constitutional history, political economy, and legal theory at Harvard Law School. In this podcast we discuss her new book, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Per the books jacket, "Money travels the modern world in disguise. It looks like a convention of human exchange – a commodity like gold or a medium like language. But its history reveals that money is a very different matter. It is an institution engineered by political communities to mark and mobilize resources. As societies change the way they create money, they change the market itself – along with the rules that structure it, the politics and ideas that shape it, and the benefits that flow from it. One particularly dramatic transformation in money's design brought capitalism to England. For centuries, the English government monopolized money's creation. The Crown sold people coin for a fee in exchange for silver and gold. "Commodity money" was a fragile and difficult medium; the first half of the book considers the kinds of exchange and credit it invited, as well as the politics it engendered. Capitalism arrived when the English reinvented money at the end of the 17th century. When it established the Bank of England, the government shared its monopoly over money creation for the first time with private investors, institutionalizing their self-interest as the pump that would produce the money supply. The second half of the book considers the monetary revolution that brought unprecedented possibilities and problems. The invention of circulating public debt, the breakdown of commodity money, the rise of commercial bank currency, and the coalescence of ideological commitments that came to be identified with the Gold Standard – all contributed to the abundant and unstable medium that is modern money. All flowed as well from a collision between the individual incentives and public claims at the heart of the system. The drama had constitutional dimension: money, as its history reveals, is a mode of governance in a material world. That character undermines claims in economics about money's neutrality. The monetary design innovated in England would later spread, producing the global architecture of modern money."

Some of the topics we cover are:

  • How the work's assertion that money is a mode of governance in a material world undermines claims in economics about money's neutrality.
  • The "free minting" system and why legal enforcement was essential to it.
  • The radical redesign of money that began in the 17th century.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Eva Hemmungs WirténMaking Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information

August 1, 2015

When we study the history of a famous scientific figure – especially one that has gone on to become a cultural icon – we are dealing not just with a person, but also with an identity or series of identities that have been constructed over time. Eva Hemmungs Wirtén's new book looks carefully at the […]

Read the full article →

Barak KushnerMen to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice

August 1, 2015

Barak Kushner's new book considers what happened in the wake of Japan's surrender, looking closely at diplomatic and military efforts to bring "Japanese imperial behavior" to justice. Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice (Harvard University Press, 2015) focuses on the aftermath of the Japanese war crimes, asking a number […]

Read the full article →

Laura F. EdwardsA Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights

July 26, 2015

In this podcast I talk with Laura F. Edwards, Peabody Family Professor of History at Duke University about her book, A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights (Cambridge University Press 2015). Per the book's introduction, "[a]lthough hundreds of thousands of people died fighting in the Civil War, perhaps the […]

Read the full article →

David George SurdhamThe Big Leagues Go to Washington: Congress and Sports Antitrust, 1951-1989

July 24, 2015

David George Surdham is the author of The Big Leagues Go to Washington: Congress and Sports Antitrust, 1951-1989 (University of Illinois Press, 2015). Surdham is Associate Professor of Economics at Northern Iowa University. Just back from the Major League Baseball All-Star break, Surdham has written a book for sports lovers. Why do major league sports […]

Read the full article →

Winnifred F. SullivanA Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law

July 12, 2015

As patterns of religiosity have changed in the United States, chaplains have come to occupy an increasingly important place in the nation's public institutions, especially its prisons, hospitals and military. In her newest book, A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care and the Law (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Winnifred F. Sullivan offers a comprehensive […]

Read the full article →

Claire Virginia EbyUntil Choice Do Us Part: Marriage Reform in the Progressive Era

June 23, 2015

Clare Virginia Eby is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut. In Until Choice Do Us Part: Marriage Reform in the Progressive Era (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Eby examines the origins of how we think of marriage through the theoretical and experimental reform of the institution in the progressive era. Marriage theorist […]

Read the full article →

Mark S. WagnerJews and Islamic Law in Early 20th-Century Yemen

June 20, 2015

During the early twentieth century, Yemeni Jews operated within a legal structure that defined them as dhimmi, that is, non-Muslims living as a protected population under the sovereignty of an Islamic state. In exchange for the payment of a poll tax, the jizya, and the acknowledged of supremacy of Islam, their lives and property were […]

Read the full article →

Nicholas R. ParrilloAgainst the Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940

June 2, 2015

In this podcast I discuss Profit Motive: The Salary Revolution in American Government, 1780-1940  (Yale University Press, 2013) with author Nicholas R. Parrillo, professor of law at Yale University. Parrillo's book was winner of the 2014 Law and Society Association James Willard Hurst Book Prize and the 2014 Annual Scholarship Award from the American Bar Association's Section […]

Read the full article →

Marion Holmes KatzWomen in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice

June 2, 2015

Recently, there have been various debates within the Muslim community over women's mosque attendance. While contemporary questions of modern society structure current conversations, this question, 'may a Muslim woman go to the mosque,' is not a new one. In Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice (Columbia University Press, 2014), […]

Read the full article →