Philip Goodchild

 

On his book Theology of Money

Cover Interview of November 30, 2009

In a nutshell

While the paradigm frequently offered for understanding our society is freedom of the market, the reality of most people’s experience of economic life is one of constraint.  Why is this?

It is hard to identify where ‘the market’ is, but it is simple to observe where the transfer of money takes place.  We all need money, not only for buying and selling, but for the payment of taxes, rents, wages and interest.  Modern money is created by banks when money is loaned in excess of reserves.  Money is essentially credit, a belief system, in which we participate in practice so long as we treat money as valuable.  This means that money is also debt.  Every time we handle money, we handle someone else’s debt or obligation.

Modern money is valuable because someone else is promising to pay, and they are trusted.  What are they paying, and to whom?  They promise to pay back the loan with interest, and pay it back in the form of money.  They promise to acquire money, perhaps through investment, or labour, or the sale of assets, or speculation, to pay off their obligations.  So they pay with the obligations of others.

Then modern money is not simply a belief system because we treat paper tokens or sight deposits as valuable – it is also a system of obligations.  Economic life is constrained by the perpetual need for acquiring money.

This has enormous implications.  Modern economics and politics—and even, to some extent, sociology—are based on the idea of human freedom.  And they intend to advise us on the choices that we make.  But they are ill-equipped for understanding money because transcendent obligations are put aside from the start, and confined to the sphere of ‘religion’ or ‘superstition.’

This book analyses the ‘theology of money.’  The title is ironic, for the method is philosophical.  This is not an account of the history of Christian views on money.  The point is to comprehend the way in which money as a supreme value and transcendent obligation shapes the conduct of our lives and institutions.  Debt has replaced God as the guarantee for human cooperation, and our modern globalised world is driven by the religion of money.