Philip Goodchild


On his book Theology of Money

Cover Interview of November 29, 2009

A close-up

Capital growth begins with borrowing for investment.  For all economic activity is limited by the supply of money: there is always so much more that could be done, if only more money were available.  As Samuel Butler put it, “It has been said that the love of money is the root of all evil.  The want of money is so quite as truly.”

If money can be created in the form of loans for the purpose of profitable activity, then effective limits to economic growth are removed.  There is no shortage of money when it can be replaced by credit, and repaid at a profit.  The consequence was nothing less than Karl Polanyi’s “great transformation”: production for the sake of profit rather than use became the dominant motivation for social activity and interaction.

Capitalism, its growth and its globalization, is explained by banking.  Economic activity, formerly a limited segment of social life, came to predominate over all other aspects of social life, including religion.  The preachers’ declamations against the evils of usury and the love of money were unheeded by those who saw the evidence of prosperity brought about through profit.

Prior to the modern world, the economic sphere was bounded by the finitude of the production of value through human labour, on the one hand, and the finitude of money in circulation, on the other. In the modern world, however, the finitude of production has been partially overcome by harnessing energy stored in fossil fuels and the elements.  At the same time, the finitude of currency has been overcome by treating signs of monetary value as themselves valuable, ensuring the value of newly created money by issuing it in the form of loans, attached to debts.  Rates of production and rates of interest escape finitude by compound growth.  Production for the sake of profit replaces production for the sake of use.

It is easy to observe how such an activity naturally leads to secularization and a direct opposition between God and money.  Where God promises eternity, money promises the world.  Where God offers a delayed reward, money offers a reward in advance.  Where God offers himself as grace, money offers itself as a loan.  Where God offers spiritual benefits, money offers tangible benefits.  Where God accepts all repentant sinners who truly believe, money may be accepted by all who are willing to trust in its value.  Where God requires conversion of the soul, money empowers the existing desires and plans of the soul.  Money has the advantages of immediacy, universality, tangibility, and utility.  Money promises freedom, and gives a downpayment on such a promise of prosperity.