Carl Wennerlind

 

On his book Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720

Cover Interview of December 06, 2012

The wide angle

Ever since enrolling in a PhD-program in Economics, I have been troubled by the excessive abstraction whereby economists treat money. While past thinkers, from Aristotle and Plato to Karl Marx and John-Stuart Mill, sought to capture the multifaceted role money plays in society, modern economists from Karl Menger and Alfred Marshall have been content with exploring money’s exclusively economic functions. Now, as a historian, most of my writings to date have been dedicated to illuminating the interactions between money’s economic, social, political, and moral meanings. Whether discussing the semiotics of money or the role of money in the Scottish Enlightenment, I have tried to capture the complex ways in which money mediates interactions between people and classes. Moreover, contrary to economists, who most often view the development of money as a natural and teleological process, I follow in the tradition of scholarship that understands money as a constructed, contingent, and contested social institution.

Casualties of Credit brings this perspective to bear on a particularly important moment in the history of money when England developed Europe’s first system of credit money. The emergence of this new currency had deep roots in a series of important, at times seemingly unrelated, concurrent historical developments, such as the development of the modern fiscal-military state, the birth of England’s two-party system, the emergence of a public sphere, expansion of world trade, colonization, enslavement, the Scientific Revolution, and a new political economic discourse. I argue that all of these changes produced a new zeitgeist or worldview, in which society and its constitutive institutions were perceived radically different from before. Absent this new intellectual culture, it is unlikely that the Financial Revolution would have occurred when and where it did. Ideas, I argue, thus played an important role in the conception, implementation, and maintenance of the new culture of credit.