(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘money

“The real alchemy consists in being able to turn gold back again into something else; and that’s the secret that most of your friends have lost.”*…

16th century alchemical equipment, and 21st century reconception of Luria’s 16th century Sephirotic array by Naomi Teplow.

About a decade ago, the formidable Lawrence Weschler was a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, where he conceived a concept for an exhibit that, sadly, never materialized. Happily, he has shared the design in his wonderful newsletter, Wondercabinet

Lead into Gold:

Proposal for a little jewel-box exhibit

surveying the Age-Old Quest

To Wrest Something from Nothing,

from the Philosopher’s Stone

through Subprime Loans

The boutique-sized (four-room) show would be called “Lead into Gold” and would track the alchemical passion—from its prehistory in the memory palaces of late antiquity through the Middle Ages

(those elaborate mnemonic techniques whereby monks and clerks stored astonishing amounts of details in their minds by placing them in ever-expanding imaginary structures, forebears, as it were, to the physical wondercabinets of the later medieval period—a sampling of manuscripts depicting the technique would grace a sort of foyer to the exhibition),

into its high classic phase (the show’s first long room) with alchemy as pre-chemistry (with maguses actually trying, that is, to turn physical lead into physical gold, all the beakers and flasks and retorts, etc.) to one side, and astrology as pre-astronomy (the whole deliriously marvelous sixteenth-into-seventeenth centuries) to the other, and Isaac Newton serving as a key leitmotif figure through the entire show (though starting out here), recast no longer in his role as the first of the moderns so much as “the Last of the Sumerians” (as an astonished John Maynard Keynes dubbed him, upon stumbling on a cache of thousands of pages of his Cambridge forebear’s detailed alchemical notes, not just from his early years before the Principia, but from throughout his entire life!).

The show would then branch off in two directions, in a sort of Y configuration. To one side:

1) The Golden Path, which is to say the growing conviction among maguses and their progeny during the later early-modern period that the point was allegorical, an inducement to soul-work, in which one was called upon to try to refine the leaden parts of oneself into ever more perfect golden forms, hence Faustus and Prospero through Jung, with those magi Leibniz and Newton riffing off Kabbalistic meditations on Infinity and stumbling instead onto the infinitesimal as they invent the Calculus, in turn eventually opening out (by way of Blake) onto all those Sixties versions, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, etc., which set the stage for the Whole Earth Catalog and all those kid-maguses working in their garages (developing both hardware and software: fashioning the Calculus into material reality) and presently the Web itself (latter day version of those original memory palaces from back in the show’s foyer, writ large);

while, branching off to the other side, we would have:

2) The Leaden Path, in which moneychangers and presently bankers decided to cut to the chase, for, after all, who needed lead and who needed gold and for god’s sake who needed a more perfect soul when you could simply turn any old crap into money (!)—thus, for example, the South Sea Bubble, in which Newton lost the equivalent of a million dollars (whereupon he declared that he could understand the transit of stars but not the madness of men), tulipomania, etc., and thence onward to Freud (rather than Jung) and his conception of “filthy lucre” and George Soros (with his book, The Alchemy of Finance), with the Calculus showing up again across ever more elaborate permutations, leading on through Ponzi and Gecko (by way of Ayn Rand and Alan “The Wizard” Greenspan) to the whole derivatives bubble/tumor, as adumbrated in part by my own main man, the money artist JSG Boggs, and then on past that to the purest mechanism ever conceived for generating fast money out of crap: meth labs (which deploy exactly but exactly the same equipment as the original alchemists, beakers and flasks and retorts, to accomplish the literal-leaden version of what they were after, the turning of filth into lucre).

And I appended a xerox of that napkin sketch:

Eminently worth reading– and enjoying–in full. “The age-old human quest to turn nothing into something.”

* Edith Wharton


As we appreciate the abiding attraction of alchemy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act creating the Tennessee Valley Authority. A feature of the New Deal, the TVA was created to provide navigation, flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing, regional planning, and economic development to the Tennessee Valley, a region (all of Tennessee, portions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, and small areas of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia) which was particularly hard hit by the Great Depression relative to the rest of the nation. While owned by the federal government, TVA receives no taxpayer funding and operates similar to a private for-profit company.

The TVA has been criticized for its use of eminent domain, which resulted in the displacement of over 125,000 Tennessee Valley residents for the agency’s infrastructure projects. But on balance the TVA has been documented as a success in its efforts to modernize the Tennessee Valley and helping to recruit new employment opportunities to the region.

FDR signing the TVA Act [source]

“Their principal dependence is not upon their arms, I believe, so much as upon the failure of our revenue”*…

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and subsequent rounds of economic sanctions has underscored the important role of money in conflicts. As Jamie Catherwood explains, for hundreds of years nations have used money as a means of control and geopolitical influence. Financial instruments and economic sanctions have been wielded like any other weapon…

Over the course of centuries, nations have utilized money as a means of control and geopolitical influence. Financial instruments and economic sanctions have been wielded like any another weapon.

In fact, President William Taft’s foreign policy became known as one of ‘Dollar Diplomacy’. President Taft explicitly referenced the interchangeability of traditional weapons and debt in his State of the Union Address in 1912, explaining that his foreign policy was to “substitute dollars for bullets”

The methods and mediums through which countries wield this economic weapon changes over time, but the objectives of economic sanctions today are the same as those of centuries past: hurt the enemy by hurting their economy and restricting access to financial lifelines.

This article uses historical case studies across multiple centuries to demonstrate how money has been weaponized or used as a geopolitical tool in conflicts…

As the prevalence of “hot wars” continues to decline, the weaponization of money and finance stands to play an increasingly key role in how wars are waged…

A Brief History of Economic Warfare,” from @InvestorAmnesia.

* “Their principal dependence is not upon their arms, I believe, so much as upon the failure of our revenue. To think they have taken such measures, by circulating counterfeit bills, to depreciate the currency, that it cannot hold its credit longer than this campaign. But they are mistaken.” – John Adams, in 1777, on Britain’s attempts to undermine the U.S. economy


As we brandish banknotes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that Pink Floyd’s 8th studio album, The Dark Side of the Moon, reached the top of the Billboard 200 album chart. It had entered the chart on March 17 of that year, just over two weeks after its release, and held the #1 spot for only a week. But it was in the chart for for a record-setting 741 consecutive weeks. It has popped back into the charts over the years, and has currently been ranked for over 900 weeks (and counting). Overall sales of the album are estimated to be close to 50 million copies.

It’s a crime
Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie
So they say
Is the root of all evil today

Money,” Track 6 (Track 1, Side 2) of The Dark Side of the Moon


“Count my own money, see the paper cut fingers?”*…

A fascinating look, from The Pudding, at who’s on those banknotes…

If you open your wallet right now, who do you see there? You’re probably looking at people who made history in your country. Without even noticing, you’re always carrying around reminders of prominent people in your wallet, but have you ever wondered, who gets to be on banknotes?

In many places, paper money still fails to represent a portion of the population it serves, with many countries preferring to showcase people (usually men) in positions of power or of national acclaim on their banknotes. However, money can also be a platform to uplift the unsung leaders who deserve our gratitude for making our countries what they are. We decided to investigate this imbalance. We gathered data about the people who appear on banknotes around the world, to see what we could learn about them and their countries.

We wanted this analysis to be as international as possible so we inquired into 38 countries from all 22 sub and sub-subregions of the world, based on the United Nations’ Statistics Department geoscheme. Our dataset represents [236 unique banknotes and 241 unique individuals].

The majority of the individuals depicted on banknotes are male [79%].

We looked at their professions and accomplishments, among other characteristics, to understand who is featured on the banknotes of the world, and what it took to get there…

A visual essay about the famous figures who represent today’s currencies around the world: “Who’s in Your Wallet?,” from @puddingviz.

* Drake


As we count ’em, we might recall that it was on this date in 1863 that Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864, which changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin– the first piece of U.S. currency to bear (as a result of this legislation) the legend “In God We Trust.”


Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 22, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Monetary policy is one of the most difficult topics in economics. But also, I believe, a topic of absolutely crucial importance for our prosperity.”*…

Basement of a bank full of banknotes at the time of the Mark devaluation during the economic crisis in the Weimar Republic

What can we learn from a twentieth century economist who was a critic of Keynes and a staunch advocate of the Gold Standard? Samuel Gregg considers the career of Jacques Rueff

Money, it is often said, makes the world go round. The inverse of that axiom is that monetary disorder brings chaos in its wake. As we learned from the hyperinflation that wreaked havoc in 1920s Germany and the stagflation which hobbled Western economies throughout the 1970s, the effects of such disorder go far beyond the economy. Further complicating the problem is that restoring monetary stability is invariably a painful exercise, often bringing unemployment, recession and lasting social damage in its wake.

As a rule, monetary theory and monetary policy are dry affairs, dominated by highly technical discussions concerning topics such as the nature of capital or the likely impact of interest-rates set by central banks. One thinker who did not conform to this mould was the French monetary theorist Jacques Rueff (1896-1978). Arguably France’s most important twentieth-century economist, Rueff played a major role in shaping the Third Republic’s response to the Great Depression in the 1930s, designed the market liberalisation programme that saved France from economic collapse in 1958, and emerged in the 1960s as the leading critic of the US dollar’s role in the global economy and a prominent advocate of a return to the classic gold standard.

Rueff was, however, much more than an economist. A graduate of the École Polytechnique, he was among that small elite of civil servants trained in administration, engineering, mathematics, the natural sciences, foreign languages, and political economy whose role was to inject stability into the perpetual political pandemonium of the Third Republic. But even among that highly-educated cohort, Rueff stood out for the breadth and depth of his knowledge and his willingness to integrate it into his economic reflections. For Rueff, the significance of monetary order went beyond issues such as economic growth or employment, as important as they were. Ultimately, it was about whether Western civilisation flourished or embraced self-delusion…

Gregg recounts Rueff’s career, his championing of “real rights” (e.g., property rights) vs. “false rights” (which involve the state declaring something such as unemployment benefits to be a right and then trying to realize it through means that destroy real rights), and his advocacy of a return to the Gold Standard (part of his critique of the use of the U.S. dollar as a unit of reserve)… all positions with which reasonable people (including your correspondent) might disagree. But Gregg reminds us that Rueff’s most fundamental goal– a healthy society– surely remains desirable, and that his fear of the chaos that monetary meltdowns can cause is only too justified…

Monetary order wasn’t everything for Rueff. His writings reflect deep awareness of the ways in which culture, religion, philosophy, music and literature influenced civilisational development. Nonetheless Rueff insisted the threats posed by monetary disorder were more than economic. For him, civilisational growth was impossible without monetary order…

Let us not allow means with which we disagree to obscure important ends.

After examining the economic chaos of the early twentieth century, monetary theorist Jacques Rueff argued that without monetary order, civilizational growth is impossible: “Jacques Rueff’s quest for monetary order,” from @DrSamuelGregg in @EngelsbergIdeas.

* Maxime Bernier


As we remember that neither should we allow ends with which we disagree to obscure important means, we might spare a thought for Leonid Kantorovich; he died on this date in 1986. An economist and mathematician best known for his theory and development of techniques for the optimal allocation of resources, he is regarded as the founder of linear programming— for which he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1975.


“Inequality is as dear to the American heart as liberty itself”*…

And indeed, what was true a century ago seem still to hold. Everyone seems to hate/fear inflation, but it has radically different impacts on different groups within our society…

Inflation is widening America’s wealth gap.

• Prices have risen across the nation, and so have wages across all income levels.

• The lowest-earning households gained an average of $500 in earnings last year. But their expenses grew by almost $2,000.

• Meanwhile, the upper half of earners pulled further ahead as their incomes outgrew expenses significantly.

Whom does inflation hurt the most?” from Scott Galloway (@profgalloway)

William Dean Howells


As we ferret out unfairness, we might cautious birthday greetings to James Mill; he was born (James Milne) on this date in 1773. A historian, economist, political theorist, and philosopher (a close ally of Utilitarian thinker Jeremy Bentham), he is counted among the founders of the Ricardian school of economics (and so, among other things, a father of monetarism, the theory that excess currency leads to inflation).

His son, John Stuart Mill, studied with both Bentham and his father, then became one of most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism (perhaps especially his definition of liberty as justifying the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control). JSM also followed his father in justifying colonialism on Utilitarian lines, and served as a colonial administrator at the East India Company.

James Mill


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