Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Philip Grierson — The Origin of Money

The late Philip Grierson (1910–2006), historian and professor of numismatics at Cambridge University (from 1971), wrote a short essay called The Origins of Money (London, 1977). The monograph is very short (only 33 pages of main text), but it has become something of a classic. Grierson, of course, to some extent relied on the findings of earlier literature, especially anthropologists like A. H. Quiggin (1949) and Dalton (1965), and economists with a knowledge of the anthropological literature like Einzig (1948 and 1949).
Read it at Social Democracy for the 21st Century
Philip Grierson on the Origin of Money
by "Lord Keynes"


Matt Franko said...


It looks like state currency goes back to Greece.

This is as far back as I can trace it so far.

In the archeological record, the transition point is when you start to see human heads on the coins. Symbols of earthly human authority via civil government.

So far, I can only trace this back to Alexander's Greece. I cant find this in Medo-Persia or Babylon (tho Im not done there yet).

Looks like prior to Greece, metal tokens (mostly silver) were used and valued by weight. Then during both Greece and then Rome, both metallic and state currency systems were used side by side in areas. This hybrid system seems like it worked well for quite a while for the west.

Then at some point the west lost the handle of this system and we have been in monetary chaos ever since....

Seems like TPTB seek to force the use of solely one system or the other. This is "the kerfuffle" that we seem to be trapped in between.

We are faced with morons of these two approaches who are warring for control of these systems, battling it out with neither side in this really able to see what is going on.


Anonymous said...

Here is a link to Grierson's Essay:

Adam2 said...

Matt- Don't you mean state coinage not state currency?

It was low interest loans by the tyrant (aka the state) to the poor in ancient Athens that led to Athenian democracy.

I also think chartalism and circuitism are the two sides of the same coin. Where do banks get their charters from? The state.

Matt Franko said...


wrt "coinage", they didnt have IT back then... so looks like they just used coins and took census to gauge how many they needed to issue and at what rate to tax to achieve the economic results they wanted.

"It was low interest loans by the tyrant (aka the state) to the poor in ancient Athens that led to Athenian democracy."

Sounds to me just like high levels of deficit spending... which I believe it probably was. These people knew exactly what they were doing (as opposed to today and our current morons).

Those who wrote the history of those times probably didnt really understand state currency systems (ie they too believed it was "taxpayer on the hook") so you cant get the history right if you dont know how these systems really work.

Be careful what you read in these histories in this regard... if the historian doesnt understand how these systems work, they are going to get the history WRONG.


Tom Hickey said...

Matt, the history of coins article at Wikipedia has the ancient Greeks introducing coinage.

All western histories of coins begin with their invention at some time slightly before or after 700 B.C. in Aegina Island,[1]or according to others in Ephesus, Lydia, 650 B.C.

Most non-experts think that this is the beginning of money since they don't know how money creation form credit relationships actually works. They also equate money with state money and picture this as originally coins made from precious metals.

But Americans also know of native American wampum, and I suppose that many think of this as money, too. You know the familiar story that the local natives sole Manhattan Island to the Dutch for $24.

There is a whole bunch of confusion around money, which is why it is so important to economic reasoning to get this right. Otherwise, fundamental assumptions are ill-defined or mistaken.

Tom Hickey said...

Thanks, Dan K. Here is the clickable link to preview it in Google docs or download a PDF.

Michael Boudreau said...

This not bad on the gold standard from "positive money". From a comment on Ritholtz.

I'm not advocating full reserve, but this article does seems to be reasonably balanced.