Volume 45 Number 178,
July-September 2014
An Approach to Currency and Crisis
Marcos Cueva *
Date received: January 17, 2014. Date accepted: April 30, 2014

This work demonstrates how two functions of currency, its measure of value and its role as a means of release from debt, have been weakened. Currency no longer has labor as a visible model, nor can it adhere to exchange, leading to debt and reciprocal obligations. The measure of money is thus lost and its representation of value is altered or no longer exists; it tends to depend on a status determined by its purchasing capacity. This change, which is also related to confidence in and the power of money, consists of disregarding the debt surrounding the currency and exclusively prioritizing the realization of benefits. This phenomenon dates back to the subordination of the major international currency to private interests, which now seem to be the general will.

Keywords: Currency, monetary history, monetary system, money, theoretical framework

Michel Aglietta, André Orléan and other authors have postulated that throughout history, money has not been limited to the role of merely facilitating exchange. Money is more than that, and also allows redemption from a “primordial” or “original” debt with the gift of life. The authors revisit Marcel Mauss’ classical thesis on gifts. In this way, “money is a double-faceted social link: that of need and obligation, on the one hand, and that of opening to exchange and trust, on the other” (Aglietta; Orléan et al., 1998: 21). The primacy of the dollar, however, has broken this link by ignoring this debt-obligation and no longer “opening” to exchange, which also confirms another idea from these authors: “freed from itself, that is, no longer ordered by authority, power corrupts social cohesion” (ibid: 23). Society is no longer united in this debt-obligation with life because it exists, and the parties – in theory – meet among each other, with supposed spontaneity, that of a trans-historical market, and in the use and coincidence of subjective values, or merely due to simple preference, if you will.

Now, this power without authority or standards to govern it entails the imposition of private or personal terms, even in the way in which problems are thought of and selected, and sometimes even in how they are “valuated” or evaluated, and does not consider what the Belgian economist Robert Triffin would call the “redemption commitment” (Triffin, 1962: 38) of a debt. Today it is an unobligated power that shows itself to be so. If money has the status of “operator of social belonging” (Aglietta; Orléan et al., 1998: 10), the status and belonging to a group or a country that considers itself above the rest – which the United States has said, the “indispensable nation” since the presidency of Bill Clinton – it ends up rejecting this debt: rejection of settling this debt and “redemption” from debt is now a sign of status, of direct or indirect belonging to the powerful country and a prerogative to exercise power, perceived as a privilege. The dollar has this, and it is exorbitant. Overall interests are subordinated to individual interests, although the latter tries to pass as the former. Individual interests therefore believe that something is owed to them for representing the “common” interest. What is good for the United States must be good for the rest of the world, not the other way around.

There are risks to this approach, and we have described two historical problems to suggest that “not being in debt,” but receiving credit or confidence, seems to be an endless process, although perhaps the end may come. It happened in the Weimar Republic, when the currency lost all value as a result of hyperinflation. There is also an anomaly in what happened when the gold standard was replaced by the gold exchange standard, and then by the gold dollar – in crisis since at least 1957-1960, as demonstrated by Triffin (1968: 48, 59-63) – and finally, the “collapse” in the United States in 1971. It could be said that some of the current issues facing the international economy – and how it is lived and reproduced on various scales – date back to the 1920s, when the gold standard was definitively and suddenly abandoned, although there are various interpretations, and this is not the only one. There is evidence, though, of time periods when the currency was no longer “measured” and no longer “redeemed.”

We begin with the idea – certainly subject to an open debate – that money is created in production, which is like saying (we begin with Smith, not Marx) that money becomes commensurate products of labor (coagulate labor), and therefore can be enumerated. In this way, the classical political economy is the backdrop for the theoretical framework here, as it allows us to consider the presence of categories and assume a philosophical stance. Effectively, a category, in our judgment, is still a way to approach reality, although reality can never be depicted exactly as it is (assuming that it is fixed, which is also impossible). Whatever the case, if categorizing is possible, money can have properties, beyond the way in which it is perceived. This is the point of departure for this work and its underlying theoretical (philosophical) approach. In this way, the measure is not in the superficiality of money itself, but rather in labor.

On another note, currency or money symbolizes “wealth,” without specifying its origin, which is why money can be enumerated, but not labor. This is a way to avoid referencing the “value substance.” It could be said, as Orléan does, that money is a counting unit that, read closely, “gives meaning and reality to evaluation” (ibid: 185). We believe that it is possible to evaluate labor, something different from “pricing” a product, where a price, with its own characteristics, is the manifestation of labor that does not necessarily match it, which Smith also wrote about. For Orléan, money is, in any event, a “mercantile institution,” through which mercantile relationships are “fully instituted as enumerated relationships” (ibid: 185). Here there is the possibility of a standard. What is proposed, and here it differs from Orléan and his sociological pursuit, for example, in the "confidence" Georg Simmel (ibid: 190-196) writes about, is that meaning can be lost if there is not "intrinsic objective data" in common (labor) that limits the force-power of enumeration, which could then mean "anything.” In this way, the standard can be lost, and it is not uncommon that this is the case in history, where there is no stable standard for all cases: this is the second aspect of our approach. In the words of Georges Canguilhem, the “pathological” can be imposed on the norm (which is not always pejorative, it is rather part of a movement that exists due to imbalances, rather than a trend towards equilibrium, a statement that is not naïve in science, nor in economic sciences, specifically). Another controversial idea at the time was that a disease can follow different paths, from disappearing immediately to lasting for a long time, from curing and changing the sick organism to even killing it, depending on many factors, such as, the recognition of anomaly or "error" by the organism in question (Canguilhem, 2005). Lacking absolute certainty about the future, and although it is not science’s job to prophesize, this “biological” analogy is still helpful for framing this analysis of crises.

This work therefore aims to depict a few aspects of modern monetary history, where the pathology is not only imposed on the norm, but even seems to destroy it. As we will see, this pathologization of money is expressed subjectively and in the very way science (including social sciences) represents itself. To this extent, and also because there are different ways of subjectively experiencing a crisis, we are able to pose anthropological questions regarding this "being" in the economic pathology. The suggestion is that in the 1920s, when monetary "standards" were first abandoned, what began to change was as follows: private estimations were no longer subject to a common standard for all (like gold), an objective standard, but rather one of them would pass as the "common standard." Triffin ascertains that the absurd basis of the gold exchange standard depended on an international monetary system of decisions on national currencies as monetary reserves (1962: 87). That is where confusion began, because something specific, rather than general, would be taken as the standard, finally leading to the collapse of this same standard at the end of the 1960s. The international monetary world did not acquire a new standard. The hypothesis here is that what happened in the 1920s (sealed with the decision of the United States in 1971) ended up perverting the representation of an international monetary order with "normalization" or "standardization."

This work proposes that living without a common standard, much less an explicit standard, but rather with individual interests that have tried to pass for common interests, has taken root even in social sciences, and not without its share of problems, and also for the benefit of scientism, which is not always the science it purports to be. It is the origin of the axiological relativism also found in the 1920s, and which reappears later, which is why it is time to revisit what happened in the inter-war period. Our hypothesis focuses on this period, in part, on the origin of current monetary pathologies (despite a 20-year post-war period of stability), although it would not be fitting to forecast the coming of a new standard, nor to speculate too much about what form it might take. As such, the pathological has in some way come to be normal, a phenomenon that dates back to the inter-war period, at least where the analogy is valid (because it certainly has its limits).


In our current crisis, we frequently hear – at least among generations that lived in the Golden Age following the Second World War – that “everything is money.” Is this supposed common sense statement indicative of something? For many people, it is not that value does not exist, it is that there should not be value where relativism reigns and differences proliferate. In summary, value is merely subjective (any economist would acknowledge this statement) and depends on “each person.” The belief, and what will be demonstrated in this text, despite the diversity of everything, is that a common measure is not possible. It is not necessary to demonstrate that the international economy has much without measure or equivalency. Speculation has no apparent relation to real exchanges, the twin United States deficits are not even related to the common sense of numbers, and lack any sort of “measure.” If the topic is what is happening right now, alleging that “everything is money" or that the “free market” is the solution says very little or nothing, especially since it could be said that there has been a market and money since time immemorial, or at least since currency and exchange began. This type of discussion is not very useful in capturing the specifics of the current crisis, because it is a trans-historical discussion: things were “always that way” – it is assumed – and perhaps they will always be for all of eternity. Said another way, it is a quasi-religious discourse that calls on us to resign ourselves, or say, as the old absolutism did, that "Mr. Money is a powerful gentleman,” as though it had lost its soul. “Everything is money" or "Nothing has value," and therefore "Everything has value?" There is a nuance there.

The statement that “everything is money” now is inexact, although it reveals something. The rationality imposed is of an economic nature – certainly, and was not always that way. It does not even make sense to speak of capitalism in general, as though it has always been identical. There is no general economic rationality, nor "market" rationality, and if we admit that capitalism reigns everywhere, the same rationality, assuming it is such, is guided by earnings (and not by money), which turns economic speak into financial and the “economy man” into someone suffering from pleonexia. Can money therefore be understood as a peculiar mode and, as long as there is the dollar standard, will it be a given that in private estimation, earnings can be had without losing anything, and the bill can be passed on to the “rest”? Is this the "socially recognized value," which, following Orléan, is why people want money, and not use-values, because with money "anything" can be done? Where does it happen – if this is the case – that “anything” loses meaning and becomes fantastical but also dangerous? It also suggests that “everything continues on” as long as goods conserve their monetary qualities and owners can purchase the commodities they want (Orléan, 2011: 191). However, it is not always like this, nor has it always been.


Germany was humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles and, certainly, Keynes warned of the negative consequences of the reparations imposed on the defeated country. In 1923, the Germans were once again humbled, this time by hyperinflation – although we forget that in light of Keynes’ advice, more than one German preferred to continue with hyperinflation as a way, read carefully here, to not recognize the debt that reparations entailed, and “let it pass” (Friedrich, 1995: 133-134 and 136). For many, including a middle class that believed that "gold is for defense and iron for honor" (Friedrich, 195: 120), from one night to the next morning, a "million" no longer meant anything. Could it be said as well that the idea of becoming a great power vanished when the framework evaporated? The Germans, according to Elías Canetti, felt "humiliated as their millions were discredited" (1981: 181). There was a close relationship between mass and money and, moreover, "perhaps the reliability of currency is its principal feature" (1981: 180). Denigrated, the Germans no longer had a value in which to place their trust. The mass grew but the value shrunk. Canetti made a sharp observation of the reaction brought on by this situation: degraded both individually and collectively, the Germans opted for more or less systematic behavior. Canetti writes that it is "necessary to treat something so that it is worth less and less, such as the monetary unit during inflation, and this process must continue until there is a complete absence of value" (Canetti, 1981: 183). What he says is, in the end, the Germans, as a crowd, lost their notion of value in inflation, as well as the value of themselves and others, which paradoxically took place in the "years of madness." The millions were no longer millions; they were only called as such, says Canetti, but the name no longer corresponded to a real value. The author goes even further, observing that in the midst of all that, Jews appeared as the group that "was on good terms with money" (ibid: 184). The Jews had to be brought down.

The author does not limit the German problem in the 1920s to money. And in fact it was not solely money, especially if we remember how important the army had been for Germany since the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 (power by force). But money “counts" – excuse the expression – more in a society of crowds. What happened? According to this author, Hitler took pleasure in “[…] the lust of seeing numbers mount up” (ibid: 181), which is why the führer, in his speeches, frequently counted by “millions.” He had to reestablish power, although the notion of value had been lost. Crowd, power and force did not have much to do with value as a “measure." Hitler calculated, for example, without measuring, a 1000-year Reich. It is therefore clear why Nazism behaved in the Second World War as an entity that did not recognize the value of life, unless it was to designate some life as “inferior.” The dead in the concentration camps were worthless objects (or, in the worst of cases, “raw material”).

Otto Friedrich noted that in 1923, not only had the idea of the value of currency disappeared, but so too had the idea of society, which was disintegrating.

The fundamental quality of the disaster was a complete loss of faith in the functioning of society. Money is important not just as a medium of economic exchange, after all, but as a standard by which society judges our work, and thus ourselves. If all money becomes worthless, then so does all government, and all society, and all standards. In the madness of 1923, a workman’s work was worthless, a widow's savings were worthless, everything was worthless (1995: 126).

The collapse was more damaging than any political event would have been (ibid: 127).


In light of the changes that have taken place in the international economy for decades now, it is not uncommon for money to be perceived of or "taken into account" with no relationship to labor. The situation is far from the classical political economy, as much as the "neoliberals" have tried to defend Adam Smith, at least since 2008. If he was the first to turn labor into the pillar of social wealth, the title of a book by Giovanni Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing, would even seem fitting, because China is now the workshop of the world, for many. However, much of the economic power has remained elsewhere, in the United States, despite the fact that its economy is no longer as competitive, the jobs are often of poor quality and the nation has experienced industrial desertion and other forms of deterioration. Power is therefore not labor. Rather, it would seem that power is money that moreover seeks to have no greater relationship to labor itself (Wall Street is not the "sweat of the brow," but rather, a temple, and if this is true, a religion, or perhaps even an ideology trumpeting "confidence").

What has been written up until now is not far from the way in which the economy is lived or economic science is normally presented, nor from debates on money which, of course, this work does not aim to settle. We do not believe that the economy is an absolutely transparent place where there is no detachment between what is thought and represented (not the same thing) and reality, as if all we had to do then would be neutrally reproduce the reality without thinking about it or transforming it, which invites us to reproduce and even exercise power. Nor do we think that the only way or guarantee to shorten the distance between thinking and practice lies in numbers (quantification: Is not empiricism sometimes merely a pretext that confuses experience with evidence?).

This proposal is not entirely novel. Jacques Rueff, a staunch critic of the gold-dollar standard and the gold exchange standard (like Robert Triffin) proposed something similar in his time. He was also a critic of the situation that led up to the key event addressed in this study: the end of the gold-dollar standard in 1971, when Richard Nixon was president of the United States. Various decades later (and decades after Milton Friedman advised Nixon on the decision, in our judgment, it is now possible to describe the effects of that measure, not only on the international economy, but also on the way in which the economy is perceived by those living or making choices in it.


To understand this section, we must take as a given that there is no global or supranational currency, which was also a defeat for Keynes. From the moment in which a particular currency (or particular interest) tries to pass as the general, universal or global interest (or general will), in practice, what we are facing is a mechanism of more or less justified or legitimized domination. This is domination due to asymmetry implied in the fact that one party can do what others cannot, establish its money as the international currency, and therefore the principal currency. If there is no global currency, there is also no way to make national currencies commensurate. Domination involves, among other actions, not giving the equivalent of what is received, which is like saying there is no inequality (just because a private interest seems like the common interest, it does not mean that there is real equality).

Jacques Rueff, who has been depicted as a conservative, although he was far from it, and rather more belonged to the nineteenth century liberalism school of thought, saw the origin of many international economic problems in the 1920s, and not necessarily in the gold-dollar standard itself, although he criticized it too. According to Rueff, the problem arose when the gold standard was abandoned, a measure that was meant to be temporary in the early 1920s (especially in light of the agreements made at the International Monetary Conference in 1922), but the situation from 1926 to 1929 was concerning, as it would be between 1958 and 1961. Even John F. Kennedy recognized it to a certain extent on February 6, 1961. The "game" in the second half of the 1920s, to the benefit of the sterling pound and the dollar, was something similar to the United States strategy of today […]. Moreover, although on another scale, the evolution of credit and purchasing power was dissociated, as is now happening in the United States and in other areas of the international economy, from the real reference the gold represented, and also from real economic expansion and wealth (Rueff, 1971: 44). This disassociation created the idea that it is possible to obtain benefits without paying for them, leading to a measurement and cost pattern. Rueff, who participated with Ohlin in debates regarding German reparations that also involved Keynes, came to some conclusions on the social order. He did not believe that an entity could be indefinitely installed in “arbitrary estimation” – read here, chaotic – without running into some sort of “objective magnitude” (Rueff, 1964: 321), as much as governments became skilled in "making the benefits manifest and dissimulating costs" (Rueff, 1964: 562), either in deprivations or in sacrifices, creating a fantasy no longer of the maximum benefit at the lowest cost, but now of benefits at no cost. The belief that the objective measurement or magnitude would disappear was, for Rueff, based on “false rights,” defined a priori, and even “accounting illusions” (Rueff, 1964: 321). He insisted that the United States deficit since the early 1960s with the gold-dollar standard as a reference meant a “deficit without tears” (Rueff, 1971: 23), a cost that could possibly be avoided. This secret “[…] allows for giving without taking, loaning without borrowing and acquiring without paying" (ibid: 24). The "discovery of this secret," according to Rueff, has profoundly altered the psychology of people, allowing “countries lucky enough to have a boomerang currency to disregard the internal consequences that would have resulted from a balance-of-payments deficit under the gold standard” (ibid: 24). What Rueff calls the “politics of gifts” has been altered, and it could be said with anthropological consequences, because Rueff refers to the psychology of the people. A deficit at no cost does not bring about consequences, and it even opens the door to reporting them on others. The circuit that should consist of giving-receiving-returning is altered: take, reject the return (do not return), keep. Rueff also said it another way: since the beginning of the 1960s, the United States was becoming insolvent, but this country was not required to settle its debts abroad (ibid: 82). Insolvency came to mean something inconsequential, until it even became a status symbol to never speak of any costs (and not even to ask about solvency). The same happened with the habit of becoming subject to credit. Trust reserved the right to not pay-return – essentially, to not “redeem” any debt nor comply with any obligation. Here there is no single valid definition, per se: in the first half of the twentieth century United States economic productivity seemed to back up the gold exchange and gold-dollar standard, and there was thus a measure – labor. Since the end of the second post-World War period, at the end of the 1950s, another reading of United States power and confidence in the United States emerged (Triffin, for example, viewed it through military force).

Bernard Schmitt formulated it differently, beginning with the idea that money is created in production. With a monopoly on issuing the international currency (as relative as it may be), the United States was able to export a currency, the dollar, which is a boomerang currency because it returns to the United States banking system without ever really having left it. Abroad, “paid (?) in dollars, the creditor country receives not a payment, but rather the proof that it was not paid” (Schmitt, 1977: 191). From there speculation mounts regarding "non-payment" papers, to the detriment of those receiving an income (ibid: 191). What already happened, after 1922, to the benefit of the pound and the dollar, is something Rueff describes as a game of marbles in which children return the loser’s stake after each round (Rueff, 1971: 23).

Also, in the 1920s, “[…] the unending feedback of the dollars and pounds received by the European countries to the overseas countries from which they had come reduced the international monetary system to a mere child’s game in which one part had agreed to return the loser’s stake after each game of marbles” (Rueff, 1971: 23).

In his description, the problems inherent to shifting from the gold standard to the gold exchange standard were not so far off from the rise of Nazism in Germany. According to Rueff, however, it goes even further, when he describes what happened between 1958 and 1961. It is an "anthropological" change emerging, in the sense that the gift circuit is about to break. He explains it in general terms, but also draws some specific conclusions that could spark questions regarding what is now understood as Homo Economicus, at least among those under the strong influence of the United States way of life and what it really means. What lasted for a short time in the 1920s was once again propagated in 1971, even becoming a sort of status symbol.


Hyperinflation was not the only consequence of the Weimar Republic. This abasement extended to the world of ideas, too, although social sciences were not fully considered as such back then. In the same way that the labor-value of the economy vanished, in some schools of social science – for example, in law – the idea was that there was no possible truth. Post-modernity (starting in the 1980s) is not the only historical period in which axiological relativism has been affirmed, the assumption that all values are relative. It is therefore no coincidence that relativism appeared in an environment like the one described by Canetti, and that the statement was made that there is no possible judgment of value, because whoever believes there is pretends to have some sort of “absolute truth.” It is a given that science “should be” neutral, and with that, there is something contradictory in wanting to maintain supposedly neutral relativism as an absolute truth, thereby punishing any […] deviation from relativism, which is “the” truth. Contrary to what it seems, it is not really an ethical-normative issue, which for some scientists should be excluded from science – even economics – with pretensions of neutrality, which is always close to the power-number and replaces thought with calculation, which is what facilitates the conversion of economic science into financial science.

In reality, something else happens with relativism, something that seems like the disappearance of any sort of measurement standard. “Measurement has been lost” in the same way that the economy has lost its “standard measure,” and anything is therefore possible, which anyone holding power can intuit, as small as it may be. There is a “limitless quality” that has become almost like a right or even a goal, like what marketing does […] Keynes warned against something like this when he said that reparations against Germany were without “measure.” They were “entirely out of proportion,” and when something is that way, it is “not reasonable,” and even fantastical.

The expression of what happened in law can be found in Hans Kelsen, who was rather guided by positivism. Law is a technique, but has little to do with justice or morality (which is why Kelsen defends legal positivism, which goes back to, among others, Jeremy Bentham, a utilitarian). In 1971, in the United States, Kelsen continued to express the “spirit of Weimar,” relativism. It reclaims positivism, and as such, what is close to physics is science, or seems to translate it: justice is not "measurable” because nobody can establish an “absolute" standard that is valid for all. What does not fall in the realm of this science assimilated with physics (the old dream of Comte for sociology) goes to the realm of the subjective, where there is no “possible imposition” and “private estimation” is completely arbitrary. A value judgment – different from a valuation – therefore does not go back to the possibility of finding another reality (and judging that reality), which, moreover, has an objective existence, independent of the mind as such. A value judgment, although guided by interest (Kelsen, 1982: 118), becomes almost pure subjectivity, of course suspicious, because it expresses "a personal emotional reaction to an object," human desires and fears (ibid: 129). What enters into play in value judgments, according to Kelsen? Will, faith, sentiment, etc. But nothing there is rational, outside of the domain of positivist science, and anything that emanates from the “emotional” is difficult to rationally argue or question. Outside of the science assimilated with physics, and the power-number, there is no rationality, much less in the mind. What is rational are numbers and utility. Outside of empiricism, there is no worthy theory, and it could even be labeled as ideological, or capricious.

This axiological relativism (which assumes that values cannot be hierarchized), if we do not get stuck on “to each his own,” is less innocuous than what it seems. If there is a translation for money, it is like suggesting, “you have this much, you are worth this much,” and tips the scale by the weight of money and its force-power. When there is no measure for everything, the strongest power-number is imposed (which may be the majority-number).

In the same years that Germany was experiencing hyperinflation, the author Ralph Barton Perry in the United States explored how to determine value, in particular, from a philosophical point of view (Barton, 1939). How can different "values" become commensurate? Perry rejects the possibility that these values are true or reality and rejects the objectivity that would determine their value, concluding, moreover, that whatever has value must be "valuable," (which introduces an ambiguity, especially given the nuance of the word in English) and quantifiable. He offers a solution not far from our current perception. Whatever has an interest has value, and of course, this neorealist author – although he could also be considered pragmatic, and in fact followed William James – has already suggested that the “desirable” has interest. What governs this world of value in which Kelsen does not delve too deep? For Perry, it is what answers the question: What is valuable? The question is, more than anything, an individual question, although there could be an “order of preferences,” which would be like the standardization of interests. If value is subjective, or if the issue is of “preferences,” we easily enter into the territory of belief. It is sort of like saying that value cannot be known, and as such, “value" is what is desired. The only thing left to do is to calculate what is desirable.

In a similar vein of thought we find the British Lionel Robins, sometimes considered a pioneer in defining economic science. It is nothing more than the fact that Robbins does not come out of the established framework more than half a century before marginalism. Nor is he interested in value judgments, and writes that “[…] economic analysis is wertfrei in the Weber sense. The values of which it takes account are valuations of individuals. The question whether in any further sense they are valuable valuations is not one which enters its scope" (Robbins, 1951: 128). Like Kelsen on law, Robbins wants economics to be the area in which science meets physical science, explicitly (ibid: 132). Note that, to those who reproach the economy for being nothing more than money, Robbins would respond strongly that it is not about “nominal or money gains,” but rather what this British author calls “net advantages” (ibid: 133), which, said with irony, refers to crude gains.


With the frequent use of marketing starting in the second post-World War period, value has become what an individual "assigns" to what he or she purchases, and desire plays an important rule, replacing or merging with interest. In this way, value is what is subjectively desired, although we tend to omit the fact that marketing molds consumer behavior (of course, Milton Friedman, Nixon’s advisor, was also a major defender of the consumer’s “right to choose). Value can therefore not be objectively determined. It has emerged from the orbit of labor to the realm of consumption, and is no longer determined by the cost of the product. "Prices are settled on the buyers' perception of value rather than on the seller's costs" (Kotler and Armstrong, 2001: 333). Instead of integrating costs and net utility to set prices and launch marketing, price setting seems to have become inverted. “The company sets its target price based on customer perceptions of the product value” (ibid: 334). In this way, “prices are set by analyzing the needs and value perceptions of consumers, and the prices are set to match this perceived value” (ibid: 334). It is therefore possible that items preferred by consumers have value, regardless of effort or fatigue. This is the type of argument found in classic marketing texts and, in fact, it could be that the "market," vague as it is, has more to do with marketing (a "degraded economy" in a common false meaning, which is that o the enterprise) than with economic sciences (which is not related to enterprises). In summary, according to so-called “social marketing,” “values are beliefs that are ingrained in the overall society" (Pérez Romero, 2004: 164). A value judgment is reduced to a belief, if not to mere preference. We have come to a point that Orléan defends: value is essentially, “the power of purchasing that, once invested in the monetary object, is desired and recognized by all” (Orléans, 2011: 191), and it would not seem to matter if the desire is for consumption or to invest in a company. Is it a consensus or majority desire? In any event, money escapes from any sort of contractual logic, according to Orléan (ibid: 1993), a statement that would not displease those who possess the key currency nowadays, the dollar, and who use it to avoid committing to debt redemptions. In lieu of obligations is what Orléan calls a "mimetic polarization of desire," which constitutes monetary confidence (ibid: 193).

Although Orléan's approach is controversial, he also indicates that “[…] the objectivity of value means […] that all protagonists recognize the same definition of value, such that accounts in surplus and in deficit can unambiguously be determined” (Orléan, 2011: 170). Now, having one’s own currency as the international currency allows for a deficit “without tears,” which, we might add, does not even mean that whoever has it no longer has credit-confidence, much less when the center has the purchasing power and redistributes it. In this way, this deficit is not accompanied by corrective measures, but rather by the affirmation of the rights given by purchasing power to this same center.

Once the gold-dollar standard came to an end in 1971, Richard Nixon implemented an “operation.” Money was no longer a form of measure, at the risk of "losing this measure" of what the currency represented, and even worse, letting this lack of measurement become natural. At the same time, the currency was no longer measured in terms of value at a time when the United States economy was starting to become less competitive. The “value reserve” dimension is even further lost in a country that does not save, "does not stockpile," as in the expression, "to take stock of," or "assess" and, therefore "valuate." The idea is to find benefits without assessing, weighing, pondering, taking stock of or valuating. Even though the United States economy is losing productive capacity, it still exists in representations as an “eternal power” due to its mass, forgetting how this power was generated and that part of it is fictitious. Nixon turned the problem of value into a taboo, and it will not be long before labor too is devalued and dislocated. The creator of wealth will not “be worth its weight in gold." The 1971 decision did not stop there, because the dollar was devalued. The power of the currency comes from its force (once again, power) and mass, and frequently we forget that the foundation of this power is ever more illusory. Nixon devaluated the dollar: the “value” is something that, in the absence of an objective standard measure (which is not merely convention, because the United States economy was at its most productive when the Bretton Woods agreements were signed), value is decided in a game of power where the participants do not play clean. Whoever holds the power does not have to pay off debts, or can decide how to "settle accounts" with its own currency, the dollar, on its "own account." The United States can arbitrarily decide how to settle these accounts and reserves the right to fraud the power-number legitimizes. Anthropologically, we return to the primitive figure of the trickster. Herman Melville wrote in The Confident Man that this figure appears to ask for confidence, that of others and even that of everyone.

As “money” becomes imposed, even economic science believes it is exempt from ideology, although it is an ideological mechanism to go from one way of doing science to the way of doing it. On the same order as the generalization of money, which aims to homogenize through links that Zelizer calls “instrumental calculations” (Zelizer, 2011: 2), what does not enter into the calculation is relegated to “narrative.” In this way, science that shows the same effect that Arthur Nussbaum discovered in the United States case, the capacity for monetary and quantitative experimentation, tends to dominate (ibid: 206). Zelizer writes that all meaningful nuance has been stamped out by the new quantitative logic that asks only “how much” but not “what” and “how."

Orléan reminds us that “money [transforms] private estimations into socially recognized value” (Orléan, 2011: 170). Thus, there may be an anomaly where private estimation (the dollar) and socially recognized value are confused. The trickster maintains that his business is for the good of the other or the good of everyone, as certain particular interests in science do, as well. In life and in society, what we have observed indicates that “socially recognized” value can be used for a specific purpose, even without taking on debt of any type (it is taken without return and this right is known as that of “acquiring and consuming”). There is no way to valuate in common, nor is there a social circuit, nor any relationship beyond the exploitation of the other-object.


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Canetti, Elías (1981), Masa y poder, Barcelona, Muchnik Editors, pp. 492.

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Kotler, Philip, and Gary Armstrong (2001), Marketing, Mexico, Pearson, pp. 688.

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______ (1971), Le péchémonétaire de l’Occident, Paris, Plon, pp. 238.

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* Institute of Social Research-UNAM, Mexico. cuevaperus@yahoo.com.mx

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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