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A sociological view of money

In the process of writing and researching for the forthcoming Money and Society MOOC, Jem Bendell and I learned a great deal about the subject we to were teaching. In Lesson 1 in which we investigate the very essense of money Jem introduced me to Georg Simmel's The Philosophy of Money. Simmel was not an economist, but a sociologist, and his understanding of money runs far deeper than any economist I've read. While economists may give a passing nod to the theory of value and the notion that all value is subjective, this idea doesn't stop them measuring the whole world in a unit produced and controlled by the super-rich. Simmel however spends many pages exploring how giving a money price to something reduces its unique value down to its lowest common denominator. He talks about prostitution to make this point.

Only a monetary transaction corresponds to the character of a completely fleeting inconsequential relationship as is the case with prostitution. The relationship is more completely dissolved and more radically terminated by payment of money than by the gift of a specific object ... In as far as one pays with money, one is completely finished with any object just as fundamentally as when one has paid for satisfaction from a prostitute.
Money best serves, both objectively and symbolically, that purchasable satisfaction which rejects any relationship that continues beyond the momentary sexual impulse, because it is absolutely detached from the person and completely cuts off from the outset any further consequences.
Since in prostitution the relationship between the sexes is quite specifically confined to the sexual act, it is reduced to its purely generic content...It consists of what any member of the species can perform and experience. It is a relationship in which the most contrasting personalities are equal and individual differences are eliminated.
The Philosophy of Money pp379

So I'm attaching the whole of this book below, for those who think that money is "a store of value, a medium of exchange, and a unit of account".

PDF icon Philosophy of money_Simmel.pdf3.04 MB


this view of prostitution can only be taken from a client standpoint, certainly not by a young prostitute forced into it by poverty or kidnapping. Money as a symbol of power does not terminate the disadvantaged social position of rhe prostitute. on the contrary, it perpetuates it! The prostitute will need further interactions to survive!

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