An anthropological take on the euro crisis

By | November 24, 2010

By keith Hart. The conclusion:

The euro is the most tangible symbol of the European Union, but not co-extensive with it. For the last century or more, member states had supplied their citizens with a monopoly currency that served both as the reification of the national economy and as their principle link to the world market. The move towards political and monetary union in Europe is the most striking example of a general trend. Everywhere nation-states are coming together into regional trading blocs as one kind of response to globalization: NAFTA, Mercosul, ASEAN, ECOWAS etc. At the same time, many states have hitched their waggon to the sinking dollar. In the meantime, the sheer size and volatility of global money markets and internet commerce undermine the credibility of existing national polities as an effective bridge to world society. The international settlement after 1945 looks increasingly inadequate. Before long, calls for a world currency will become louder than at present… .

Money is a universal measure of value, but its specific form is not yet as universal as the method humanity has devised to measure time all round the world. It is a store of memory linking individuals to their various communities, a kind of memory bank and thus a source of identity…. Money links us imaginatively and practically to the widest reaches of society, while lending precision to the fulfillment of our most concrete desires and obligations. Money’s significance thus lies in the synthesis it promotes of impersonal abstraction and personal meaning, objectification and subjectivity, analytical reason and synthetic narrative.

One of anthropology’s objects might be to explore those features of humanity that are most conducive to the making of world society. If so, the substantial intellectual gains made by ethnography in the twentieth century must be married somehow to humanistic, historical and philosophical inquiries adequate to the task. The study of money offers one strategic focus for this, since money, more than most institutions, links each of us directly with the contemporary world as a whole.

It is fairly long, but every bit of it is worth your time.

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