This piece was originally published in City Journal.
The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes, by Stefan Eich (Princeton University Press, 344 pp., $35)
Political neutrality has come under attack in recent years. For neutrality’s critics, rules that allegedly exist to protect speech, property, or civil rights actually serve to advance the interests of nefarious groups and should be sites of political conflict. In The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes, political theorist Stefan Eich brings this approach to our wallets, seeking to establish money as a “central problem of political theory” and to expose the contradictions of any attempt to “depoliticize” it.
A political theory of money sounds incongruous: What could high-minded philosophers have to say about something as mundane as dollars and cents? But one of Eich’s goals is to reveal why money and philosophy only seem unrelated—he argues that they shouldn’t be. He wants to show that currency has always been a philosophically and politically rich subject, and that attempts to depoliticize it are either insincere or foolish. Money, he might say, is always and everywhere a political phenomenon.
Dissatisfied with our economy and convinced that developed-world monetary policy needs fresh thinking, Eich recommends that we rediscover the views of philosophy’s heavy hitters on currency questions. Most of the book consists of a careful, useful discussion of the monetary writings of Aristotle, John Locke, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, along with considerations of the political and economic developments that shaped their thinking.
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