Philip Goodchild, What is Wrong with the Global Financial System?
Published on Aug 18, 2014
Philip Goodrich discusses the power of money to subordinate all political aims and more. Since money is both a means of payment and a unit of account, the best way to achieve one's goals is to obtain money first. Thus, money posits itself as the universal, supreme value and the means of access to all other values.
"[Philip Goodchild] analyzes this myth in terms of four kinds of instabilities:physical,
conceptual, economic, and market. The physical instability is due to a conﬂict between
economy and ecology that will inevitably lead to catastrophe: 'We are consuming our
own collective body.'"
- David Congdon, review
Read Introduction, part of Chapter 1, and Conclusion -
Theology of Money, Philip Goodchild, Duke University Press, 2009(ISBN 978-0-8223-4450-6), xvi
+296 pp., pb $23.95
Philip Goodchild’s Theology of Money was prescient in its timing. It was ﬁrst released in England in 2007 (SCM Press), followed by a US editionin 2009. The latter edition comes with a preface dated ‘February 2008’.What this means is that, while the book appeared in the midst of the recent ﬁnancial crisis, it was written before that crisis was ever publicly known. This makes the book doubly remarkable – not only because of its many keen insights about the market and modern society, but also because of its particular relevance to the present situation.
First, however, a word of clariﬁcation regarding the title. Some will no doubt pick up this book expecting to ﬁnd a ‘theological’ (as in [a] Christian systematic theology) reﬂection on the nature of money. One who does not know Goodchild’s work might expect the book to be an exercise in theological ethics or political theology, comparable with, say,M. Douglas Meek’s God the Economist
or Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace. That person would likely be disappointed. Goodchild’s book is not a Christian theological account of money; it is not faith’s treatment of money in light of christology or the doctrine of the trinity. One will not ﬁnd any of the usual doctrinal loci in this book. Instead, Goodchild is attempting to offer the theology that accounts for the modern ‘religion of money’. If money is our god, then Goodchild seeks to articulate the theology that ‘explain[s] the distinctive nature of this spectral power in the modern world’ (p. 14). So while the book is a kind of ‘political theology of money’ (p. 25), words like ‘theology’ and ‘metaphysics’ refer to the being of money rather than the being of God in relation to money. There is no distinction here between theology and philosophy.
Even though students of Christian theology might be disappointed (due to the non-standard use of the word ‘theology’), that does not mean in the least that they should be disappointed. On the contrary, there is much in Theology of Money that demands a wide audience. In order to understand the book’s signiﬁcance, it is necessary to ﬁrst gain clarity about its purpose. From the ‘US Edition’ preface: ‘The aim is to show what devotions, sacriﬁces, and convictions lie at the basis of contemporary existence, and to call for a new effort of devotion, sacriﬁce, and conviction that may evoke another social order’ (p. xvi). Money is part of the essential fabric of modern existence, according to Goodchild. It is impossible to isolate a purely ‘economic’ realm without touching on matters of political agency, ecology, anthropology, and moral theology. The future of money is, in an important sense, the future of society itself.
After an opening chapter on power – in which he argues that ‘money is the political body par excellence’ (p. 39) – Goodchild launches into an assault on the myths of modernity in his second chapter. ‘Modernity has always been a utopian myth’, he begins (p.43). He analyzes this myth in terms of four kinds of instabilities: physical, conceptual, economic, and market. The physical instabilityis due to a conﬂict between economy and ecology that will inevitably lead to catastrophe: ‘We are consuming our own collective body’(p. 47). Goodchild makes the point that any economic analysis that only focuses on human labor without accounting for the physical resources upon which such labor depends is ‘deﬁcient’ (p. 49). Conceptually, modernity is built upon abstract concepts, such as‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, which are intrinsically aporetic and self-contradictory, and thus open to propagandistic manipulation. In the case of democracy, the only way to resolve its internal conﬂicts is to‘appeal to passions and immediate interests’, which explains why modern democracy has become a corporate oligarchy, because ‘the creation of wealth alone has universal appeal to immediate interests’(p. 51). Because of these and other instabilities, the myth of modernity is sustained by a ‘utopian faith’; it depends on ‘nothing less than a secular theology’ (pp. 53–4). But this faith cannot last. Goodchild concludes this chapter with some dire statements about the coming economic collapse and modernity’s imminent end. His claim is that a new social order will not come from taking a principled stand in absolute opposition to contemporary credit capitalism, as that merely reinstates the same modern myths of individual autonomy and sovereign power. Progress will come ‘only from passing through the internal logic of the political body of money, appropriating its soul and distinctive power while subordinating it to newly created ends’ (p. 69). This is precisely what he sets out to do in the rest of the book.
Part Two of Theology of Money (‘A Treatise on Money’) is the heart of the book and is composed of three chapters on the ecology, politics, and theology of money. By ‘ecology’, Goodchild means the whole process of economic production, the network of relations involved in the ‘accu-mulation, invention, and assembly’ of capital (p. 73). This ecology refersalso to the earth’s ecological systems, in that ‘economy and ecology are mathematically incompatible’ (p. 81). Primarily, although, this chapterdetails the complex web of relations established by the global capitalisteconomy, driven as it is by promise and desire. He concludes by notingthe paradox that the freedom established by capitalism ‘offers very littleeffective freedom’ (p. 120). The following chapter on the politics of money extends this critical analysis of money to the institution of themarket. This includes problems of distribution, wealth accumulation,and class differences. Goodchild levels some of his most trenchantcriticisms against capitalism in this section. He calls the market ‘adespotic social institution founded on violence’, one that ‘proclaims atotal and universal war’ (p. 128). Money has a spiritual power, one thatappeals to those who beneﬁt from it. For this reason, the only way totransform the injustices of the market is by ‘a stronger spiritual power’(p. 129).
The third chapter within the ‘Treatise on Money’ turns towards Goodchild’s constructive argument for how to reform the modern capitalist economy. While this chapter claims to be a ‘theology of money’, what he addresses under this title is the question of money’s value; theology refers to the evaluation of money, and thus to the complete ‘revaluation of value’ itself. Goodchild develops this argument through an assessment of the ‘morals’ of accounting. In contrast to the ‘culture of individualism, of threat, and of righteous revenge’ that is a constitutive feature of modern economic practices (p. 180), he argues for a change to the practices of accounting that would give rise to a new culture. Accounting is a means of directing one’s attention. A new ethics of accounting would direct attention to what truly matters; it would involve recognizing that value is external to the ecology of money and market forces. A ‘new kind of value’ would be able to assess the production of capital in new ways (p. 185).
The ﬁnal section of the book (‘Of Theology’) develops the constructive proposal. He begins with a dense reﬂection on metaphysics and ontology, arguing that the current ﬁnancial system is marked by a‘metaphysical failure’ and that economic reform can only arise through a new political theology with an alternative metaphysics (p. 214). His basic point is that money and God both compete for the same meta-physical territory today: both claim to be the ‘source of the value of values’ (p. 218), and thus both are ‘competing sources of credit’(p. 211). This leads to his ‘modest proposal’ for economic reform. In the present system, evaluation is subordinate to the desire for proﬁt, because proﬁt alone is able to command a general consensus. Goodchild proposes developing ‘a secondary tier of the economy concerned solely with the production and distribution of effective evaluations’ (p.243). In this way, investment and the production of credit would be subordinate to evaluation. Credit would ﬂow to what is valuable, rather than value being attributed to what is proﬁtable. He identiﬁes several problems that have to be addressed. For example, how will these ‘banks of evaluative credit’ be funded?
Despite the obstacles, Goodchild is to be commended for writing a political theology that makes a robust, concrete, and theoretically viable proposal for how to implement actual economic reform. Unlike most political theologies, this work is neither utopian nor separatist: it is not limited to a future eschatological kingdom, nor is it limited to the community of faith. He provides a way of reforming the global capitalist economy from within capitalism. Put differently, he has sketched a way to bring the alternative evaluation of socialism into the present economic system. One can only hope that this work will gain a wide and interdisciplinary – not to mention also non-academic reading.
David W. Congdon
Princeton Theological Seminary
University of Central Arkansas
MONEY AND CREDIT, THEOLOGICALLY SPEAKING
Review of Philip Goodchild, Theology of Money.
SCM Press, 2007. 271 pp. ISBN 978-0-334- 04142-9
(American edition forthcoming from Duke University Press)
Philip Goodchild is the most constructive and original philosopher of religion in the UK, and his Theology of Money succeeds and builds upon the themes opened up by his important book Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety (2002). In this extraordinary new work, Goodchild offers a sustained analysis and critique of how money functions as the value of value, and how it determines our metaphysics, our ethics, our politics, our economics and our theology. Money is directly theological insofar as “money replaces God as the metaphysical source of truth, value and power” in the modern world (221).
What Goodchild offers is both a critique of money and a theology of money, and part of what makes this book so fascinating is the significance of calling what he is doing here a theology of money as opposed to simply a critique of money. At the beginning of the book, in the Introduction, Goodchild elaborates Jesus’s attack on money, and states that “theology can have no neutrality here” (3). This framing may suggest that Goodchild is offering us a theological critique of money by opposing a bad contemporary theology of money that functions implicitly and insidiously, with a Christian theology that offers the only true alternative to the supreme value of money. And this reading would be wrong, because Goodchild exposes and critiques a political theology of money, in order to offer an alternative theology of credit that does not look to restore traditional theology or metaphysics.
This does not become entirely clear until the end of the book, but the crux of Goodchild’s argument is to distinguish and separate credit from money, in order to construct a more effective theology. He claims that “theology consists in the ordering of time, attention and devotion” in a broad sense rather than the determinate faith in Jesus Christ or any other particular religious tradition (261- 62). Goodchild argues that in order to oppose the pervasive injustice of money, “the divorce between the secular and the religious, between attending to treasure on earth and attending to treasure in heaven, must be overcome” (243). Theology concerns treasure and wealth, and this is an uncommonly rich book, because Goodchild strains to provide alternative measures of accounting and accreditation from the ones that overwhelm our deeds and our thought.
Goodchild opposes credit and capital to profit and exchange, and argues that we need strategies and institutions to help us evaluate credit and resist the compulsion to value time and attention solely in terms of money. In the Introduction, Goodchild claims that “money exercises a spectral power that exceeds all merely human power” because it creates and shapes desire (12).
In Part 1, “Of Politics,” he suggests that money is a kind of dispersed sovereignty which wields supreme political power in the modern world.
Part 2 is “A Treatise on Money,” which successively lays out an ecology of money, a politics of money, and finally a theology of money. In many respects, the ecology of money is the most illuminating and insightful, because Goodchild delineates the material basis of life and value in terms of energy and nutrition, time and capital.
Finally, Part 3, “Of Theology,” deals directly with credit, and proposes an alternative metaphysics and theology of credit to our current theology and metaphysics of money, and includes a striking reading of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
The last chapter sketches out a proposal for institutional reform, a bank of evaluative credit that would regulate “the production and distribution of effective evaluations” (246). This evaluative economy would constitute a secondary tier to the existing economy, and it would function distinctly in a separate but related realm to the broader monetary economy. I do not have the evaluative expertise to say whether or not such a proposal would work or would work well, but I do think that we urgently need to experiment with alternative ways to distribute and evaluate capital and credit.
Ultimately evaluative credits provide a different way to measure and evaluate capital. Capital, according to Goodchild, “is the means of production that has itself been produced” (77). Capital is negentropic, and it is the source of all wealth. The problem is that money has exchange value only measures rates of profit. Capitalism is “the social system in which capital is measured as an accumulative quantity in terms of exchange value,” and it is more profitable in the short term to consume the means of production of capital itself than to preserve them for the production of future capital (84). The primary value of capitalism is money, because everything can be expressed in terms of exchange value, as a commodity. Money as credit is created as a debt, but debt must be calculated and repaid at usurious rates of interest that ultimately comes at the cost of human life and liberty, flesh and blood (228-29). Capital and credit must be liberated from their capture in systems of exchange and debt, which is what redemption is all about, if it is possible. Redemption, as Goodchild claims at the conclusion of his book, depends upon the creation of new value.
Goodchild’s emphasis upon the overwhelming significance of money to create and sustain value seems both correct and over-stated. That is, given the prevalence and predominance of our theology of money and its sovereignty, it seems impossible to offer any alternative vision or value unless this value is limited in some respect. So Goodchild’s case appears to totalize the ubiquity of money and its effects. I would tentatively suggest a competing value, something like glory, which is not an oppositional value but one that often works in coordination with money. Glory appeals to the surplus of value above and beyond exchange value, the desire for fame and power that is not immediately or directly connected to money’s intermediary capacity. This is a difficult issue, because of course glory and money reinforce each other, but I would argue that there is a distinction, and that glory provides the most significant alternative value for contemporary human beings, although I agree with Goodchild that money is the over-arching force and value.
In some ways Goodchild’s reading of Merchant of Venice and his argument that money veils flesh and blood provides evidence for my counter-claim. The value that we ascribe to the flesh is economic as well as aneconomic. Flesh offers a sensuality, a romantic and political form of life that Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben call bio-political, and I think that bio-politics is not divorced from a monetary economy and its sovereignty, but works in conjunction with it. I just think that flesh or life possesses an aspect of glory that cannot be reduced to or conflated with money’s role in establishing a universal value. One way to phrase this understanding, using Deleuze’s terms, would be to suggest that glory (as flesh or as life or as power) deterritorializes the world, opening it up to a reterritorialization of and by money. Or, we could say that glory is the halo of money, its shining which allows it to appear as other than money, which is closer to Goodchild’s own analysis. At the same time, glory offers a competing value and allows for an evaluation of money otherwise than simply on its own terms.
In terms of contemporary capitalism, money works because it is a form of capital as well as a means of exchange. Money as credit is lent to create money in the form of debt, and these loans allow for capital are tied to the ability of money to replace and represent things that then become commodities. What is easily missed is the fact, as Goodchild notes, that money and capital are grounded in physical, material and organic processes, including the excavation and exploitation of cheap energy via fossil fuels.
These two processes, the financial and energetic, allow for the incredible production of goods and material enrichment of human existence, at least in rich countries, over the last two centuries. Unfortunately, we are now experiencing the collapse of the largest financial bubble ever created, and the ongoing credit crunch is destroying money faster than it can be created in a process of global deflation of value. At the same time, world oil production is peaking (51), making energy more expensive and scarce, which increases commodity prices and prevents the creation of a new investment bubble, such as the investment in the development of alternative energies that is urgently needed. These two trends occur against the background of global warming, or the accelerating of global climate change and the straining of the earth’s resources caused by human over-population and over-production.
Goodchild offers an understanding of this situation that articulates what is most important about it, including its theological significance. He appreciates that it is not simply the critique and re-circulation of ideas but the production of value that is theological, because it allows for the re-ordering of time, attention and devotion. Furthermore, Goodchild understands that there is no real change possible without institutional reform, that evaluative credit can only work if there are institutions to support and foster the generation of evaluative credit.
Theology appears to offer only two alternatives to our current situation, in contrast to the accommodation to predominance of money which is liberal or neo-liberal. On the one hand, fundamentalism provides an apocalyptic resignation by affirming the catastrophic state of affairs but then offers itself up to an incredible fairy-tale god who will punish the wicked and save the righteous. On the other hand, genuine conservative and neo-orthodox theologies offer counter-values based upon Abrahamic, biblical and/or medieval (nonmodern) values to oppose modernity and its political theology of money. Goodchild’s Theology of Money, however, sketches a radical theological vision of credit that promises the potential for a future theology as well as a future humanity. He admits that he does not fully develop a metaphysics of credit in this book, but he provides vital resources of thought and capital for theological and practical human beings to put to work.
CLAYTON CROCKETT is Associate Professor and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Central Arkansas, as well as an Editor of JCRT. He is a co-editor, along with Slavoj Zizek, Creston Davis and Jeffrey W. Robbins, of the book series "Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics and Culture," published by Columbia University Press. He is currently working on a book on radical political theology.
© Clayton Crockett. All rights reserved. Crockett, Clayton. “Money and Credit, Theologically Speaking,” in Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory vol. 9 no. 3 (Fall 2008): 7-10.