Half fable, half manifesto, this brilliant new take on the ancient concept of cash lays bare its unparalleled capacity to empower and enthrall us.
Frederick Kaufman tackles the complex history of money, beginning with the earliest myths and wrapping up with Wall Street’s byzantine present-day doings. Along the way, he exposes a set of allegorical plots, stock characters, and stereotypical metaphors that have long been linked with money and commercial culture, from Melanesian trading rituals to the dogma of Medieval churchmen faced with global commerce, the rationales of Mercantilism and colonial expansion, and the U.S. dollar’s 1971 unpinning from gold.
The Money Plot offers a tool to see through the haze of modern banking and finance, demonstrating that the standard reasons given for economic inequality—the Neoliberal gospel of market forces—are, like dollars, euros, and yuan, contingent upon structures people have designed. It shines a light on the one percent’s efforts to contain a money culture that benefits them within boundaries they themselves are increasingly setting. And Kaufman warns that if we cannot recognize what is going on, we run the risk of becoming pawns and shells ourselves, of becoming characters in someone else’s plot, of becoming other people’s money.
CUNY English professor Kaufman (Bet the Farm) examines human beings' relationship to money in this fascinating yet somewhat muddled chronicle. His survey ranges from a 65,000-year-old Kenyan bead used to avert evil and bolster good fortune to a volatility index created in 1993 as a measure of investors' trepidation. Less interested in economic principles than in money as symbol, Kaufman details the history of the "trophy wife" from wife auctions in 17th-century England (famously immortalized in Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge) to Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith's absence from her late husband's will. ("Who leaves property to property?" Kaufman asks, tongue in cheek.) Kaufman also touches on the "prosperity theology" of Oral Roberts, the war between fiat and gold-backed currency, and the relationship between Spain's 17th-century economic collapse and Don Quixote. Though he doesn't offer a cohesive treatment of money's evolution over the centuries, Kaufman has a sharp eye for colorful anecdotes and a witty and incisive prose style. The result is an appealing compendium of musings and money-related minutiae.