The relationship between money and community is not very obvious if only because we tend to regard money as a “real thing,” not an artificial social creation and abstraction. Fortunately, a recent essay in Cultural Anthropology Online (May 2012) offers some helpful insights into the ways in which money and community are inextricably connected.
In “Community and Money, Local and European,” Luigi Doria of Centre Maurice Halbwachs, Paris, and Luca Fantacci of Bocconi University, Milan, ask us to consider the “very co-belongingness” of community and money. The authors start by noting that “knowingly or unknowingly, monetary institutions always embody a representation of man in society. The functions that are given to a certain form of money correspond to a certain conception of what exchange, debt and credit mean for a society.”
And what might that be in modern, industrialized societies? It is to be socially independent and disconnected. Modern humans make a “fetish” of liquidity, as John Maynard Keynes put it. It is considered a supreme virtue to be able to hold as much of one’s wealth as one can in forms that can be easily converted into cash. Liquidity = freedom. The dirty little secret is that not everyone can achieve this ideal because if everyone tried to cash in and hold liquid assets, the entire system will collapse.