Saturday, October 6, 2007

Towards a Philosophy of Money-2

The notion of currency has not been considered much important in the mainstream IR (International Relations) theories because of the over-arching importance of the term ‘capital’. It is easy to understand that in an age of liberal capitalism, it is the most important ‘mode of production’. Its place is so entrenched in the overall conceptual structures that it is rarely decoded further. The reason might also be attached with general marginalization of Marxist/Neo-Marxist thought where capital is used as the sharpest tool of discursive analysis. The reality is that the capital is nothing but a ‘value enshrined in respective currencies’. To be clearer, currency is the identifiable face of the capital. One is the abstract notion and the other is the concrete one. When capital moves, it is actually the currency transactions that are happening. When trade figures among international relations, it manifests in the shape of power of the respective currencies e.g. the Dollar-Yuan crisis is not a crisis of abstract world; it is a hard, realist and practical method of struggle for power between two most powerful economies of the world. The basic problem with the term ‘capital’ is that it is a relevant category in the meta-narrative sense but if day-to-day political factors are concerned, it needs to be measured to calculate the respective strength of the players involved. That is possible only through the term ‘currency’. It brings down the issues of political economy down straight into the area of conceptual ease and practicality. This ‘measurable capital’ fits into the structure of what John Vincent[1] argues about that international society is ‘functional’ or utilitarian rather than ‘cultural’ or moral in character.
Secondly, the lack of importance for a term like currency is because of the fact that it is so much embedded into the nomenclature of state-driven international trade that it is rarely regarded as a possible and politically neutral standard for measuring the worth of any nation’s GDP, its debt or assets. The way we can think of kilogram as a standard unit of weight scientifically recognized all over the world, metre as a standard of length, litre as a standard of volume and so on in a neutral manner, we can’t think of any global scientific standard of currency. Perhaps it is because of our obsession with inside-out approach towards international relations. The fact is that currency defines and determines most basic relations right from the level of two individuals, companies, nations or trading blocs. Any currency of whatever level it may comprise involves measurement, standards and exchange- all these being categories as fundamental as even the general laws of physical sciences are. What Politics does is to enshrine or pervert these categories. The main point of value here is that currency stands the test of any positivist tradition of thought. This ‘relation of exchange’ is built upon an equation where it maintains its seamless stability even beyond the most powerful political entity of nation-state. Fifteen national currencies vanished in the beginning of new millennium into a new standard but currency as a standard still survived. Nations can’t move ahead without withering but currencies can without losing the ultimate need of a non-national, non-hegemonic and a scientific standard. We should not fail to remember that “neither Carr nor Morgenthau regarded nation-state as the final expression of political community. Writing in 1970, Morgenthau anticipated that “the forces of globalization would render the nation-state ‘no longer valid’ and soon ‘obsolete’. The impact of ‘nuclear power, together with modern technologies of transportation and communications, which transcends the ability of any nation-state to control and harness it and render it both innocuous and beneficial, requires a principle of political organization transcending the nation-state’.”[2] He left the space for the emergence of systemic theories within realism. What Kenneth Waltz does is to maintain the continuity of that tradition. Even today, the old habit of ambivalence continues between the nationalism and capitalism which is again a ripe area of research particularly in the cases where currency is being used a tool of national power despite proclamations of free trade. Still more but in total contrast to that, there is totally different re-look at the notion of currency because today, one of the most stable and still evolving peaceful supra-state is none other than European Union which is characterized the most by a single factor i.e. the Euro, a currency.
Thirdly, the global reality has gone beyond a state-centric one. They are no more only autonomous units of global politics. In the words of rationalists, it is more like a society of states with certain norms and institutional values attached to it. It not only ensures stability of the entire system but also imparts certain universality to it. Of course, we are not talking of this kind of concert in terms of deep political, cultural and ideological sharing because that makes the whole system vulnerable to serious problems of dialogicality. Rather we assume the international system to be working as technical functionality. We do give space to the realist argument that nation-states don’t allow much compromise with their sovereign powers but this does not mean that they don’t allow the functional tools of international relations to operate. The notion of ‘network society’ might be still a geographically limited one but states do continue to interact without resolving deeper issues of conflict. In terms of the lowest common denominator, currency remains one of the best options.
Fourthly, the word ‘currency’ has grown without a conceptual body of thought. It has been understood through a multitude of meanings. Starting from a mere denomination for an exchange value, it can be a paper money, a certain form of gold standard, a barrel of oil, a serious speculative stock-market like product , even a form of power or a full equivalent of hegemony. In some cases as in the film ‘Jerry Maguire’, when Cuba Gooding Jr. puts a condition before his sports agent, Tom Cruise saying, “Show me Money”, it becomes a symbol of an intense lust for success that can be quantified by the mediapolis. In the continuous running strips of business channels, the changing values of currencies vis-à-vis one another transform the viewer from a national subject to a global recipient of uniform signs. With the nearing of Peak Oil[3] and near-failure of full employment models throughout the political democracies, the question of currency has even become a core yardstick of growth projections. With BPO sector gaining ground in around a dozen developing countries, the currency figures and their fluctuations can drive their CFOs into madness and their exports statistics into an abyss of stagnation. Debt portfolios show a remarkable flexibility throughout the banking and corporate sectors with respect to currency valuations. It won’t be irrelevant here if we add what Aijaz Ahmad, a famous Marxist scholar says, “If the “multipolarity” that is now emerging in the world capitalist system as we now have it- with Russia and China emerging not as socialist powers but as capitalist giants- ever develops into full-fledged inter-imperialist rivalry between the old capitalist centres and new ones, energy resources, currencies and debts shall be central to it[4].” Perhaps, the true nature of the term ‘currency’ has transcended the original meanings it was intended for. It fits into realist jargon, seamlessly integrates into liberal internationalism, and gets assimilated in networked financial flows, even works within anti-capitalist scholars as a tool of discursive analysis. It has enveloped what was not even thought of. That is why the notion of currency needs a theoretical location in the tradition of different schools of international politics.
Whether we call it transcendence or a transgression, it is no doubt clear that currency has allowed itself to be appropriated by so many fundamental changes happening across a period that sprouted from a post IInd World War reality (rather from 1960s post-materialism phase). It was a time interval when inter-national got replaced with the global in a metamorphic sense. Though euphemism like ‘The World is Flat’[5] offered by people like Thomas Friedman does sound simplistic and utopian sometimes, nevertheless it pictures a reality of increasing interdependence. Capitalism as an ideology has de-morphed itself. Industrialization, the site of usurping the surplus, has grown at a velocity far less than that of shifting industrial centers throughout the globe. The new techniques of supply chain management have de-centered the structure of capitalism. The sites of production and profit are nowhere simply associated. They are spread out in so wide corners of the earth that national boundaries are more or less of disposable categories for the contemporary enterprises. Capital is absent in a clean physical shape. It appears as a blinking point on continuous move throughout the globe. Its contours have somehow mixed with cotemporary networked and tech-dependent habitat systems in such a manner that it has re-arisen as a deified reality. In this, monetization has intensely seeped in every feature of life so deeply that we have before us only an amorphous state of routinized life. The social space has been hijacked by the commercial through the benign tools of network society. Even the global resistance or protest uses the same technology tools which are used by the global flows of capital. For even its diehard opponents, the monolithic capitalism exists as somebody on missing persons’ list as if it has slipped through a secret door. To be more precise, the capital as a ‘mode of production’ has been overtaken by the capital as the mode of exchange. This paradigm shift in the understanding of capital has caused the relational factor to emerge as the dominant one. This is also symbolic of the evolutionary path through which capital has passed. Not just that, it even indicates the process of adaptation with systemic coordinates. All studies of even hegemony are not just one-way relationships; they result from the interplay of both units and structures. Though it is not a short history yet the dynamics of this change carry a sense of magnetism powerful enough to suck any sensitive mind. Currency is actually the lens through which this change is expected to be decoded. It relocates an ‘individual with/without currency notes’ in direct relation with the global power struggles among currencies. Not just that, it even connects his sense of ‘commercial’ with the ‘political’. With just single tool, the equation works at atomistic, national, regional and global levels.
[1] R. J. Vincent, “Edmund Burke and the Theory of International Relations”, Review of International Studies,10,1984 p.213
[2] Burchill, Scott in an article ‘Realism and Neo-Realism’ cited in “Theories of International Relations” edited by Scott Burchill, Andrew Linklater, Richard Devetak.
[4] Ahmad Aijaz, in an article ‘Imperial sunset?’ published in the Frontline, April 6, 2007
[5] Friedman, Thomas, ‘The World is Flat’, Allen Lane ( published by Penguin Group), 2005

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