Social crediters’ reference to ‘money’ as an abstraction needs to be ‘teased out’ further. The matter was raised in the article “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear!” in the hope that within the Social Credit discussion group ‘Greg’ could have grasped what social crediters meant when they referred to ‘money as an abstraction’ and thus helped him to ‘see the light’. Betty Luks
The following is from the "Seed" journal September 1974
Ezra Pound and the Pound of Flesh
“Here’s one, to a very doleful tune, how a usurer’s wife was brought to bed of twenty money-bags at a burden…” The Winter’s Tale, IV, iv, 263-5
The words of Autolycus in the above epigraph are an ironic, and comic, comment on the interesting phenomenon of the literalization of metaphors – the mistaking of the ‘figurative for the literal meaning of verbal expressions.
The metaphor in question is that which expresses usury in terms of breeding, formulated most typically by Ben Franklin:
“Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on”.1
The figure was a common one in Renaissance England, where the controversy over the "kindness of usury” raged for some time in treatises such as Thomas Bell's The Speculation of Usurie (1596) and John Blaxton’s The English Usurer (1634).
At least one writer unambiguously rejected the idea of the fecundity of money;
"money is an unfruitful thing by nature, made only for commutation; it is a praeternaturall thing, it should engender money: this is monstrous partus, a prodigious birth.” 2
Like Shakespeare, but perhaps with more moral fervour, Adams seeks to undermine the metaphor by exploring its logical implications, these being that it is absurd to speak of "barren metal" as "breeding".
Thus, too, Ezra Pound:
"Gold is durable, but does not reproduce itself - not even if you put two bits of it together, one shaped like a cock, the other like hen. It is absurd to speak of it as bearing fruit..."3
The point is, of course, that money is not begotten, but created, and (presumably) it is created only relative to the production of real wealth. Thus, expansion of the money supply without a corresponding increase" in real productivity results in a diminution of the "value" of money as a metaphor: inflation.
Elevation of money (pieces of gold, bits of paper, figures in books (and now computer ‘blips’…ed) itself, unrelated to real wealth, into an idol is in fact another example of taking the sign for thing signified: what Pound called pecuniolatry.
Significantly, it is precisely this process of the literalization of metaphor (specifically, the money-breeding metaphor) that Shakespeare explores in The Merchant of Venice.
There the usurer, Shylock, justifies his taking of interest in terms of the metaphor of the fecundity of money, confusing natural increase with usury. For example, he relates usury analogically to “the work of generation” between “woolly breeders” in the Jacob-Laban story.
Antonio asks him, “… is your gold and silver ewes and rams?”
And Shylock replies: “I cannot tell, I make it breed as fast,-“ (1, iii, 66f.)
Thus, it is not surprising that Shylock, having attributed to abstractions, to means of accountancy, the qualities of life, now confuses natural increase with the sterility of gold.
He confounds his daughter – whom he has correctly referred to as “my own flesh and blood”- with his money:
My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!
Fled with a Christian! O my Christian ducats!
Justice, the law, my ducats, and my daughter!” (II, viii, 15-7)
Shylock’s religious limitation (it might be tragic in another context) is that he fails to apprehend the relationship of the metaphor money to the reality that gives it significance. In fact, for him, reality consists in the metaphor, money, which is in itself, sterile, unloving.
Having allowed Shylock to express usury in terms of reproducing metaphor, Shakespeare himself takes another metaphorical implication of usury and makes it literal in the very plot of his play – thus exposing usury as life-consuming, and not life-producing.
The Teeth of Usury
John Blaxton observes that the Hebrew word for usury, nesachek, means “a biter, or which biteth”. Again, usury does not bite literally, but figuratively. Thus Blaxton says:
“For whatsoever the Usurer lendeth, it hath teeth, and jawes to eate and consume the substance of other men”: and, of the usurer, “the hardness of his teeth will eate a man up flesh, and bone…” (47).
Shakespeare, however, not only attaches this metaphoric meaning of usury to Shylock, but he makes it literal in the forfeit which the moneylender demands of Antonio…
Men and Metaphors
… it should be noted that both usury and charity have to do with moral qualities in men – not in money.
Clearly, money by its character as an abstraction from or representation of reality, is no more capable of morality than it is of reproduction. To condemn money would be to involve oneself in idolatry no different in kind from that which maintains that money can breed.
The evil or good lies not in the metaphor, but in the use to which it is put …
Criticism of the abuse of money must be differentiated from an attack on money per se.
Perhaps the most dangerous abuse of money is the failure to appreciate its “metaphoric” relationship to real wealth.
1. Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958)
2. Thomas Adams The White Devil (1613)
3. Impact (1960)