This volume of eighteen essays plus an Introduction offers much more than its narrowly framed title subject ‘money’ might imply. The authors here take a very broad definition of money, certainly far beyond functional-technical definition of money in the rigorous economic sense. Most of these essays have wealth, rather than money in the strict sense, as their central subjects. Coined money, treasure, credit, debt, luxury, fashion, cigarettes and other forms of wealth are the objects of investigation. The manifestation of money in this broad array of forms allows the book an extensive reach. The scope of the book is further expanded by the authors’ varied interests in explicating the economic, political, cultural, symbolic and moral dimensions of money. Several essays are clearly influenced by anthropological approaches to money in its social, semiotic and performative dimensions; a few authors include Bill Mauer’s 2006 article ‘The Anthropology of Money’ in their bibliographies. The editors assert that ‘money is as much about culture and ideas as it is about the quotidian anxieties of bankers and civil servants’ (2). As a result, these chapters are explorations in the historical sociology of money and wealth in the German lands, beginning in the Renaissance and running through unification in 1991. Most of the authors are straightforward on both these points, i.e. in employing a very broad definition of money and in pursuing the implications of wealth that run well beyond the traditional borders of economic or financial history. Many chapter titles indicate the wide range of subjects that will accompany these discussions of money, as a few examples can show: ‘the Spirit World’ (Johannes Dillinger), ‘Money, Luxury, and Fashion’ (Benjamin Marschke), ‘Status, Friendship, and Money’ (Frank Hatje). Other authors state clearly their primary concerns with money as the structuring agent for a variety of relationships. Almut Spaulding says her chapter ‘explores the implications of patrician wealth in eighteenth-century Hamburg’ (43); Dennis Frey unpacks ‘patterns, behaviours and dispositions’ regarding money in the emerging cash economy of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Göppingen (122), and Kraig Larkin explores the ‘social and economic conditions’ of the cigarette economy of 1946–47 (251). The moral implications of acquiring, consuming and disposing of wealth are an unmistakable theme linking many of the essays, from eighteenth-century concerns about luxury in the essays of Jan Carsten Schnurr and Ben Marschke to Michael Hughes’s discussion of ‘predatory speculators’ in the Weimar Republic, to Pamela Swett’s treatment of virtuous German thrift during the Nazi period, Armin Grünbacher’s investigation into the mythology of the D-Mark in West Germany’s post-war reconstruction, and ending with Ursula Dalinghaus’s critical ‘taking stock’ of the 1990 currency union. Although these essays range far and wide in pursuing German attitudes about wealth, there is also plenty of material here for readers interested in German economic and financial history. The essential contours of Germany’s turbulent financial history in the twentieth century are presented as parts of several essays: Erika Breisacher’s essay on Notgeld in the years 1917–23, and the contributions by Hughes, Swett, Larkin, Grünbacher and Dalinghaus. Readers interested in the history of German economic thought are particularly well-served. Vera Keller traces the rise of ‘Oeconomy’ as an academic discipline, Andre Wakefield shows the importance of silver mining in Cameralist theory and practice, Jonathan Sperber explains Marx’s views on money in relation to nineteenth-century European classical economic thought and Elizabeth Goodstein and Michaael Sauter both call attention to the numerous insights contained in Georg Simmel’s neglected Philosophy of Money (1900). Because these essays are brief and clearly written, they could be assigned to advanced undergraduates; the endnotes and bibliographies for each chapter would be excellent introductions for graduate students and established scholars beginning to explore any of these subjects. One wishes many of these essays were longer. To cite just one example, Keller’s essay on Alchemy and Oeconomy is a goldmine of insights into the intellectual world of early modern Germany, particularly the under-studied sphere of early modern German thinking and writing on political economy. It is worth recalling that no part of the German speaking lands was a major force in international finance until the FRG’s steady balance-of-trade surpluses produced significant financial assets in the 1970s. Therefore, only Dalinghaus’s essay on the currency union of 1990 can address German financial power in an international context. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the German economy exerted its influence in the world through its enormous productive power and its very large consumer market. Trade, rather than investment, was Germany’s international calling card and this fact itself might provide some insight into German attitudes towards finance. Germany’s current role as the premier provider of financial resources for the euro zone and EU is a relatively new development in the long history of German and European finance. Only Dalinghaus and Sauter address current international events directly, with passing commentaries on the Greek crisis. The editors claim the ‘spectre’ of the euro haunts the pages of this book although no chapter addresses the transition from the mark to the euro. Nonetheless that cryptic remark makes sense because these essays raise some obvious questions about the links between past history and current events. Most fundamentally, are there deep-seated and quintessentially ‘German’ attitudes toward money and wealth? If so, have these attitudes manifested themselves in some recognizable form in the major international and domestic financial events of the past decades? Do German policies towards the financial crisis of 2008–09, the painful extended debate about Greek national solvency on a euro basis, Brexit, and Hartz IV reveal some deeply buried German cultural values about money and wealth? About consumption, investment, and charity? In relation to contemporary events, readers might draw two conclusions from these essays. First, that some elements of very old German attitudes towards money are in fact recognizable in contemporary German debates about international and domestic financial issues. Second, that social scientists seeking to understand contemporary European political economy would be well served by adding some history and cultural studies to their reading. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 7, 2018
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