Cash and Markets in Camelot

Element of Edyrn with His Woman and Dwarf Journey to Arthur’s Courtroom, 1867, by Gustave Doré. (Public Area/Wikimedia)

Charles Williams’s poem Taliessin Via Logres has a worthwhile lesson for readers.

The passages of poetry introduced beneath are taken from Taliessin Via Logres. It’s a protracted narrative poem set in King Arthur’s Camelot and written by the good however little-known Charles Williams, an English author of the final century who derives what small portion of fame he nonetheless has from his friendship with C. S. Lewis.

Admittedly, a protracted and sometimes impenetrable work of modernist Arthurian poetry just isn’t a spot the place most would search for insights into the character of cash and the market, however I’ve nonetheless but to return throughout a extra profound passage of writing concerning the ethical dimensions of financial exercise than the few stanzas from Taliessin Via Logres which are quoted beneath.

Since these passages are taken from the center of the poem, a brief introduction is critical. The titular determine, Taliessin, is the bard or minstrel at Camelot. Along with his lyre in hand, he sings songs and tells tales for the leisure and edification of the court docket. The narrative is introduced to the reader by his eyes. Within the scene beneath, Taliessin and the king’s counsellors are gathered collectively to debate the deserves and disadvantages of minting a coined foreign money to exchange the pre-existing feudal barter financial system of Camelot. Kay, King Arthur’s steward, speaks first, and makes the case for the brand new Royal mint enthusiastically.

They laid the cash earlier than the council.

Kay, the king’s steward, smart in economics, stated:

‘Good; these cowl the years and the miles

and speak one fashion’s dialects to London and Omsk.

Site visitors can maintain now and treasure be held,

streams are bridged and mountains of ridged house

tunnelled; gold dances deftly throughout frontiers.

The poor have selection of buy, the wealthy of rents,

and occasions transfer now in a smoother management

than the swords of lords or the orisons of nuns.

Cash is the medium of trade.’

Cash, as Kay notes, acts as a way or mechanism by which individuals can take care of each other by supplying items and providers throughout better distances and longer durations of time than had beforehand been attainable. As a result of it standardizes and quantifies the qualitatively distinct and distinctive financial actions wherein folks have interaction, it makes commerce and trade straightforward, fluid, and dynamic. It capabilities as a universally understood normal and language by which all of us can measure and preserve monitor of the methods wherein we deal with one another in a free financial system. It’s on this respect that “Cash is the medium of trade.”

Taliessin, nevertheless is cautious. (The “dragons” referred to within the following passage are the minted photographs of dragons printed on the gold cash in query. “Logres,” in the meantime, is Williams’s needlessly obscure title for Britain.)

Taliessin’s look darkened; his hand shook

whereas he touched the dragons; he stated ‘We had a great thought.

Sir, for those who made verse you’ll doubt symbols.

I’m afraid of the little loosed dragons.

When the means are autonomous, they’re lethal; when phrases

escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;

when sensation slips from mind, count on the tyrant;

the brood of carriers ranges the nice they carry.

Now we have taught our photographs to be free; are we glad?

Are we glad to have introduced handy heresy to Logres?’

“When the means are autonomous, they’re lethal.” In some ways, that is the important thing phrase of this complete scene. As Kay famous, cash exists as a “medium of trade,” by which human beings consider and preserve monitor of the products and providers they bestow upon each other. It exists to make private transactions extra legible, measurable, and environment friendly, in order that “occasions transfer now in a smoother management / than the swords of lords or the orisons of nuns.” However Taliessin’s essential perception is that cash, which begins as a way for making the fabric dimension of human relationships extra fluid and dynamic, can simply develop into unmoored from this interpersonal finish and develop into a unique and impersonal finish in and of itself. Individuals will pursue cash for its personal sake somewhat than utilizing it as a mechanism for the mutual care of oneself for one’s neighbor and of 1’s neighbor for oneself. Cash stops being one thing that facilitates private relationships and turns into itself the impersonal object of every financial interplay, for the sake of which human beings use each other in a equally impersonal manner.

I wrote about the best way wherein cash dissolves human relationships and our consciousness of dependence on each other within the context of free commerce earlier this 12 months:

Cash permits us to buy the work of others with out giving any thought to them as human beings. In contrast to our ancestors of their primitive townships, we hardly ever have to fulfill face-to-face the individuals who’ve invented, constructed, shipped, or provided our items. We have no idea their names, or their households, or their each day struggles. No relationship must be constructed earlier than an trade can happen. Merely agree on a worth, and you may have any good you want with out taking a second thought for the human being concerned on the opposite aspect of the transaction. On this manner, cash makes us really feel extra unbiased than we truly are. Every of us senses the maintain that it has over our fellows. We all know that if we bid extremely sufficient we are able to purchase ourselves out of the time-consuming labor of constructing relationships. Cash’s type of like magic in that manner. It provides us a set of rituals to carry out and guarantees that if we accomplish that we’ll be capable of wield energy over others. The phantasm is created that having sufficient cash to purchase one thing is the equal of understanding find out how to make it your self. Gratitude for the nameless women and men who make up the availability chain hardly ever makes its manner into our consciousness.

By paying those that provide us with items and providers an agreed-upon worth, we really feel we’ve got purchased ourselves out of any debt of private gratitude we owe them. As an alternative of utilizing cash as a thoroughfare of mutual gratitude and relationship in a free financial system, we use it as an alternative choice to these items, as a result of as a rule there’s a tacit acknowledgement between purchaser and vendor that each worth the cash and items altering arms greater than they worth one another. That is what occurs when a way of human relationship (cash) turns into autonomous — an finish in and of itself.

Due to the best way wherein the attract of cash dissolves our consciousness of dependence upon each other, economies with a better division of labor that rely an increasing number of upon a standardized foreign money to facilitate transactions are inclined to create residents who really feel an increasing number of remoted from each other. That is the paradox of a free financial system: The extra dependent we’re on each other for our materials wellbeing, the extra unbiased we really feel from others. Alexis de Tocqueville had already put his finger on this paradox as way back because the mid nineteenth century. Because the political thinker and historian Larry Siedentop notes:

Tocqueville anticipates a paradox which ruled the later French sociologist Durkheim’s work — the paradox that as a market financial system and the division of labor develop, the sense of private independence grows, whereas in a extra primitive or subsistence financial system, the place males do actually rely much less on co-operation, they’ve a stronger sense of dependence on others.

Confronted with the dilemma posed by Taliessin, the Archbishop then speaks, proposing a mind-set about cash and markets that retains wealth in test as a thoroughfare of relationship:

The Archbishop answered the lords;

his phrases went up by a slope of calm air:

‘Would possibly could take symbols and folly make treasure,

and greed bid God, who hides himself for man’s pleasure

by event, disguise himself basically: this abides —

that the eternal home the soul discovers

is all the time one other’s; we should lose our personal ends;

we should all the time stay within the habitation of our lovers,

my pal’s shelter for me, mine for him.

That is the best way of this world within the day of that different’s;

make yourselves pals by way of the riches of iniquity,

for the wealth of the self is the well being of the self exchanged.

What saith Heracleitus? — and what’s the Metropolis’s breath? —

dying one another’s life, dwelling one another’s demise.

Cash is a medium of trade.’

By obscuring the non-public and relational dimension of life and of the fabric world, cash can certainly swamp the world with avarice, materialism, and unconstrained consumption. Greed, as Williams writes, could “bid God, who hides himself for man’s pleasure by event, disguise himself basically,” by reworking the fabric world from a private present and disclosure of God and one’s neighbor right into a standing reserve of as-yet unexploited wealth for use for the aggrandizement of the self. However this needn’t be so. The Archbishop factors in direction of the potential of a genuinely ethical market by emphasizing cooperation, trade, and a grateful and acknowledged dependence of ourselves on our neighbors and of our neighbors on ourselves. “The eternal home the soul discovers / is all the time anothers,” he says. “We should lose our personal ends; / we should all the time stay within the habitation of our lovers, / my pal’s shelter for me, mine for him.”

This can be a totally different mannequin of market economics than the one we’re habitually used to, which emphasizes competitors, self-reliance, and pulling oneself up by one’s personal bootstraps. In fact, the Archbishop’s understanding of markets is superior to this mannequin in purely descriptive, in addition to ethical, phrases. Cooperation and dependency are way more essential elements within the functioning of a market financial system than are competitors and self-reliance. However the autonomy of cash from human relationships has blinded us to this truth. How typically does an actual sense of the breathtaking scale of cooperation and contribution by our fellow women and men throughout the globe to the fragile and complicated provide chains that redound to our family items ever impinge on our consciousness? The place is our gratitude to them and our private concern for his or her development, their flourishing, and the elevation of their station? It’s dissolved by the cash that interposes itself between us and them, robbing free economies from the sense of mutual present and gratitude that might permeate our society if we might earn cash the medium of trade because the Archbishop advocates somewhat than the tip of trade we’ve got made it ourselves. If we might tame the god of mammon and make it the servant of our neighbors somewhat than the grasp of ourselves, maybe we might breathe the “Metropolis’s breath” unpolluted for the primary time and see with scale-fallen eyes what the true nature of markets has all the time been: not dog-eat-dog Darwinism, however “dying one another’s life, dwelling one another’s demise.”

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