What have we learned?

Jan Lucassen

Patrice said: “Money for the poor makes the poor pay”.

Money does not circulate, it is circulated. So it means efforts and costs. Who bear these costs? In a modern system in which state issue money, the state bears the costs and spread it over taxpayers. But when you do not have a state issuing administration, especially for small change, or a collecting bureaucracy, who bears these costs?

In India, money changers made a profit. And from the reactions of the workers, it is clear that the workers went to the changers at a cost. Also they tried to obtain good coins from the employers, leading to conflicts and so on.

See also parliamentary discussions in Belgium in the 1870s. Imagine that you are a baker – how many coins do you have to count? What does it cost in time and efforts to count and sort coins? 2 to 3% in value. You see this ex-baker parliament member showing that cost. It is of course almost universal.

And last question, the relation to wages – it is a labour issue. Do not reduce this to crooks who want to pay their workers in bad moneys. But it is in fact a more subtle and universal problem.

And there is the problem raised by Ismael that there are completely different systems. Cash means generally no relation ensuing – the case of Ismael is completely different and raises value system.

There is also the question of anonymity: it exists in a circle relative to the rest.

Last, Jan stresses the convergences with Patrice’s presentations. The problem of aggregated levels are made so very apparent. We have to contribute to solve these problems.

Maria Stella Chiaruttini

Back to Patrice’s introduction: the poor people usually pay more to get same services. Not only for credit but also to buy things. You can also rephrase: the money of the poor makes the poor poorer.

Frédérique Duyrat

Does small change make poor people poor, or is it the system in itself that makes them poor?

Jan Lucassen

And it underestimates the poor and victimize them, as if they were not able to take countermeasures. You also might say it’s a big achievement to be indebted and so on.

Rila Mukherjee

The poor have some agency. Define what are the poor doing. They must take advantage too.

Ismael Moya

Usually, it always seems that the poor are doing strange things with their money. There’s a whole history about that.

Another point. There is no free access to the monetary circuit. And when you are poor this price may be too high. And if you cannot access it you are driven to peripheral avenues of the system. So you access the lower one, with a price of entry and an impossibility to get out of it: it is monetary trap to poverty.

Mathieu Bidaux

The problem of definition of who is poor remains, as we have seen that “my” poor are not really poor – but they are in regard to banknotes users. This stresses the role of the state, of institutions. The Bank of France at this time is a for-profit body, that prioritize its interests and disregard the problems of poor people money.

Akinobu Kuroda

The imperial monetary policy of Japan very different from French and British ones when it comes to colonial currencies. They were mostly inconvertible.

Jan Lucassen

India is very different case in that respect too.

Cathrine Grandjean

Some issues are very important from a general historical point of view:

  • Was there a lack of economic or monetary culture among the poor. In classical ancient Athena, what about the people that have a limited access to money, to high value moneys?
  • What is the relationship between the powers and the money of the poor. See the foreign money reaching Troyes in the 19th c. (Sargent & Velde, Small change). In ancient times, States or Cities let foreign small coins land in their territory, to avoid their being scarce.

Sophie Laligant

Do poor people use existing monies or create their own? Eventually with different values? What gives social and economic value to money – is that what it is made of or the relationship of poor people to this medium? What is the function of the intrinsic quality of these objects? How is built the relationship to them. This leads to the notion of transfer or transaction and raise organizational issues, banking and legal: property, transaction, credit.

Emmanuel Prunaux

How the different social strata behave towards money can have an impact on the Eurozone. Northern European countries want to get rid of copper coins, which are promoted by Southern European countries.

Frédérique Duyrat

I was glad to discover that there actually was a « money of the poor » coined in 16th c. France. Can we ask the same question or in the same way for other monies?

Thibault Cardon

The medieval black coins were also used to pay either wages or alms.

Jan Lucassen

There co-existed two possibilities in European medieval times: billon and cut coins. Very often, metal detectors found half and quarter pennies.

Frédérique Duyrat

The existence of wages is not really an issue even for ancient times: there were wage labourers in Antiquity. But wage labourers were poor people and should have theoretical access to money. What do you do when you do not have the needed coins to pay?

Jan Lucassen

There is a retreat from describing Antiquity as a slave society to a small producer society. The degree to which there is proletarization, that is the degree to which people are paid in wages is very important.

We should not make the question of the poor too big an issue, and just say that it is the latter half of the income scale.

Akinobu Kuroda

Local currency is different from coinage : barley, rice, coco are also very important in local exchanges.

Sophie Laligant

What is the reason behind someone poor taking an object and making it a money, using it?

Ismael Moya

In our modern world, for the last 50 or 100 years, the monetary circuit has been subordinated to financial exchanges and transfers – that is where the monetary verticality stopped. Thus, we do not really know any more what money is, when there are all these liquid assets that circulate.

Catherine Baroin

The technological innovations are important. The fact that Facebook is about to issue its own money can have a huge impact. The user’s identity is something essential to money. According you are rich or poor, monetary rights change. Senegal example: the identity is crucial to collect the needed money. Even in such a case, it’s not so much money that circulates, but the relationships nurtured through money.

Jan Lucassen

A different approach would distinguish moments in exchange:

  • Perform task or service: deferred payment for work and services
  • Payment happens : shopping

What power do you have to defer the payment? Nobility has the higher power to defer the payment (never). The poorest of the poor has no power to defer. The same goes for an employer: one week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks?

The salary people accept this, to be paid later, because the shopkeeper accepts it, for example through weekly balanced book credit.

Then the question becomes what is your power to defer payment?

Future research

Jan Lucassen

Pretentions should be high. It is an attempt at renovating monetary history at a time of big changes: globalization… It is not a modernist approach nor a capitalist or anticapitalist approach. At least it poses the question: where do monetary and monetarization started. Would it revalue classical antiquity. We should address all that.

New combinations, as said Schumpeter, are innovations: history, archeology, anthropology.

Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
Organization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021


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