Archives mensuelles : mai 2020

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

Kuroda Akinobu – A Monetary Unification Neglecting the Ground Level Myth of Unified Money in 1935 China

« The last remaining thing brings fortune »

  He we focus on what kind of transactions people on the ground level did. These transactions are quite independent from transactions by big merchants or governments. But thus they are difficult to trace: lack of sources. We ignore what the vast majority of people were doing.

  How to feed Qing soldiers fighting the opium wars?

  Conversion of silver taels into copper coins (used by peasants) to feed Chinese soldiers with grain was difficult and exchange rates varied a lot over time and region by region. When large quantities of silver were brought suddenly, and because of the scarcity of coins, the price of copper coins increased and thus the capacity to feed the soldiers decreased. This is a testimony of the quite independent spheres of circulation of copper and silver at the time.

  Most historians described the monetary system in China as being unified during the interwar period. The paper standard of 1935 occurred during depression – and it was a paper money standard guaranteed by the government.

  But in 1936 a Guomintang army walked through Shaanxi, and was provided with official money in banknotes. Denominations were as high as 1 month of revenue of a peasant at least. So they asked local banks to convert the banknotes in order to buy food. But the branch managers of the bank refused do convert the banknotes. That led to a trial and created historical sources that shows that the situation had not changed that much over one century.

  Actually, the local monetary circulation was made up of local paper notes, not issued by government or officially backed, and thus inconvertible. Despite of that people used it. Because most peasants went to markets every two or five days and had to pay in cash and small denominations, a strong seasonality in prices and exchange rates appeared. Peasants are very sensitive to price movements, they waited for the good prices: they negotiated by themselves and did strategic choices. But the supply of this small currency was not elastic enough. That is why people relied on small paper money, even inconvertible.

  In Xiarendu Town (Hubei), 300 households, shop-notes dominated: 36 shops of every trade circulated notes. All shops could function as an issuing bank.

  In Nanazhaoji (Anhui country) in 1936 more than 40 shops issued notes even after the 1935 monetary unification, for an amount several times their own assets. In this case, some issuers tried to regulate and to stabilize the note issuance by building reserves. Because of the conflicts between merchants, it was kept in the sources. In fact, in case someone would convert its note, the shopkeeper would give him in exchange the notes of another shop!

  An index of native notes popularity can be found in the collections of numismatists. In Julu county, 50% of the circulation was made up by local notes – of which it was not possible to tell the genuine and the forged.

  The apparent monetary unification through official paper money on the surface had induced local paper monies to flourish at the ground level. Indeed, the national monetary unification had a stabilizing and unifying effect through large banknotes and interregional exchanges. It also showed that intrinsic value was not necessary for money to intermediate local transactions. But it also showed that local money could not circulate beyond local markets. Money and markets cannot naturally integrate.


Jan Lucassen – Money circulates, because people do. Could the distance of circulation be the walking distance to the market?

A.: This kind of local markets have always been at about a half-day walking distance.

Maria Stella Chiaruttini – Did the shops operate a formal clearing system?

A.: They did not. Over-issuance was not so importance when compared to assets (3 to 4 times) Rather, the issuance fitted actual transactions. But some shops did go away during the night.

Frédérique Duyrat – What about private banknotes forgery?

A.: Nobody knows. Forgery was only local. The problem is that using local notes being illegal, people would not go to the court.

What is important here is competition: no one issue 20 times its assets. Competition created some balance.

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

Ismael Moya | Université Paris Nanterre, MAE, LESC – Quelques éléments sur l’argent et la finance populaire à Dakar

Dakar – In a poor neighboorhood

  What do poor people do with money and the lack of it? There is here no distinction between intimacy and public life when it comes to money, contrary to Europe or US. No meaningful relationships are possible, especially intimate, without money involved.

  Money is everywhere but at the same time everyone is looking for money all the time, however rich or poor. This scarcity of money is related to permanent monetary relationships between people, economic or not. And because of social solidarity whoever has money is confronted to permanent demands for money from relatives.

  That is why people try to put their money away, in distant banks, out of reach, and especially in collective schemes to reduce the liquidity – thus the success of tontines. Liquidity is thus avoided. Savings come in non-cash version. The problem is to get the cash back when you need it. One could say that wealth management is based on a « preference for illiquidity », which comes with a very high velocity of money, that can be seen in the poor state of banknotes.

  Most financial networks are managed by women and these networks are the structure of social life.

  This modus operandi is also made possible because of the stability of the CFA, that makes this preference for illiquidity possible. People have a complete confidence in the CFA.

  The illiquidity is not only an economic device, it is part of the social life and structure. Agency hinges on the ability to convert liquidity in relations and the reverse.

  It explains why it is so hard to find capital funds to start a business, why life cycle events can synchronize all financial networks and produce huge amounts of cash – up to 1 or 2 years of a household revenue, collected in a few days and distributed in one single evening in hundreds of gifts.

  This financial system is also backed by financial practices: women keep very precise accounts of the sums involved in ceremonies. All ledgers are kept. These account books are just lists, no sums: women do not think in terms of capital or assets, only relationships. They never calculate the amount of money they can mobilize: it is not precise but very efficient. And there are no boundaries between spheres and means of exchange: the same money is used, and there are no moral boundaries between spheres of exchanges. Thus, there is no need for conversion processes. But it is hierarchized in terms of agency, the capacity people have to distribute and collect money. And the system is dominated by social and familial values over economical values. That is why the economy suffers from the illiquidity preference.

  However this system has given the possibility to use these networks to back nanofinance to start businesses. Here, relations are a substitute to capital. And that works, because in a system that draws on illiquidity preference, any liquidity put into the system has a very high price. And people are willing to pay it. This system is not specific to the poor, but the rich have a very different access to banks and capital: they can back their loans with actual capital.

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

Sophie Laligant | Université de Tours, CITERES et Jordy Sio | Université de Tours – Silver, yams and qëmek in the Kanak small custom in continental France

Jordy Sio, who participates in this ethnographic study, both in French and in Jéou, is a Kanak from Lifu island. They both study the small custom (petite coutume).

The considered population is composed of young Kanak studying in several town of France on scholarships, thus with limited monetary means, but who nevertheless use money in supplement to oher goods in order to perform the small custom. This practice has to be contrasted to their representation of money, especially when it is exchanged from francs pacifiques into euros.

It thus the study of a paradox: that of a deviation from what is considered normal practice. The students proceed with customary acts and try to comply with the custom, even though the context is different. Notably, they use coined money in lieu of yams, despite the latter being considered essential. They thus juxtapose several rationality systems – as one may observe in New Caledonia proper.

How to understand the use of money instead of yams? See Jérôme Blanc on alternative means of payments. Can money perform as yams would? A priori no – see publication on Florès island and Bloch et Parry, Money and the morality of exchange. One of the students thus said: “to a kanak problem, a kanak solution”. And even though the equivalence is not perfect, money is used on the field which raises a question: is it equivalence or substitution that is sought? See Dupuy (quoted by Descola) on the notion of equivalence in material exchange and substitution in monetary exchange.

The money in question here is made of banknotes or coins, either in francs pacifiques (New Caledonia) or euros (France). The two currencies help to support ethnic borders as well as discursive distinctions (the “money of the French”). The traditional kanak money is made of bones, shells and hairs of bats (Maurice Reinhart, 1907), but not in Lifu, were yams and coined money dominate. Yam-money is swaddled as a newborn (in palms) which highlights its actual heteronomy with coined money.

The small custom is a traditional oral code that rules Kanak social relationships.

What does “poor” mean in this context? Many Kanak people leave their tribe for a few months or a few years to work or study, supported by relatives or the customary Senate, and in order to fight their marginalization. The Kanak average revenue is much lower to the French minimum wage and pluri-activity is more and more frequent strategy to increase revenues that also fuels a movement towards stable employment – notably as civil servants.

But these revenues remain to low to finance college studies in France, hence scholarships that come in two forms: Crous state scholarships (a monthly stipend plus a dwelling grant) and the supplementary “pil” (Provincial Islands scholarship). The amounts vary but are generally comprised between 500 and 700 euros – meaning that Kanak students generally live below the poverty line as it is defined in France.

This situation provokes a conflict between two conceptions of poverty, that of the French society (the dictionary defines poverty as material deprivation, lack of resources) does not work in a Kanak context were walth and poverty are mostly social and symbolic notions, linked to the webs of relationships, weddings, power… Also, in a Kanak context, the idea of poverty is mainly related to neglect (djewe katcho) and work comes in two distinct forms: work for money and customary work.

All Kanak students reach France with a “bag” containing all the things received in order not to forget the ancestors. In 1985, the independence movement leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou defined the custom as “the somewhat scornful name that non Kanaks give to what kanaks do”. Also, customs cannot be seen only as what is opposed to modernity, since it is also a way to cope with it while living in relation to the others and to the invisible world of ancestors. Last, the small custom is not a devalued version of the grand custom.

Money and yams are part of two aspects of the small custom:

  • When welcoming someone, for example s student receiving another is being offered a gift, i.e. something or money.
  • In case of a birth: there is a receiving clan and a giving clan, creating a large circulation of small banknotes during the customs 3 days.

Thus, students could buy and use yams to perform the small custom. But they do not know these yams they may find in markets and supermarkets and that do not come from New Caledonia. That is why they use money in lieu of yams, this same money that has no importance in the customary context. Which explains why the term “money” is never used. Besides, even if students say that the “price is free”, the amount is never very high. Accumulating money is unthinkable in a context where money can be put to other uses.


Hisashi Takagi – When yam functions as currency, is it transacted by weight ? Or accounted?

A.: There are many different kinds of yams: for goats or humans and the value change according to size and season.

Catherine Baroin – There is a similar use of money in Tanzania: for large sums, one will use money but give it the name of the traditional numeraire (a beef) in order to transmit the symbolic value, but very often with a string reduction in actual value, by pretending that these banknotes are actually a beef.

A.: In Lifu, the two systems are intertwined: riche people use rice and money, while the others use only yam-money.

Thibault Cardon – What about the interactions between Kanak and non-Kanak students?

A.: Kanak students perform the custom between themselves and in case of inter-ethnic marriage, not when they go to French homes. They also keep the custom to distinguish themselves from the colonial system.

Ismaël Moya – The existence of two monetary systems is quite commonplace. Even with only one money, different circuits can be operated. It is the classical problems of the spheres of circulation and of the exchange operations to move from one sphere to the other.

Jan Lucassen – How long have Kanaks people been exposed to money through indentured labour? What was the impact?

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