Sehgal (Jazzocracy: Jazz, Democracy, and the Creation of a New American Mythology, 2008, etc.), a vice president for emerging market equities at J.P Morgan, opens up the toolbox of his trade in this wide-ranging discussion of money and its instrumental function through human history.
The author offers a traditional definition of money as “a medium of exchange, unit of account, and store of value,” which he attributes to the 19th-century British economist William Stanley Jevons. However, there’s nothing traditional about Sehgal’s elaboration. Beginning with biology, anthropology and psychology in the form of modern neuroscience, the author compares money as currency, or flow, to the energy flows in biological and botanical processes (photosynthesis and cellular respiration). “Money may be an evolutionary substitute for energy,” writes the author. His unconventional approach turns more practical when he discusses the moral, ethical and cultural values associated with money and its uses in the world's major religions and ethical system. He cites the Sermon on the Mount—“blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—and the laws of Moses (greed is a sin). In between, Sehgal reviews the history of money, from commodity trade to paper forms, to develop broader implications of money as an instrument symbolizing human thought and activity. He worries that “[m]oney is becoming more electronic and invisible. It has become so abstract that we risk forgetting the concrete lessons of history. As long as money remains a symbol of value, some will seek to control it.” The author traces a conflict between two views of money: one which argues that money has, or should have, an intrinsic value derived from nature, the other which asserts that money is a political creation, as President Richard Nixon did in 1971 when he unpegged the dollar from gold.
A lively account with an unconventional viewpoint.