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SWC: A syllabus for learning about 21stC money

I’ve been writing about class all my working life, although I didn’t always recognize it, because I wasn’t foregrounding it. Since I began researching the question “How do pyramidal hierarchies die?” I’ve tripped over dozens of really, really interesting texts. Here are some of the books that have blown my mind while I research the background for my new domestic thriller / industrial espionage series.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson – many takeaways, but in this context, the economic origins of racism in the Western world. In other words, racism is classism with a side of religious and scientific justification, because classism is about money, in particular, the cost of labor. In the context of money, this book makes one view the emotional aspects of race prejudice as a diversion, a trap created by management to keep white labor from noticing how badly it is paid.

Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Peres – pertinent especially to the deaths of corporations, the rise and fall of industrial revolutions, and the related and parallel flows of of large amounts of money. With charts illustrating the last five of these eras. We’re barreling down into a trough right now. If I read those charts properly, the current craze over AI (which Cory Doctorow calls the “AI Bubble”) seems to be financial capital’s latest desperate grasp at a technological revolution that will rescue them from the current trough, the cold fusion of 2023.

Capital Without Borders by Brooke Harrington – some good takeaways about what happened in the failures of tax law, inflation in urban real estate values, and the citizenships of the wealthy, to name only three of many aspects, when the management of family wealth was entrusted to professionally trained and certified managers instead of to your uncle Bob or the family lawyer. “Ought to keep wealth managers awake at night” – Wall Street Journal

Debt by David Graeber – very fat book in very fine print that’s worth every word. Explains the history of money way better than the rejects down the pile. (As soon as someone talks about the hypothetical primitive villager who trades a cow for a pair of shoes, I shut that book.) Introduced me to the terms “debt peonage” and “debt forgiveness.” Dovetails nicely with Wilkerson’s Caste as it describes in detail the cultural consequences of inescapable debt, and how it is baked into the structures of societies.

A Hacker’s Mind by Bruce Schneier – another in a long series of very readable books about computer security and the wider implications of general security issues. This dovetails beautifully with Harrington’s Capital Without Borders, describing “hacking” as a normal, pervasive, and very often positive human behavior, and how designers of secure systems (including computer systems and programs) do or do not accommodate the exploitation of hacks. Some hair-raising examples of failures-to-cope with infamous hacks. His final chapters discuss the larger implications of hacks that have disorganized and bypassed our institutional protections of, for example, civil rights and government funding, and how these hacks might be dealt with.

Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon – compares cultural and historical notions of gender with current brain science that studies gender. Vintage feminists won’t be surprised at the history. Her most dismaying message is that gender/brain myths do not die, no matter how often or how thoroughly refuted. They are fondly repeated by sexists, just as eugenics theory is still beloved by racists. Again, connects up with Wilkerson’s Caste; one can’t help noticing how gender prejudice and gender panic divert men from noticing how badly they are paid.


I’ll get deeper into this pile as this series of blog posts continues.

The pile of books has not grown as fast as it did at first, because I started taking Matt Stoller’s Substack newsletter BIG, which talks about monopolies and their vicissitudes. However, reading these books has been a huge help to me in interpreting what Stoller blogs about. What does it mean to the worker ants when two large companies that do the same things merge? How about if one of them merges vertically, that is, buys a supplier, or buys a company it supplies? What’s a “rentier” or “rentor?” How does a merger affect the anthill’s benevolent symbiotes and its less benevolent parasites and its predators? Yadda. But more about that later.

BIG costs money, but so do books, and I get way more than $70-worth in red hot news about monopolies. I consider it a bargain.

The first post in this series is here.


2 thoughts on “SWC: A syllabus for learning about 21stC money”

  1. Isn’t is sort of astonishing that back not that far in the day, one could get even Ph.D.s in literature and history and geography and not read any book of this nature?

    Of course, there’s been a boom in this kind of examination of the development of money, class and labor since 1) US historians finally faced up to the fact that the Civil War was about slavery, and that much of the history of slavery in general across the board, and color based slavery precisely were wrapped up in the capitalist vision — which came about not only but certainly partly when all sorts of peoples previously denied higher education and studies in the professions got higher degrees, particularly African Americans and women; 2) the first financial meltdowns in the US since deregulating the economy with the Nixon, Ford and Carter deregulation — the 1970’s recession and the savings&loans / junk bond bust of the 80’s. We’ve been in boom and bust cycles ever since — the classic manner of how the US economy has always worked, with the brief interregnum of the New Deal. We’ve worked assiduously, almost even as it was passed, to dissolve that!

    BTW — Is The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger (2015) by Greg Steinmitz on your tbr list?

  2. Jennifer Stevenson

    Foxessa, THANK YOU for the reference! I’ll get that one!

    PS, it turns out BIG is not behind a paywall, but he would really like some money for it, because they’re doing some great things with it, like paying an antitrust law expert to attend and report on the Google trial (the one that’s been so hidden).

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