Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Coin, Currency, Capitalism, and Contract

The Jurisdynamics Network is pleased to have received two new books from Oxford University Press. As it happens, both authors teach law at Harvard.

Christine Desan, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism traces the history of coin and currency from its origins to its place in the contemporary world's economic architecture. From Oxford's cover notes:

Making MoneyMoney travels the modern world in disguise. It looks like a convention of human exchange — a commodity like gold or a medium like language. But its history reveals that money is a very different matter. It is an institution engineered by political communities to mark and mobilize resources. As societies change the way they create money, they change the market itself — along with the rules that structure it, the politics and ideas that shape it, and the benefits that flow from it.

One particularly dramatic transformation in money's design brought capitalism to England. For centuries, the English government monopolized money's creation. The Crown sold people coin for a fee in exchange for silver and gold. "Commodity money" was a fragile and difficult medium; the first half of the book considers the kinds of exchange and credit it invited, as well as the politics it engendered. Capitalism arrived when the English reinvented money at the end of the 17th century. When it established the Bank of England, the government shared its monopoly over money creation for the first time with private investors, institutionalizing their self-interest as the pump that would produce the money supply. The second half of the book considers the monetary revolution that brought unprecedented possibilities and problems. The invention of circulating public debt, the breakdown of commodity money, the rise of commercial bank currency, and the coalescence of ideological commitments that came to be identified with the Gold Standard - all contributed to the abundant and unstable medium that is modern money. All flowed as well from a collision between the individual incentives and public claims at the heart of the system. The drama had constitutional dimension: money, as its history reveals, is a mode of governance in a material world. That character undermines claims in economics about money's neutrality. The monetary design innovated in England would later spread, producing the global architecture of modern money.

Meanwhile, Oxford has also issued a new edition of a classic first published in 1982, Charles Fried, Contract as Promise: A Theory of Contractual Obligation (2d ed. 2015). Once again, an adaptation of Oxford's cover notes follows:

Fried, Contract as PromiseContract as Promise is a study of the philosophical foundations of contract law in which Professor Fried effectively answers some of the most common assumptions about contract law and strongly proposes a moral basis for it while defending the classical theory of contract. This book provides two purposes regarding the complex legal institution of the contract. The first is the theoretical purpose to demonstrate how contract law can be traced to and is determined by a small number of basic moral principles. At the theory level the author shows that contract law does have an underlying, and unifying structure. The second is a pedagogic purpose to provide for students the underlying structure of contract law. At this level of doctrinal exposition the author shows that structure can be referred to moral principles. Together the two purposes support each other in an effective and comprehensive study of contract law.

The second edition retains the original text. In addition to a new preface, the second edition includes a substantial new essay entitled Contract as Promise in the Light of Subsequent Scholarship — Especially Law and Economics, which serves as a retrospective of the last three decades and a response to present and future work in the field.

The Jurisdynamics Network appreciates Oxford's generosity and is pleased to inform readers of Ratio Juris of these new titles.


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