The standard story of economists about the origins of money is that it came from barter. For most modern anthropologists this story is about as reasonable as the story that babies are brought by the storks. It has become such a big problem that many prominent anthropologists have recently turned against economics as a discipline in general. However, as so often in social science discourse, the anthropologists’ problem with barter has at least two sides. On the one hand, the extremely well-founded and empirically well-defended position that real life is so much more complex and nuanced than the formal lifeless economic models of the neoclassical synthesis makes the story of economists utterly untenable from both an empirical and historical perspective. On the other hand, defending this position has led almost all anthropologists to the opposite extreme, claiming that barter cannot possibly have been the origin of money, but that it has never existed in history. Thus, barter creates a problem for the apparently dominant anthropological discourse about money, because despite their claims to the contrary, it appears again and again both in historical records and in modern ethnographic descriptions of various societies.
Georgy Ganev is Programme Director for Economic Research at the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. From October 2019 to March 2020 he is a Visiting Fellow at the IWM.
Introduction and Moderation:
Ivan Krastev, IWM Permanent Fellow and Chair of the Board, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia