Is money a “currency of justice”? That is, insofar as justice requires us to distribute something among people, is money one of those things, fundamentally speaking?
It isn’t according to many philosophers in the “currency debate,” who either assign money no fundamental importance, or at least do not unequivocally affirm its non-instrumental significance, as I’ll explain. Theory, in this respect, stands apart from ordinary opinion. Not only does money matter greatly to most of us, who has it, and who should have more or less of it—whether in dollars, euros, or renminbi—is ordinarily one of the main ways we evaluate socio-economic justice, in both policy arguments and larger political discourse. To the theorist, this may show how little our (perhaps corrupt) political culture cares about fundamental distributive justice, which is not about who has what money. In this discussion I reprise the currency debate on the side of ordinary opinion, in view of a topic political philosophy has somehow largely neglected: what money is.
On the view of money I will assume and develop, a money is not, at bottom, a convenient “medium of exchange,” as is often assumed in economics. It is, rather, a creature of credit and debt accounting: money is a way we keep track of and resolve shifting credits and debts, deficits and surpluses, or, in short, what we owe one another. As I’ll explain, once elaborated, a credit/debt view of money helps us see how money could be, and arguably is, of fundamental moral importance. In particular, the view I’ll develop not only helps us plausibly elaborate claims about money and freedom made by G.A. Cohen, it also points us to a position in the currency debate that Cohen rejected in his own influential intervention: that money is indeed a currency of justice (one of them, at any rate).
Larry Alexander & Steven D. Smith
"Money as a Currency of Justice,"
The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues: Vol. 23:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/jcli/vol23/iss2/3