New Money Review podcast

New Money Review podcast

Living in revolutionary times

April 28, 2021

Political revolutions often go hand-in-hand with revolutions in money. Stores of value change, the way we make payments changes, our attitudes to credit change.

According to Rebecca Spang, professor of history at Indiana University, the author of a prize-winning 2015 book called ‘Stuff and Money at the time of the French Revolution’ and our interviewee in the latest New Money Review podcast, we may once again be living in revolutionary times.

“Past institutions no longer feel legitimate or stable,” she says in the podcast.

“The level of instability and uncertainty does make this a revolutionary moment.”

“We are seeing quite epic and dysfunctional levels of inequality,” says Spang.

When the French revolution took place in 1789, those owning debts suddenly wanted to be paid. France’s credit-based monetary system fell apart and the country hit a severe liquidity crisis.

France then embarked on one of the most famous monetary experiments in history: it issued a new paper form of money that was notionally backed by the property wealth of the old régime.

This so-called ‘assignat’ experiment eventually caused severe inflation and in 1803 France went back to a gold standard.

Could our current infatuation with different forms of money—from bitcoin to meme stocks and non-fungible tokens (NFTs)—be indicators of a shift similar to the one that took place in France more than two centuries ago?

Listen to the podcast to hear Spang and New Money Review editor Paul Amery discuss:

  • Why we may be living through a monetary and political revolution
  • Why France’s King Louis XVI had ‘fabulous wealth but very little money’
  • How credit-based systems can fall into a liquidity crisis
  • Why France’s land-backed money experiment failed
  • How US civil war ‘greenbacks’ drew on France’s revolutionary money history
  • How cryptocurrencies have revived arguments for privately issued money