Crises of Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic Money

Joseph T. Rebello, from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Department of Economics, Stern Hall, Geneva, NY, wrote in his paper of May 2013, that he wanted to off er a new approach to the the compatibility of Marxian economics and non-commodity forms of money, imaginary, and symbolic (forms/functions of) money.

Best Money Exchange Rate for Cash

Best Money Exchange Rate for Cash (Photo credit:

Despite increasing acceptance of the compatibility of non-commodity money and Marxian political economy, according to Rebello, a dualist social ontology has stunted attempts to theorize the relationship between money, value, and class. He bases his development of a Marxian theory of money in a rejection of this dualism. In other words, he contribute a theoretical analysis of the relationship between money, value, and class informed by a critique of these dualist notions of economic reality.

Within the Marxian tradition, dependence on a dualism has impeded attempts to theorize money in its relation to both (1) the economy in general and (2) its own manifold forms and functions. The distinction between real and less-real on a macroeconomic scale is repeated within the conceptualization of money itself, privileging real commodity money over symbolic and imaginary forms. He provides an alternative to this tendency, based on an overdeterminist understanding of the relationships between so-called imaginary, symbolic, and real/material aspects of money. This alternative ontology informs a critical and deconstructive reading of money within the Marxian tradition and a reframing of the problem of non-commodity money. In lieu of deriving a theory of non-commodity money from a logically and historically privileged notion of real commodity money, his general Marxian theory of money takes as its object the interaction between (1) the imaginary, symbolic, and real/material dimensions inherent to money in general and (2) class processes of value production, appropriation, and distribution.

He explores the tensions and contradictions in hierarchy of real and less-real monies. according to him Marxian-Keynesian style approaches incorporate the importance of aggregate demand and institutions at the cost of value theory. He argues that a de-constructive, but nonetheless Marxian, theory of money may help bridge the gap between these two tendencies by illustrating the broad institutional determination of the value of money.

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank (Photo credit:

He argues that presuppositions about money and value create an unnecessary opposition between crisis theories organized around the concept of value and aggregate demand and  attempts to unsettle this opposition with a reading of the tensions between real, imaginary, and symbolic money in volume 1 of Capital.

His argument is that Marx’s attempt to maintain a simple hierarchy of real-imaginary-symbolic (RIS) fails, and that coming to terms with this crisis at the heart of money’s ontology undermines the tension between value and aggregate demand for crisis theory.

The Insistence of the Real

Marx’s writing on money exhibits an insistence on the real, where temptations to think of money as imaginary or symbolic are warned against. Ultimately, despite any appearances suggesting otherwise, it is money’s real form and function that is essential. Such an insistence betrays the existence of such temptations; we are justi ed questioning their origin.

Joseph T. Rebello questions if this vigilance against folly raise the possibility it may be more than just folly?

What is Marx doing when he insists on the real? Marx’s realism in the monetary context is in part the product of his political motivations and broader social-economic ontology. As Marx was aware, theories of money have important political consequences.

Marx has been caricatured as having a crude metallist theory of money that naturalizes
the social character of money along similar lines as orthodox economics. However, leaving aside the speci c (non)commodity status of money in the Grundrisse or elsewhere, it is clear that Marx is not reducing economic phenomena to physical properties.

I, with him wonder if the adherents of the Monetary System did not see gold and silver as representing money as a social relation of production, but in the form of natural objects with peculiar social properties.(Marx, 1976, p.196)

Limitations to reform capitalism

The selfishness and the idea that everyone should just take his own responsibilities for his life, made that we have come in a world where not many are interested in solidarity. Lots of problems we face is because the majority of the population preferred to keep inequality instead of trying to get more equality between all people in our community.

It is not the brute materiality of gold (the illusions of the Monetary System) that limits utopian attempts to reform capitalism, but rather the social relations of capitalist production that the utopians leave on the table when discussing banking and monetary changes.

The theoretical allure of gold is that as commodities they are immediately linked to – produced in – the class processes Marx wants to highlight. {1: The di erence between even a determinist Marxian commodity theory of money and a credit approach emphasizing \faith” in money has nothing to do with the latter being more \sociological.” For example, it is sometimes said that credit based money is social because it depends on relationships of faith and trust, as if such relationships are inherently more social than those involved in production}

Marx attempts to counter the money-form about which he worries:

The fact that money can, in certain functions, be replaced by mere symbols of itself, gave rise to another mistaken notion, that it is itself a mere symbol. Nevertheless, this error did contain the suspicion that the money-form of the thing is external to the thing itself, being simply the form of appearance of the human relations hidden behind it. In this sense every commodity is a symbol, since, as value, it is only the material shell of the human labor expended on it. But if it is declared that the social characteristics assumed by material objects, or the material characteristics assumed by the social determination of labour on the basis of a de nite mode of production are mere symbols, then it is also declared, at the same time, that these characteristics are the arbitrary product of human re ection. (Marx, 1976, pp.184-185)

Money is never merely real, merely imaginary, nor merely symbolic because it is always real-imaginary-symbolic.

Because money originates as a universal equivalent (of/for value) it makes sense for Marx to proceed onto its functions with the measure of value role. Marx considers two functions, often treated together – money as a measure of value and as a standard of price: As measure of value, and as standard of price, money performs two quite di erent functions. it is the measure of value as the social incarnation of human labour; it is the standard of price as a quantity of metal with a xed weight. As a measure of value it serves to convert the values of all manifold commodities into price, into imaginary quantities of gold; as the standard of price it measures those quantities of gold…But gold can serve as a measure of value only because it is itself a product of labor, and therefore potentially variable in value. (ibid.,p.192)

Please do find the interesting paper on Dropbox:  Crises of Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic Money: Monetary and Crisis Theory pdf

Money, Reality, and Value: Non-Commodity Money in Marxian Political Economy

The crisis of ident it y in modern economics by Yahya M. Madra andJoseph T. Rebello

Joseph T. Rebello curriculum: Joseph T. Rebello CV

Read also: “The Economy of Joyful Passions: a political economic ethics of the virtual.” Rethinking Marxism. Volume 18 Number 2 (April 2006)



  • We are all Marxians Now. (
    Marxian Economics is an anachronism that the current New Consensus Paradigm which dominates economic thinking seems to have eschewed.  It doesn’t seem to have filtered into current thought. However, Marx is still alive and well, surprisingly in the center of  modern economics textbooks, often in unexpected places.
  • What Commodity Money is (
    Commodity Money is currency that is made out of something else that has it’s own value apart from being currency.

    For example, gold coins is commodity money.
    our money system right now is not on a commodity standard. It’s money is only valuable because it’s declared so by the government. It used to be on a silver and gold standard though until 1964.

  • Hayekianism Plus Some Original Errors… (
    [T]he Marxist and the real business cycle theorist are united in the view that these things happen and mass unemployment and prolonged periods of immiseration are just what happens in a market economy. The RBC stops there while the Marxist looks forward to the construction of an entirely new system…. The range of views associated with John Maynard Keynes and… Milton Friedman… says… no.
    [T]he elements of a Marxian crisis theory, one never fully articulated by Marx himself, lie… scattered throughout Theories of Surplus Value, the Grundrisse and above all the posthumous second and third volumes of Capital…. To date, a revived Keynesianism has formed a left boundary of economic debate…. Not until now, with David Harvey’s Enigma of Capital, have we had a book-length example of Marxian crisis theory addressed to the current situation….
    Not only Americans and Britons but the Irish, Spanish and Emiratis live today among the ruins of a broken spatial fix….
  • Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Effective Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound – (

    we do know for sure that people do not believe that inflation causes high wages and house prices.  If people are asked what’s wrong with inflation (which they totally hate) they tend to say it means you can’t buy as much. That is, they assume that inflation means higher prices but not higher wages so real wages are lower.   This means that if people believe there will be high inflation, they will tighten their belts reducing demand.   Similarly people other than Robert Shiller didn’t notice the almost perfect correlation of housing prices and the CPI.
  • Marx vs Coase (

    Fehr and colleagues found that, in one-shot encounters where employment contracts were struck, 51% of principals exploited agents. “The Marxian idea that power can be used for exploitation is real” they conclude. …

    However, in repeated encounters, the prevalence of exploitation dropped to 21%. This is because employers wanted to build a reputation for fairness which they could use to encourage workers to stick to employment contracts.

  • Why Marxians are getting excited about the credit crisis (
    each crisis would become larger and larger until, one day, capitalism would implode and the social economy would take its rightful place. And so it has been since Marx first published “Das Kapital” in 1867: debt has accumulated in the corporate sector, the private sector and, most controversially, at the heart of western governments.
  • Some thoughts on Michael Heinrich versus “the classics” (
    Each individual capitalist can increase his (or occasionally her) own competitiveness through increasing the productivity of his workers. The way to do this is by using a greater quantity of the “means of production” – tools, machinery and so on – for each worker. There is a growth in the ratio of the physical extent of the means of production to the amount of labour power employed, a ratio that Marx called the “technical composition of capital”.But a growth in the physical extent of the means of production will also be a growth in the investment needed to buy them. So this too will grow faster than the investment in the workforce. To use Marx’s terminology, “constant capital” grows faster than “variable capital”. The growth of this ratio, which he calls the “organic composition of capital”, [6] is a logical corollary of capital accumulation.
    according to Grossman, “the limits on the production of surplus value are extended; the breakdown of capitalism is postponed.”
  • Food, Guns, Gold: “The Record is Rather Clear On the Side of Commodity Money” (
    if we continue on our current trajectory of monetary expansion, it is only a matter of time before the US dollar buckles. And when it does, it’s going to create widespread disturbances in pricing and valuation models across the entire sphere of investments, goods and services.


    In the event of a collapse of the U.S. dollar we’re going to see the price of all commodities go to infinity. Any physical asset of actual value is going to go to ‘infinity’ as it relates to the US dollar. Zimbabwe is a recent example, where the price of a loaf of bread literally reached over a trillion ‘dollars,’ when just a few years before it cost a couple Zimbabwe bucks.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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2 Responses to Crises of Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic Money

  1. Pingback: Materialisme, “would be” leven en aspiraties #1 | Broeders in Christus

  2. Pingback: What do we need? – Questiontime – Vragenuurtje

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