Kenelm Burridge
New Heaven, New Earth

Making a radical distinction between social orders which use money as a basic measure of man, and those which do not, is crucial. In the first case, a 'complex economy,' we have a highly differentiated division of labour; money; free exchange of goods and services through money and markets; generalized full-time specialization; conservation of wealth through the generations; and a basic measure of prestige and status by reference to money, though of course a variety of other qualities and capacities also enter the situation. In the second case, a 'subsistence economy,' we have a simple division of labour, a set of relations in which the tasks to be performed are basically determined by age and sex; a prescribed and specific use of treasure articles; specific and prescribed types of exchange; no money; part-time specialization; and a basic measure of prestige and status by reference to the subsistence activities which most or all undertake in common—though again, a variety of other capacities also enter into the situation. It is true that in some subsistence communities there are one or two magical, ritual, or even technological full-time specialists. But where these exist they are almost always found to have a prestige of their own; they are insulated from the requirements of the main prestige system. Further, while there are numerous examples of cash circulating in subsistence economies, whether or not this money has succeeded in becoming a basic measure of prestige and status is precisely the issue. We are not comparing standards of living, for many subsistence communities are richer and have higher standards of living than particular parts of a complex economy. We are distinguishing between two sets of social relations which seem, in principle, to be mutually exclusive. We are drawing the divide between one kind of moral system and another.

In any community the basic measure of prestige and status must refer either to the activities which all or most undertake in common, or to those assets to which all or most in the community have a common access, or both. In addition to these basic measures other more specific qualities and capacities are usually taken into account. In a subsistence community relative abilities in the main subsistence activities emerge as the basic measures. The possession, exchange and relative turnover of treasure articles reflect or measure industry, efficiency, cunning, shrewdness, foresight and a number of other qualities; further prestige may be gained or lost by the demonstration of virtues and vices—such as virility, courage, warrior capacities, envy; secretiveness—which may be, but are not necessarily, directly related to capacities in the subsistence activities. In the complex economy, on the other hand, where with a highly differentiated division of labour there can be no one set of activities engaged in common, the basic criterion for measuring farmer, smith, carpenter, wheelright, teacher and others against each other must be that to which all have access, and by virtue of which they are enabled to specialize: money. And though one or more of a series of highly differentiated qualities and capacities are also usually taken into account, money remains the basic measure.

Succeeding to a large extent in measuring locally preferred and selected moral qualities, the treasure articles of a subsistence economy are, however, only wealth in themselves so far as, indicating particular qualities and capacities, they can be used to gain credit. For in order to get meaningful possession of such an article a man has to have been seen to do well, and in the prescribed way, the work that is required of him. Money may, but does not necessarily measure the moral qualities. It keeps, may be banked for future use, is wealth in a way that the treasure articles of a subsistence economy are not. For whether gotten inside or outside the law, by good or evil acts, preferred or condemned kinds of procedures, money in a complex economy can command or buy labour, things, hearts, souls and even credit. As concrete as any could wish, susceptible to touch and handling, pieces of money yet refer to an entirely abstract system of quantitative and factorial relations which endure and remain what they are through all sorts of social vicissitudes. Banks, and the keeping qualities of money, owe their permanence more to the mathematical system to which they refer than to their material construction. Whereas the relative values of treasure articles depend on intrinsic qualities as well as social and historical associations, unless an old shilling is to become a treasure article it is worth as many pennies as a new one. More subtly, money is a factorial measure of man which entails quantifying his different capacities. It separates and differentiates qualities and capacities, and in doing so gives each a referent on a quantitative scale. Further, the handling of money is an exercise in unitary and factorial relations. But qualities can only be identified within a system of binary opposites (good/bad, strong/weak, skilled/unskilled, etc.); and the factorial nature of money introduces a hierarchy of quantitative values none of which can be said to have an opposite. The two schemes, binary opposites on the one hand, and what we may call the one-and-the-many on the other, are in principle mutually opposed.

A corresponding antithesis is encountered where the worth and stature of man are measured by money and clearly differentiated capacities on the one hand, and the quality of his performance in an agglutinated 'package deal' of prescribed activities on the other. The problem is how to reconcile the antitheses. Though in practice the moneyed communities of a complex economy also use qualitative criteria, and most subsistence communities use some kind of quantitative criteria, far from detracting from the point at issue the antithesis is emphasized. A cursory glance at the millenarian activities which have taken place within the traditions of the great moneyed economies show that they turn significantly on money: on how access to money, and the uses to which money may be put, may be so prescribed and defined that this factorial and quantitative measure can accurately assess selected moral qualities. The poor man whose skills and honesty go unrecognized is as wretched as the richer whose acumen and thrift earn him nothing. Often obscured in the colonial situation by the more idealistic and humane relevances of different kinds of paternalism, this issue of quantifying and differentiating the qualities by reference to money is often ignored. Minted by the complex economy, by peoples who organize themselves into large, loose and highly differentiated entities, who engage in a multitude of specialized tasks and occupations, whose prestige systems, forms of organization and division of labour depend upon money, money quite naturally chases the stuffs its makers want, finds its way back into the pockets of those who know how to use it and make it work to advantage.

Despite attempts on the parts of colonial administrations to get money circulating amongst an indigenous people, they have always found difficulties in penetrating an indigenous prestige system based upon qualitative criteria, and then adapting or converting it to one based upon money. The indigenous qualitative criteria tend to persist. Prestige continues to depend upon competence in the subsistence activities, on turnover of exchanges, on the passage and exchange of treasure articles. The returned labourer with money in his pocket may enjoy a brief notoriety but, without a continuing access to money must needs put his hand to crook, goad, mattock, axe or adze. Such money as he may have tends to be buried, hoarded, used in ad hoc payments or as treasure articles.

If money is to circulate significantly, if an indigenous community is to have a satisfactory access to money, then the community must so adapt and alter its prestige system that money becomes a basic measure of worth. Unless and until money begins accurately to assess those qualities which a people or community finds meaningful, so long will they not be able to use money as it was meant to be used, so long will they not have a satisfactory access. Belonging to, and connoting, the complex social order of those who have minted it, use it, and bring it to foreign shores, money, particularly when of the more valuable or powerful currencies, demands acceptance of the kind of social ordering adopted by those who make it. Nevertheless, corrupted by a covetousness that is human, lured on by what seems to be a finer or more satisfactory means of realizing their potential, yet reluctant to abandon what tradition has hallowed, the dilemma is how to replace a current prestige system by another; how to further differentiate, factorialize and quantify the qualities; how to redefine the qualities so that they may be more satisfactorily quantified and differentiated. And both for those in a subsistence economy who want to make money a relevant measure of man, as well as for like-minded individuals within a complex economy who want to make money more accurately define the moral qualities, a millenarian movement is one way of resolving the dilemma.

To become it is first necessary to belong; and belonging makes it possible to define just who or what one is. Whether for participants or bystanders, millenarian activities provide the opportunity for becoming someone distinctive and worthwhile. And, because attitudes to money can so readily find out the man, define what is meant by integrity, millennial aspirations often find their focus in money.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.