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Christine A. Desan, The Key to Value: The Debate Over Commensurability in Neoclassical and Credit Approaches to Money, in Constitutions of Value: Law, Governance and Political Ecology 134 (Isabel Feichtner & Geoff Gordon eds., 2023).


Abstract: Neoclassical and credit approaches to money represent dramatically different theories of value. Within the neoclassical tradition, the market exists as a conceptual prior, a place where independent agents compare real goods, exchanging them afterwards to accord with their preferences. That theory identifies value as a pre-existing quality ranked by individual choice. To operate, the theory relies on an approach to money that is oddly self-contradictory: money as a unit of account antedates exchange while money as a medium follows from exchange. By contrast, credit approaches suggest that markets only emerge once commensurability in value exists. To create a unit of account that enables comparison, groups restructure their internal relationships to create money. Members then use money for exchange, producing what is understood as monetary value. Credit theories of money thus imply a dramatically different “market,” one that turns on disparities within an exchanging group rather than the autonomy of individuals to produce “value.”