Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cattle as Proto-Money

A subject we've looked at a few times, a couple links below.
From Social Democracy for the 21st Century:

Quiggin on Cattle Standards and Cattle as Proto-Money
From the anthropologist A. H. Quiggin’s A Survey of Primitive Money: The Beginnings of Currency (London, 1949) on cattle or oxen as a standard of value in ancient and less developed societies:“Throughout the greater part of the immense region which includes Europe to the West and stretches to Further India in the East, cattle were the chief form of wealth, and, as is seen in Africa, where cattle form the standard of value, varieties of primitive money are undeveloped. .... Cattle, however satisfactory as wealth, as a standard of value, or even as a medium of exchange in the larger affairs of life, cannot properly be called money; and need must often have been felt for some more easily transportable and divisible form.” (Quiggin 1949: 187–188).

“The inclusion of Europe in the cattle-currency-complex has been noted above (p. 187). Ridgeway showed that in the regions of Asia, Europe and Africa, where the system of weight standards which has given birth to all the systems of modern Europe had its origin, the cow was universally the chief object of barter (1892, p. 387).

Cattle were the standard of wealth and unit of value; they had a sacred character and were offered to the gods as well as presented to potentates; they were exchanged for slaves and extorted as tribute. The ‘bride-price’ of a woman and the wergeld of a man were calculated in cattle.

Evidence of the cattle standard can be found in the Rig Veda of India and the Zend Avesta of Persia (as seen above), in the Brehon Laws of Ireland and the Ancient Laws of Wales. We have seen it actively at work in Eastern Asia and in Eastern Africa, and though it has vanished from more progressive Europe, traces are still obvious. There is the familiar literary evidence in the equation of cattle and money, pecus and pecunia. Ulfilas translates pecunia by the Gothic faihu, cattle, whence our word ‘fee’, which meant cattle, wealth or money in King Alfred’s day. Gothic skatts, meaning cattle, tribute or coin, becomes the O.E. coin sceat, or the ‘scat’, still known as a tax in the North.

Ridgeway notes (1892, p. 4) how accounts were kept in cows a generation or so ago in the Caucasus, as they were also in Scotland; in Hungary the prospective bridegroom's conventional opening is ‘Pray tell me if you have a cow to sell?’ (Kovalensky, 1891, p. 27) and ‘bride-price’ is still paid in cattle in Albania (Hasluck, 1933).

Where a cattle standard exists, this is adequate, and discourages the growth of primitive currencies, as has been already seen. It is noteworthy that the largest and most varied collections of primitive money come from cattle-less areas.
‘A traveller once asked a patriarch [in Mongolia] owner of several thousand horses why he did not sell some every year. He replied, “Why sell what I delight in? I do not need money. If I had any I would shut it up in a box where no one would see it. But when my horses run over the plain everyone sees them and knows that they are mine and is reminded that I am rich” (Bureau, 1888, p. 71).
Cattle cannot, however, provide all the requisites for money. They set the standard of value, they are less often units of exchange, and never sufficiently portable or divisible.” (Quiggin 1949: 277). In many societies, cattle or oxen, then, appear to have been an important form of wealth, but also fundamentally important first as ceremonial or non-commercial money in social customs like marriage and blood money, and they also often had a religious character.

In African societies, for example, cattle and other goods were used for bride-price and fines (Quiggin 1949: 96, 99–100, 102) and were used in an abstract standard of value, but were not, generally speaking, an actual general medium of exchange:...MORE
HT: Mike Norman Economics

In 2013 we visited both Cambridge's Simon Taylor and the FT's Izabella Kaminska in "The Political Economy of Cows: Udder Peoples Money".

In 2014 it was "What's Moooving: Cows as Safe Assets" where Alphaville's David Keohane made an appearance.

Finally, the reaction of the Maasai people to the news of the September 11, 2001 mass murders in the U.S.:
To the Masai People on the Anniversary of 9/11: Thanks for the Cows