Locke acted out the liberal logic. Money must be identified with a metal weight that was static and sanctified. That character would secure it from sovereign abuse, the figure of political power most salient under the circumstances. The answer changed the terms of the debate. Dramatically divorcing public from private, it overpowered opposing arguments and created a lasting reference point for modern debates on money and the market. Impressed by the dangers Locke exposed, Parliament designed the recoinage to meet his recommendations.
The results acted out another logic altogether. Silver and gold coin, the currency of centuries, had never circulated merely as metal, nor had the value of a penny ever amounted to the commodity it contained. Money was, in fact, a collectively orchestrated affair, a constant negotiation of public definition and private use that created liquidity. Locke's answer wreaked havoc with the English economy and visited particular burdens upon the poor. Its conceptual consequences were just as problematic, framing an emancipatory effort in a vocabulary that obscured the communally engineered character of exchange, interest, and property.
See more of: AHA Sessions