Lapham’s Quarterly Spring 2008: About Money, partial review one

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts reviewing or referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]


Money.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  The currency of modern day survival?  I would be hard-pressed post-apocalypse to snare, skin, cook, and eat a rabbit but I have money to buy bread.  Of course post-apoc the money might be worthless and no one might be making bread.  Hmm.

“Money, not morality, is the principle of commercial nations.” – Thomas Jefferson (inside cover facing page)

This is going to be interesting. About Money is the second issue of L.Q. ever published. The Table of Contents lists FIVE sections in the main body Voices In Time. Since I started reading L.Q. with the Fall 2011: The Future edition there have almost always been three sections in Voices in Time.

The five are:
Exchange Rates

The length is still the standard 221 pages, with Essays and Departments at the last.

The Contents authors are the usual (?!) Who’s Who of writing throughout the ages. A few, in order of appearance: Karl Marx, Aristophanes, Marshall McLuhan, Lord Byron, Hammurabi, Mark Twain, Adam Smith, John Ruskin (Ruskin! “…letter by letter…”), Shakespeare, and Charlamagne. These are just in the Exchange Rates section. Favorites Ayn Rand, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dorothy Parker appear later, not to mention Henry Ford, Aesop, Marco Polo, John Updike, Virginia Woolf, Pliny the Elder, Andrew Carnegie, and, and… just everyone!

See all Contents titles here: . The highlighted items are FREE links.


The Contents are followed by a single page reference listing of Art, Photography, and Illustrations which are liberally reproduced throughout the 7″ x 10″ x 9/16″ (every issue) soft-cover high-quality-bond papered publication.

After that is Among the Contributors, a couple of pages of short paragraphs and pictures on a handful (17 here) of the authors.  The item on Jane Austen is particularly poetic, perhaps written by editor Lewis Lapham’s own hand as his Preamble introductions to each issue, to follow shortly, are always grandiloquent in the nicest sense:

“Her [Jane Austen] now famous novels she originally published anonymously, hiding the blade of her satirical sensibility in the lace sleeve of comic romance.” (p. 8)

Should I insert my cut and paste review portions that apply to every issue of Lapham’s Quarterly I have read to date?

1. ‘Lapham’s Quarterly is the finest publication I read.  One could spend a decent college semester studying a mere handful of the 75+ literary extracts and authors in each issue.  I feel my reviews are woefully inadequate.’

2. ‘Each quarter per annum editor Lewis H. Lapham and his staff collect thoughts on a particular theme from the span of written history.’

3. ‘In L.Q. I am exposed to the great minds of time immemorial without having to read the complete works of each, such is the state of the modern lackadaisical non-classical education.’

I rest my case.  On with the show.  A two-page map of the world with theme references follows Contributors.  This one is microscopic, you’ll need a magnifying glass.  The references are odd and include Cocaine Trade, Atlantic Slave Trade, Silk Road, and Currency Trade, among other items.  Where is my magnifier?  I know I have one to inspect each word, letter by letter, a la Ruskin.

Lewis Lapham’s Preamble introductory essay for this issue is titled Holy Dread.  Fear? Does he mean fear of money?  He is always equally eloquent and biting:

“Although I know that it ill becomes a true American to find fault with the dream of riches that wins presidential elections and waters the deserts of California, I also know that the accumulation of too many converts to “the world’s leading religion” (like the too abundant concentration of methane gas released by the livestock in the nation’s feed lots) sucks the oxygen out of the atmosphere and wilts the roses.  Transfer to money the properties of mind and spirit for which it often stands as surrogate–the freedoms of thought, the play of the imagination, the consolations of philosophy–and sooner or later it comes to pass that instead of the people owning the money, the money owns the people.” (p. 14)

No doubt money or its use seems to consume us in Western Civilization.  I venture that many of the least income successful among us has a car and fights the crowds at Black Friday shopping day after Thanksgiving for that low-priced bigger-screen TV.  Yes, some forego a car and use public transport.  When working in England I was amazed at the number of 30- and 40-somethings I met that didn’t have a car or even a drivers license.  I respect them for their wisdom and trepidation.

But ‘…the money owns the people’?  For some, even many perhaps.  Segue directly to the 10th writing/extract (p. 38) in Exchange Rates.  Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” but Jean-Paul Sartre is essentially saying ‘I possess therefore I am what I possess’.  Au contraire mon frere Frenchman.  I for one am not the chair or car I possess or the mountain that I climb.  I won’t disagree that money can be obsessive.  Perhaps it defines us in the eyes and minds of others to some extent.  I say it is not the essence of my being, though it often has my attention.  I like surviving.

We should know by now that money is not the root of all evil.  “For the love of money is the root of all evil:” (1 Timothy 6:10, King James Version (KJV)).  (Italics added.)  Though this issue contains an extract from Ayn Rand (“taking from the thieving poor and giving to the productive rich”, Ragner to Hank in Atlas Shrugged) I think her Atlas dissertation on the root of money would have been more informative:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia.  “Have you ever asked what is the root of money?  Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”  (Atlas Shrugged, p. 410, 35th anniv. edition.)  It goes on for several outstanding pages.

I digress.


But wait!  There it is in this issue.  Radix malorum est cupiditas.  (…”greed is the root of evils”(or, in sentence order, the root of evil is greed).) [Wiki] Chaucer, c. 1390. (p. 65)

I alway find myself on side journeys of research.  Translations of Chaucer vary but the original Middle English is intriguing.

L.Q. p. 65, translation by Nevill Coghill:

“My lords,” he said, “in churches where I preach
I cultivate a haughty kind of speed
And ring it out as roundly as a bell:
I’ve got it all by heart, the tale I tell.
I have a text, it always is the same
And always has been, since I learnt the game,
Old as the hills and fresher than the grass,
Radix malorum est cupiditas.

In the original and with another Coghill translation: 043-048: The theme of the Pardoner:

“Lordynges,” quod he, “in chirches whan I preche,
I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche,
(45) And rynge it out as round as gooth a belle,
For I kan al by rote that I telle.
My theme is alwey oon and evere was –
‘Radix malorum est Cupiditas.’

“Dear lords,” said he, “in churches, when I preach,
I am at pains that all shall hear my speech,
(45) And ring it out as roundly as a bell,
For I know all by heart the thing I tell.
My theme is always one, and ever was:
‘Radix malorum est cupiditas.’

Why Coghill inserted the seemingly extra 2 lines is for the archaeologists to determine:

And always has been, since I learnt the game,
Old as the hills and fresher than the grass,


Speaking of side journeys, what about that Henry Ford?! Very wise words of economic wisdom. This one is free online for you non-subscribers. (FREE!) READ THIS ONE.  A few lengthy excerpts from L.Q. pp. 68-70:

“A group of men of speculative turn of mind organized, as soon as I left the electric company, the Detroit Automobile Company to exploit my car. I was the chief engineer and held a small amount of the stock. For three years we continued making cars more or less on the model of my first car. We sold very few of them; I could get no support at all toward making better cars to be sold to the public at large. The whole thought was to make to order and to get the largest price possible for each car. The main idea seemed to be to get the money. And being without authority other than my engineering position gave me, I found that the new company was not a vehicle for realizing my ideas but merely a money-making concern—that did not make much money. In March 1902, I resigned, determined never again to put myself under orders.”

“The most surprising feature of business as it was conducted was the large attention given to finance and the small attention to service. That seemed to me to be reversing the natural process, which is that the money should come as the result of work and not before the work. The second feature was the general indifference to better methods of manufacture as long as whatever was done got by and took the money. In other words, an article apparently was not built with reference to how greatly it could serve the public but with reference solely to how much money could be had for it—and that without any particular care whether the customer was satisfied. To sell him was enough.”

“The automobile business was not on what I would call an honest basis, to say nothing of being, from a manufacturing standpoint, on a scientific basis, but it was no worse than business in general. That was the period, it may be remembered, in which many corporations were being floated and financed. The bankers, who before then had confined themselves to the railroads, got into industry. My idea was then and still is that if a man did his work well, the price he would get for that work—the profits and all financial matters—would care for themselves and that a business ought to start small and build itself up and out of its earnings. If there are no earnings, then that is a signal to the owner that he is wasting his time and does not belong in that business. I have never found it necessary to change those ideas, but I discovered that this simple formula of doing good work and getting paid for it was supposed to be slow for modern business.”

“I determined absolutely that never would I join a company in which finance came before the work or in which bankers or financiers had a part. And further that, if there were no way to get started in the kind of business that I thought could be managed in the interest of the public, then I simply would not get started at all. For my own short experience, together with what I saw going on around me, was quite enough proof that business as a mere money-making game was not worth giving much thought to and was distinctly no place for a man who wanted to accomplish anything. Also it did not seem to me to be the way to make money. I have yet to have it demonstrated that it is the way. For the only foundation of real business is service.”

But the author notes at the end.  Ah, there lies the rub.  “In Adolf Hitler’s office during the last years of World War II, a photograph of Henry Ford decorated the wall. The Führer admired the architect of the Model T for his invention of the assembly line and endorsed the anti-Semitic theory promulgated in Ford’s newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.”

Hitler aside, Henry Ford is anti-Semitic?!?!  How someone so economy savvy could be that way is surprising to me in this modern day and age, but that was a different time I suppose.  Google is your friend and Wikipedia has a concise documentation of the subject.  Shame Henry, shame.

As usual I’m writing, or copying, a book while discussing Lapham’s Quarterly.  I can’t leave without a few words on a favorite, Ayn Rand.  (Reading L.Q. one acquires quite a few favorites, but A.R. was one before L.Q.)  I noted earlier that I thought her dissertation on the value of money would have been highly informative in this issue.  Instead L.Q. chose an extract from Atlas Shrugged about, essentially, counteracting the taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need.  (That last bit coined by Louis Blanc and popularized by Karl Marx.  (Wiki.)

L.Q. titles the extract (pp. 61-63) Ayn Rand Endorses Piracy, which I think gives it a negative aspect before you even read it.  The piece is not without merit however.  Piracy and the possible use of violence is one issue IMO.  Some contend that Ayn Rand supported violent means when justified.  In Shrugged I believe Dagny Taggert shoots a guard who cannot make a choice.

Here Ragner says “I do not rob men who are tied and gagged; I do not demand that my victims help me, I do not tell them that I am acting for their own good.”

More to the point I think, Ragner says “I’m… the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”

“…I have never robbed a private ship and never taken any private property.  Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel–because the purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the proper function of a government.”

“I seized the boats that sailed under the flag of the idea which I am fighting: the idea that need is a sacred idol requiring human sacrifices–that the need of some men is the knife of a guillotine hanging over others…”

“This is the horror which Robin Hood immortalized as an ideal of righteousness.”

“He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, has demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors at the price of robbing his superiors.”

“And this has brought us to a world where the more a man produces the closer he comes to the loss of all his rights, until, if his ability is great enough, he becomes a rightness creature delivered as a prey to any claimant–while in order to be placed above rights, above principles, above morality… …all a man has to do is to be in need.”

Merit indeed.  While you are at it, read Atlas Shrugged, all 1100 pages, carefully.  Then read Essays On Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (ed. Mayhew) to help understand what you have read.

“It will be a great mistake for the community to shoot the millionaires, for they are the bees that make the most honey, and contribute the most to the hive even after they have gorged themselves full. –Andrew Carnegie, 1902”  (p. 36)

There I go, digressing again.  It’s a favorite pastime, as is reading Lapham’s Quarterly.  I’ve only read one-third of this issue but I think it is going to be a favorite.  Enjoy.

“The character which results from wealth is that of a prosperous fool.  –Aristotle, c. 322 BC”.  (p. 26)

“Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.  –J. Paul Getty”.  (p. 84)



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