A review of the new book Coined from the New York Times includes some fighting words for numismatists. -Editor
“Nothing had an effect on people like money,” recalled a Stanford neuroscientist who once experimented with scanning people’s brain
activity while they played high-stakes financial games. “Not naked bodies, not corpses. It got people riled up. Like food provides
motivation for dogs, money provides it for people.”
When it comes to money, we are basically animals. This is something we may know in our hearts, but it’s still shocking to see it made
manifest in real life, as Kabir Sehgal did while working at J. P. Morgan in 2008. When the market crashed, revealing the supposedly
complex system to be little more than a series of rusty pulleys and weights, it “exploded my perception of money,” Sehgal writes. “I was
alarmed with the damage wrought by the financial crisis, and I had difficulty grasping how it could have happened in the first place. I
rode the No. 6 train and saw grown men crying while they carried cardboard boxes of office supplies. I remember watching on television the
misery in the eyes of Americans who had lost their homes.” The shock of the experience prompted Sehgal to embark on a quest to “understand
money,” its origins, history and why it makes us behave the way we do.
This is an ambitious endeavor, one that crosses into multiple disciplines and has been taken on by greater scholars than a J. P.
Morgan vice president (Sehgal was promoted after the crisis). John Maynard Keynes even had a name for this particular brand of intellectual
treasure hunting — “Babylonian madness” — coined after he became “absorbed to the point of frenzy” trying to pin down the origins of
currency in Asia. (And researching monetary history was his full-time gig!).
Dave Ginsburg writes:
This Sunday’s issue of The New York Times’ Book Review is a “special issue” devoted to “The Secret Life of Money,” among which
is a review of a book titled Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us by Kabir Sehgal. The review, written
by a woman who suffers the misfortune of being a “contributing editor” at New York magazine, includes these comments: “. . .in the
latter half of the book, where he introduces a gang of numismatists – coin collectors – whose hobby in the social food chain probably
ranks somewhere below gold bugs and just above Civil War re-enactors. Sehgal is respectful, even affectionate toward these oddballs. He
understands, and perhaps identifies with their mission – to understand history, and human beings, by looking closely at their money.”
Joel Orosz writes:
Ouch! We've been served. Our hobby's image clearly nears to be burnished.
Perhaps it is time for the networks to do for oddball numismatists what they've done for oddball nuclear physicists with The
Big Bang Theory. How about a sitcom called The MS-70 Theory?
She called us oddballs! It's mostly true, of course, but she should have been more tactful! As I pointed out to my wife, "It
could be worse--you could be married to a Civil War re-enactor!
To read the complete article, see:
‘Coined,’ by Kabir Sehgal
Wayne Homren, Editor
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