Towards a commodity theory of token money: on 'Gold standard thinking in a fiat currency world'

Chris Vasantkumar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Via a discussion of public debates surrounding the potential minting of a trillion dollar platinum coin in the context of the American debt ceiling crises of 2011 and 2013, this essay seeks to make sense of the popular persistence of ‘commodity’ or ‘metallist’ understandings of money's value in the face of a scholarly consensus that all currency is ‘token’ or ‘fiat’ in nature. Scholars from Knapp to Desan have elaborated token theories of commodity money, wherein both precious and non-precious currencies are treated as the products of social construction. By contrast, I suggest the need to supplement such approaches with what I term a commodity theory of token money, wherein money objects made from both precious and non-precious materials are treated as inherently valuable. Exploring the semiotic convergence between gold, Bitcoin and modern paper money, I suggest that the broadly Peircean notion of rhematization in which symbol and indexical signs are (mis)taken for iconic ones is particularly suited to unpack the continuing social salience of commodity theories of money across the gold/paper divide. Moreover attention must be paid to how we define the icon itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-335
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Cultural Economy
Issue number4
Early online date18 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Bitcoin
  • gold
  • money
  • Peirce
  • rhematization


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