Neal Stephenson on Money

I still haven't been able to finish Quicksilver but its sequel The Confusion is already out. Neal Stephenson has an interview with Wired News in which he talks about his latest novel and its focus on markets. One of the reasons he is one of my favorite authors is that he often explores issues surrounding the nature of money and its function, and how technology can change the way we think about money. From what I have seen, most readers overlook this aspect of his work. An excerpt from the interview:

WN: In a central scene in The Confusion, the entrepreneurial heroine, Eliza, conducts a lengthy parlor game among idle rich Frenchmen and women of Versailles to explain how they can transfer silver safely across the English Channel using a bill of exchange. Did you think your readers also needed the concept explained in detail?

Stephenson: This passage is admittedly an expository one, but it's meant to work on a couple of levels. Partly there is a need to acquaint readers of the book with the basic principles of a bill of exchange. But what's much more alien to modern readers, I think, is the notion that the upper crust of that society tried to avoid having anything to do with commerce.

Bills of exchange weren't a new concept. They had been around for centuries at the time the book takes place. They were the basis for the medieval economy and the rise of the Italian banking houses. It is, however, a new concept to the nobles to whom Eliza's explaining it, because according to the code of behavior of the noble class, they're not allowed to dirty their hands with commerce.

Another example of Stephenson's fascination with technology and money is his attempt to show one possible method of introducing "E-money" into an economy. Austrian economists have long made the claim that it is extraordinarily difficult to introduce a new medium of exchange into an economy. Instead money naturally arises as the most saleable commodity used for trade. This is one of the major roadblocks (among several) of introducing private, truly anonymous digital cash into an economy. Stephenson once wrote a short story called "The Great Simolean Caper" which attempts show a solution around this difficulty.

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After the second reading, my

After the second reading, my favorite aspect of Stephenson's _Snow Crash_ became its depiction of an essentially anarcho-capitalist world. The USA of _Snow Crash_'s future has:
- competing de-centralized, non-territorial governments
- competing private road systems
- competing private police forces
- apparently no law whatsoever governing what consensual economic activity people may engage in
And things work out more or less like anarcho-capitalists predict! Not that a fictional depiction is some kind of proof-of-concept vindication or anything, but seeing the ideas played out in such a vivid story does give one hope.