Starting with F.B. Steiner’s Notes on Comparative Economics and Paul Bohannan’s Study of Tiv Exchange Spheres, non-modern money has been dissected and classified according to different spheres of exchange, esp. via micro-levels referring to (a.) subsistence or food exchange, (b.) the exchange of goods and artifacts, and (c.) of prestige goods and personal privileges. The terminology has been notoriously unstable, f.i. concerning the question how to describe the acquisition of prestige goods and personal privileges in non-modern societies: Are they sold and bought? Are they shared or enacted on behalf of ancestors and unborn inheritors? Are they given as gifts? Are they „bundled“ temporarily and remain parts of separate privileges? Different observers have found differing descriptions, f.i in describing the formidable paradigm of Northwest Coast Potlatch. And if the tokens exchanged are called „money“, they partake in the indeterminacy of the basic vocabulary, which probably cannot be resolved categorically, because only an ethnographic description may clarify the moods or even „the spirit” of the transactions involved. But at least the trichotomy of Steiner’s and Bohannan’s exchange spheres has been proven to be fruitful for all kinds of societies, and even uncannily corresponds to Braudel’s equally famous trias of macroscopic exchange spheres: (a.) subsistence, (b.) markets, and (c.) capitalism and the anti-market.
What’s the motor of long-distance entanglements and intercontinental trade since the Bronze Age? The exchange between local staples and exotic artifacts, the translations of subsistence, artifacts and the privileges of prestige goods. The market never ruled the lowest and the highest ends of economic activities, neither the sharing of food nor the prestige of capital-building, warfare and kingship. Thus, if we translate the „micro“-aspects of exchange spheres and the „macro“-layering of Braudel’s economic levels, the pre-history of capitalism and capital-hoarding can be organized around a cluster of perennial topics, and they extend all the way from the Bronze Age to the end of „Archaic Globalization“ (as defined by C.A. Bayly) in the long 19th century. Modern financial capitalism and the creative destruction of its financial products appear as the logical sequence of the long interplay and conflict between markets and anti-markets, and we may expect current technological controversies about money technologies about money technologies to be impregnated by the archaic conflict and class-struggle of markets and anti-markets, too. The turbulence around cryptocurrencies will be no exception.