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A Chartalist Critique of John Locke's Theory of Property, Accumulation, and Money: or, is it Moral to Trade Your Nuts for Gold?


  • Stephanie Bell
  • John Henry
  • L Randall Wray


The focus of this paper is John Locke's theoretical defense of economic inequality. It is well known that Locke identified labor as the original and just foundation of property. Succinctly, Locke's was a labor theory of property. Now, while Locke saw private property as legitimate, he proposed that the state of nature within which people interact is part of a social system that is regulated by distinct rules that limit accumulation. There is nothing in Locke's initial argument that allows for unbounded accumulation and consequent inequality. The justification for unbridled accumulation comes later, and rests squarely on Locke's treatment of money as a non-exploitive institution. For Locke, money allows unlimited accumulation while still adhering to the rules he established to govern morally correct behavior. In this paper, we challenge Locke's position by contrasting his exchange-based view of money with the debt-based or Chartalist theory of money. We demonstrate that when money is properly conceived, Locke's own moral strictures regarding property are violated, and his theoretical defense of the accumulation process is undermined.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephanie Bell & John Henry & L Randall Wray, 2004. "A Chartalist Critique of John Locke's Theory of Property, Accumulation, and Money: or, is it Moral to Trade Your Nuts for Gold?," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 62(1), pages 51-65.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rsocec:v:62:y:2004:i:1:p:51-65
    DOI: 10.1080/0034676042000183826

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Stephanie Bell & John Henry, 2001. "Hospitality versus Exchange: The Limits of Monetary Economies," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 59(2), pages 203-226.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alla Semenova & L. Randall Wray, 2015. "The Rise of Money and Class Society: The Contributions of John F. Henry," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_832, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. L. Randall Wray, 2012. "Introduction to an Alternative History of Money," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_717, Levy Economics Institute.
    3. L. Randall Wray, 2008. "Banking, Finance and Money: A Social Economics Approach," Chapters, in: John B. Davis & Wilfred Dolfsma (ed.),The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, chapter 27, Edward Elgar Publishing.


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