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The Color of Money and the Nature of Value: Greenbacks and Gold in Postbellum America

Bruce G. Carruthers and Sarah Babb
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 101, No. 6 (May, 1996), pp. 1556-1591
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2782112
Page Count: 36
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The Color of Money and the Nature of Value: Greenbacks and Gold in Postbellum America
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Abstract

Money measures value in market economies. Money's own value is socially constructed since people attribute worth to a medium whose physical characteristics are essentially irrelevant to its monetary role. Money works best when it can be taken for granted and its social construction is hidden. During the greenback era, two monetary alternatives (gold-based money and paper money) were debated, which raised many questions about the nature of monetary value. Using a "macrocultural" approach, we analyze the rethoric of greenbacker and bullionist writings to study the social construction and deconstruction of a taken-for-granted institution.

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