Money as Simulacrum: The Legal Nature and Reality of Money

62 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2008 Last revised: 22 Sep 2015

See all articles by John J. Chung

John J. Chung

Roger Williams University School of Law

Date Written: June 5, 2008


The title of this paper is a nod to Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, a post-modernist philosopher. This paper explores the meaning and nature of money, and the form in which money exists today. It begins by asking such basic questions as what is money and explores the history and development of money. We live in a world of increasing and stunning wealth, a world where billionaires are as common as millionaires once were, and a world of increasing wealth inequality. This paper contends that such a world exists because money is a pure simulacrum that has taken on a reality of its own, a reality that is now untethered to the fact that money's significance used to be limited by its role as a symbol of an underlying thing of value. But money is now a pure thing in and of itself, with value, existence and purpose that is independent of any signified thing. When money became released from its role as symbol, the foundation was laid for the world we live in today. What does this have to do with law? Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court's landmark decisions in the Legal Tender Cases of the last half of the 19th century provided notice (or warning, depending on one's perspective) of the role of money today, and foreshadowed Baudrillard's analyses of money in the 1970's. These cases were at one time viewed as perhaps the most important cases decided by the Court, but have faded into obscurity as questions about the nature of money came to be viewed as pointless or long-settled. This paper contends, however, the ever-changing nature of the economic cycle may lead scholars to again start asking questions about first principles such as the nature of money. The purpose of this paper is to discuss money in its original conception, money as it exists now, and where the meaning and nature of money may be headed.

Keywords: legal history, money, monetary theory, post-modernism

Suggested Citation

Chung, John J., Money as Simulacrum: The Legal Nature and Reality of Money (June 5, 2008). Hastings Business Law Journal, Vol. 5, p. 109, 2009, Roger Williams Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 64, Available at SSRN:

John J. Chung (Contact Author)

Roger Williams University School of Law ( email )

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