American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Increasingly associated with economic irrationality and even outright psychological pathology, "hoarding" was once a term of art for social practices of storing economic value. As Peebles has shown, political economists and moral reformers in nineteenth-century Europe referred interchangeably to “hoards” and “reserves” backing new paper money systems. While revisiting this history allows us to situate hoarding practices at the heart of national currencies, the post-Bretton Woods trend towards what Hayek advocated as the “denationalization of money” invites historical reconsideration of monetary pluralism. This paper thus situates public debates over the legitimacy of foreign exchange controls in contemporary Argentina that negatively sanctioned private access to US dollars for purposes of atesoramiento—or hoarding—in broader historical perspective. By denouncing governmental prohibition on private hoarding as the cepo cambiario—the “exchange clamp”—Argentine liberals portrayed it as a form of torture originally deployed by the Spanish Inquisition. In doing so, they operationalized Hayek’s own condemnation of foreign exchange controls as excessive of the absolutist tyranny of centuries past. Prompted by the currency of this “Black Legend” of Spanish barbarism—a constitutive self-narrative of Anglophone liberalism—I suggest that shifting historical focus from nineteenth-century currency reforms to the pamphlet wars and legal reforms surrounding recoinage in late seventeenth-century England reveals a formative moment in the history of hoarding with surprising resonances in the present.