Hastings Business Law Journal


John J. Chung


The title of this paper is a nod to Simulacra and Simulation by post-modernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard. This paper explores the meaning and nature of money, and the form in which money exists today. The author begins by asking such basic questions as "what is money" and explores the history and development of money. We live in a world of increasingly transient and stunning wealth, a world where billionaires are as common as millionaires once were, where fortunes are gained and lost overnight, and of inexplicable wealth inequality. The author contends that the current state exists because money is a pure simulacrum that has taken on a reality of its own, unfettered by the forgotten principle that money's significance was once limited to the role of a symbol of an underlying thing of value. Money has now become a thing in and of itself, with value, existence and purpose that is independent of any material value. When money became released from its role as symbol, the foundation was laid for the world we live in today. However, this new economic reality should not come as much of a surprise. The Supreme Court's landmark decisions in the Legal Tender Cases of the last half of the nineteenth 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 1970s. The Legal Tender cases were at one time viewed as perhaps the most important cases decided by the Court, but have faded into obscurity as questions of the nature of money came to be viewed as pointless or long-settled. However, the author contends that the recent unprecedented collapse of the financial markets may lead scholars to again start asking questions about the foundational principles upon which our economy rests.