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Here the multiplicity and concentration of economic exchange gives an importance to the means of exchange  which the scantiness of rural commerce would not have allowed. Money economy and the dominance of the…
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Georg Simmel: The Metropolis and Mental Life. The metropolis has always been the seat of the money economy. Here themultiplicity and concentration of economic exchange gives an importance to the means of exchange  which the scantiness of rural commerce would not have allowed. Money economy and the dominance of the intellect are intrinsically connected. They share a matter-of-fact attitude in dealing with men and with things; and, in this attitude, a formal justice is often coupled with an inconsiderate hardness. The intellectually sophisticated person is indifferent to all genuine individuality, because relationships and reactions result from it which cannot be exhausted with logical operations. In the same manner, the individuality of phenomena is not commensurate with the pecuniary  principle. Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it asks for the exchange value, it reduces all quality and individuality to the question: How much? All intimate emotional relations between persons are founded in their individuality, whereas in rational relations man is reckoned with like a number,like an element which is in itself indifferent. Only the objective measurable achievement is of interest. Thus metropolitan man reckons with his merchants and customers, his domestic servants and often even with persons with whom he is obliged to have social intercourse. These features of intellectuality contrast with the nature of the small circle in which the inevitable knowledge of individuality as inevitably produces a warmer tone of behavior, a behavior which is beyond a mere objective balancing of service and return. In the sphere of the economic psychology of the small group it is of importance that under primitive conditions production serves the customer who orders the good, so that the producer and the consumer are acquainted. The modern metropolis, however, is supplied almost entirely by production for the market, that is, for entirely unknown purchasers who never personally enter the producers actual field of vision. Through this anonymity the interests of each party acquire an unmerciful matter-of-factness; and the intellectually calculating economic egoisms of both parties need not fear any deflection because of the imponderables of personal relationships. The money economy  dominates the metropolis; it has displaced the last survivals of domestic production and the direct barter of goods; it minimizes, from day to day, the amount of work ordered by customers. The matter-of-fact attitude is obviously so intimately interrelated with the money economy, which is dominant in the metropolis, that nobody can say whether the intellectualistic mentality first promoted the money economy or whether the latter determined the former. The metropolitan way of life is certainly the most fertile soil for this reciprocity, a point which I shall document merely by citing the dictum of the most eminent English constitutional historian: throughout the whole course of English history, London has never acted as Englands heart but often as Englands intellect and always as her moneybag!
Georg Simmel’s essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” written in 1903, continues to be relevant today: particularly in his description of the ‘money economy’ which prevails in the city. The metropolitan emphasis on commercial transactions alters interpersonal relationships, and reduces them to an impersonal plane. Simmel states that “intimate, emotional relationships” are transformed into the “mere objective balancing of service and return.” The very nature of human discourse is altered from the subjective to the objective, based on monetary transactions. Simmel goes on to say that metropolitan life makes man more practical and calculating, reduces inter-human contacts, and mandates time-bound activity. The metropolitan man perceives everything through the lens of monetary value: “Money becomes the common denominator of all values” (178). Simmel’s observations on the monetary economy which governs a metropolis hold good even today. Commercialism remains the chief motive of city life. The fact that the producers of goods, and the consumer, remain unacquainted remains true. The contemporary movement, based on environmental conservation, to change this facet of metropolitan life, and bring consumers in direct contact with the producers, in the form of farmer’s markets and locally manufactured goods, may be seen as a movement to bring back the personal relationship into life. However, although Simmel declares that “The intellectually sophisticated person is indifferent to all genuine individuality,” he goes on to admit “the evolution of individuality within urban life” (180), and agrees that the city life gives the individual the freedom to be different.  Simmel’s description of the metropolis of the early twentieth century is very similar to the twenty-first century city, with its contradictions of individual freedom, adherence to rules and punctuality, focus on commercialism, and the desensitization of interpersonal relationships. Read More
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