Money and Exchange II: Purchasing
The original bond of an obligation among people was based on needing to rely on one another directly, and it entailed being bound to each other in the literal sense. This obligation required them to exchange gifts. The gifts had nothing to do with an exchange as we know it from money, and yet there are historical lines of connection along which they also finally led to our money. The purchase, indeed, the form of the exchange that is characteristic for our money, knows nothing of that original obligation. The purchase replaces it – and thus destroys it.
Once paid, the obligation between the seller and the buyer is over
The exchange for money, the purchase, replaces people's all-embracing sense of obligation with just one single obligation: paying someone money for something. This one obligation is exclusively between the two parties, between buyer and seller. And it relates only and exclusively to the change in ownership between these two: Money and merchandise respectively change from being the possession of one to being the possession of the other. Once this exchange and interchange are completed, any obligation between them is dissolved and ended. The purchase is thus both obligatory liquidation and liquidation of any obligation in one: it changes the purchased goods, as obliged, into liquidity, transforming it into that liquid medium, the universal medium of exchange, money; and precisely in doing that, it terminates the obligation which only existed in this transformation. The purchase dissolves the obligation at the very moment that it is redeemed. Once paid, the obligation between the seller and the buyer is over: The exchange for money liquidated it.
The kind of obligation that binds people through money is thus highly abstract
The kind of obligation that binds people through money – and today that means the obligation of people for money – is thus highly abstract. The consequences, however, are anything but abstract, precisely, because they negate any further obligation: who hires others has to look out for his own profits. Who sells weapons, profits from it. Who pays for it can poison the world.