Monday, June 23, 2014

Review of Making Money by Terry Pratchett

The (Disc)world his oyster, Pratchett has the length and breadth of human existence to discuss in the great land traveling through space on the backs of elephants and a tortoise.  From time in Thief of Time to film in Moving Pictures, law in Truth to women’s rights in Equal Rites, religion in Small Gods to war in Jingo, seemingly no aspect of society and life is exempt from the getting ink from Pratchett’s pen.  Making no bones about it, the thirty-sixth Discworld novel Making Money announces its subject matter on the cover, and in turn tells the joke that our worldwide economic system has become.

Making Money is the continuation of Moist von Lipwig’s story.  The postal system now humming along, Patrician Vetinari attempts to use Lipwig’s criminal past to blackmail the Postmaster General into taking over the Ankh-Morpork Bank.  Unsuccessful, it takes the cleverness of an old lady to give him the responsibility for the ageing institution.  The remainder her family viciously upset at a stranger owning the majority of shares, Cosmo and Pucci Lavish, when not warring amongst themselves, aim to undermine Lipwig’s efforts at bringing the bank back to life.   Striking upon a revolutionary idea to accomplish this while daydreaming one day, only the Chief Clerk, one Mr. Bent, has any idea what Lipwig is about to unleash, and it may be something beyond anyone’s control. 

Selecting the moment in history when the value of money shifted from gold to… well, the reader will have to fill in their own replacement unit, Making Money is a cutting satire on the modern economic system and its virtual foundations.  Ignoring such aspects as investment banking, the stock market, international trade, etc., Pratchett hones in on the basic definition of money and what precisely defines its value in both the realist and a publically accepted/government promoted sense.  What he uncovers is a darkly comedic scene.

The conclusion of Making Money is thus more in line with a Vonnegut novel than most other Discworld novels.  Deeply cynical as to the state of the modern economic system, the symbolism is ripe.  From the sham of the courtroom inquiry to representations of what members of the banking community have become, Pratchett lets his opinion air in a form comedic from two perspectives: that innate to the scene and the meta-sense, summed up as:

    "Master, I protest.  Banking is not a game!"
    "Dear Mr. Bent, it is a game, and it's an old game called "What can we get away with?".'

Fully complementing the novel’s agenda are the sub-plots tying into Lipwig’s as he attempts to resurrect the ageing bank.  Hubert, the Igors, and their Glooper system in the basement of the bank are superb, as is the focus of Cosmo Lavish’s life and the ring which symbolizes it.  "They were indeed what was known as 'old money', which meant that it had been made so long ago that the black deeds which had originally filled the coffers were now historically irrelevant." Mr. Fusspot, a certain dog Lipwig inherits, likewise enhances the ‘showdown’ scene in a fashion that makes the farce all the grander.  Like a person walking through a thick forest, Pratchett patiently pushes aside one branch or bush after another, making a path for the reader to a subtle but biting denouement.

In the end, Making Money is both one of the Disc’s more overt and subtle offerings.  Pratchett making no bones about his stance on our world’s economic system, the main storyline and its conclusion are a less-than-obvious condemnation that requires patient tracking to grasp the significance of.  No shortage of trademark humor and laugh-out-loud slapstick moments, Making Money also possesses everything the reader has come to expect from Pratchett humor-wise.  It thus may be one of the later Discworld novels, but the man shows no sign of waning imagination.


  1. The Glooper was a real thing. A lecturer and a group of students at the London School of Economics decided to try building a hydraulic computer to literally model cash flow. It sort of worked, too, as long as you don't try to prod the analogy too far.

    1. Wow, I never knew. But it makes sense. Several words associated with business and economy have liminological implications. Liquidate, cash flow, resources, cash pool, erosion, etc.

    2. For his 1891 PhD thesis at Yale University, Irving Fisher designed a hydraulic apparatus to represent flows in the economy. It consisted of interlinked levers and floating cisterns of water to show how the prices of goods depend on the amount of each good supplied, the incomes of consumers, and how much they value each good. The whole apparatus stops moving when the water levels in the cisterns are the same as the level in the surrounding tank. When it comes to rest, the position of a partition in each cistern corresponds to the price of each good. For the next 25 years he would use the contraption to teach students how markets work.