The Magic of Money and the Magic of the State: Fast Money Schemes in Papua New Guinea



As Keith Hart (1986) articulated in his neat phrase ‘two sides of the coin’, money and the state are inextricably intertwined. However, academic discussions of the state tend to fall under the heading of ‘governance’, with implicit reference to democratic ideals, while money is regarded as ‘economics’, a field dominated by ideas of the market. In this paper, I use material from U-Vistract, a mass Ponzi scam to show how quasi-magical ideas of money and wealth have grown out of the disillusioning experience of the state in its failure to deliver ‘development’. These imaginings of prosperity entail a different kind of state, based on the moral reform of Christian citizens and political leaders and the reorientation of the banking system to deliver benefits to ordinary people. As the Royal Kingdom of Papala, U-Vistract sought to be seen to be like a Christian state and so deceived its investors into thinking that they were participating in a moral project that would allow them to redress the short-comings of the Papua New Guinean state. As the scam took on the appearance of the state, so the state came to be seen as a scam.