Money: it’s something all of us want more of and most of us need to survive in this world, but what exactly is it? I was thinking about this the other day and I came to the inescapable conclusion that money is imaginary. It is a societally-agreed upon concept and really not much more.

Yeah, I understand back in times past it was bits of precious metal exchanged for goods and services, but now it’s just nothing more than our collective belief and faith in slips of paper and increasingly, simply numbers floating through cyberspace.

Think about that for a minute. I don’t know about any of you out there, but for me with the advent of almost universal direct-deposit years ago, money doesn’t even physically change hands any more. I remember back in the 80s when I first started working, having to stand in line at a bank—during my lunch hourto either cash out or deposit a physical paper check. Granted, direct deposit was—and remains—a godsend on so many levels. No more waiting in line behind retired seniors who apparently have no other time during their day except during the lunch hour to go to a bank, and the money itself—er, the numbers are there immediately to be used as you wish. But there’s nothing physically there. I don’t even have printed checks for my current account now. Everything is done electronically.

The entire world economy is now built and running on these electronic numbers—and only because we have all agreed that they mean something. As an avid sci-fi enthusiast, I always chuckle when terms like “galactic credits” or whatnot are brought up because the concept sounds so ridiculous. But seriously, how is our money really any different?

Is there really enough precious metal stockpiled by the world governments to backup all these pretty, multicolored slips of paper and glowing numbers appearing on millions of display screens? And even if there is, why is precious metal precious in the first place—beyond it’s relative scarcity in the scheme of things—and why have we assigned an arbitrary value to it?

If gold—which supposedly guarantees the worth of all those numbers and all that paper—could be synthesized by the ton tomorrow, would the economy collapse? If gold—or any other precious metal—suddenly became worthless, then what?

This reminds me of an episode of the old Twilight Zone series where a group of bank robbers pull of the perfect heist, stealing a million dollars worth of gold bars and then putting themselves into suspended hibernation in a cave to elude capture. Upon awakening from their deep sleep, they enter a world where gold is now manufactured by the ton and their heist is worthless.

Have I taken the red pill? (Or is it the blue one? I haven’t seen The Matrix enough times to remember.)

2 thoughts on “Money”

  1. Money has always been a concept. Sometimes people forget this and focus on the physical representation or the large numbers in their account, and all the things they could theoretically do with that money. But in the end, it’s just a concept.

    It’s a very convenient concept, though. Personally I don’t want to return to the time when Bob had to trade his Cow’s Milk to Susan for her Chicken’s Eggs just to trade that to Joe for his Wheat and then trade some of that to Jane to mill it and then finally trade flour to Roger for a new Shirt just because Roger didn’t have any use for Bob’s Cow’s Milk.

    Instead we take Money, in whatever form, and agree to trade that so each person can get what they want directly from the person who has it without figuring out what that person really wants. The actual value of the money fluctuates based on what each person in the system thinks their product is worth.

    Sensible people may base that on how much effort is involved in the production of their good, but sometimes people decide their good or service is so rare they can charge anything they want for it, and sometimes people don’t educate themselves to multiple methods of getting a good so they feel they have to pay whatever is being charged. Thus there’s always a variation in pricing. The internet has done a great job of equalizing that, though. The invention of faster and cheaper transportation methods for goods and raw materials, all the way up to teleportation or replication, will equalize the equations even more.

    Eventually we’ll get to a society that no longer has to work to get the basic goods. Our current society isn’t prepared for the idea of a money-less world so there will be some change and societal unrest when we get closer to that ideal.

  2. Money is definitely imaginary: instead of bartering for goods and services directly with what we have to trade/offer, we have come up with the concept of money that had an ascribed value that we use in place of direct trade as it once was.

    I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live under “Star Trek” economics. But looking at it as we can see them, most services rendered are done for trade of labor: you do your job, and in return you get services. Albeit for the “common good” and not the individual.

    I’m not sure where I was going with this comment now….

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