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 hour—to 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.)