Posted by Morgan Caraway on 12/24/2018 to Opinion
“Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.” - Alanis Obomsawin
Most of us are raised in cultures where we are taught to value currency at a very young age. It’s one of the early, formative lessons—money is important. We might see our parents struggle to make ends meet or, conversely, see the comfort they enjoy by having more than enough. These lessons run deep and inform our sense of security, even as adults. We also see what happens to people who don’t have money—they are usually homeless, or vagabonds, eking out a meager existence by begging, digging through trash, or dumpster diving.
Modern economies are driven by money. Tribal cultures had strong social bonds and took care of the weak and the helpless. People traded for whatever else they needed, and items of value were directly exchanged. Around 3000 BC, the Mesopotamians came up with the shekel—a standardized unit of weight to measure and trade grain. Silver and gold coins, emblazoned with a lion head, were first minted around 600 BC by King Alyattes of the Lydians (now Turkey). Moneys printed with silver and gold are commodity money, meaning—they are generally considered valuable in themselves. Paper money originated in China during the Song dynasty. Marco Polo incredulously recounted how this money was created from mulberry tree bark in The Travels of Marco Polo. The Khan had the money printed and stamped with royal seals and let everyone know it was good for trading for anything, including gold. Paper money is representative currency, meaning, it doesn’t have value, in itself, but represents either a small amount of something generally considered precious, such as the gold standard, or the word of a government or other official agency as to its value (fiat currency). Most modern currencies don’t have a physical existence at all, this includes the money generated by fractional banking and cryptocurrencies.