Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Money, What Is It?

It's real if we all pretend it's real.I have a theory about money in this age of financial services and valueless commodities which is essentially that there is one big pile of money on the table and the people who are in charge of things let you move the pile around. Sometimes it stops in front of you for a bit before you pass the pile on to someone else. If you're lucky a couple of coins fall into your lap for you to keep, but mostly you push the pile to the next person. For a while the memory of the money in front of you keeps you warm and happy, and when that finally burns off you look at whoever the money is in front of right then and wonder why they have it and when it is coming back to you. Your desire to get the money back or your envy of whoever has the money at that moment keeps you from realizing that you are actually seated below a much bigger table, where a much larger pile of money is being passed around, and the money you're playing with is the coins that have fallen down from there. The people who are in charge of your table couldn't even get a seat at the table up top. Up at the larger table they understand that, for the most part, the money is fake and they've only got the use of it for so long, but even they are so captivated by the warm feeling they get from it that the will do anything to stay at that table and keep the people down below from moving up. They know that it is ethereal, that it is based on fakery and willful self-delusion, but they also understand that so long as everyone believes in it they can keep the warmth wrapped around them all the time and even pass it along to their children. Like so many of my theories this idea is simplistic and flawed, but, on the other hand, it is hard to read something like this and convince yourself that we live in a world where things actually make sense.

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Reposted from my blog,

One of the subjects of This American Life was a small island in the South Pacific called Yap, which uses what are called Rai stones as money. Rai stones look like beads, except for their immense size: generally a foot and a half thick, ten feet in diameter, weighing in around four metric tons (with a hole through the middle, as if some giant was going to make a necklace out of them). Not exactly pocket change. These stones are generally used as dowry money, or ransom (after a battle, you'd want the bodies of your relatives returned, so you'd pay with a Rai stone and the body would be yours to bury or burn). And remember, there is no easy way to transport a Rai stone. So wherever they are, that's where they stay, no matter who owns them. Including the one sitting at the bottom of the sea floor that fell off its creator's canoe. for the original post.

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