What is Money and Where is it Going?
Our money says, “In God We Trust,” but do we trust the money? If it’s not backed by gold and silver anymore, what gives it value? What gives gold and silver value? In a world of virtual cryptocurrency and bitcoins, is value just a complicated algorithm? As we pay by credit card and automatic transfers from our bank accounts, why even have money? Is money sacred or the root of all evil? Is the dollar the world’s reserve currency only because everyone else’s money is more doubted? Can we live without money in any form? What’s the alternative if value isn’t weighed, measured, and parceled out?
The ancient Lydians in what is now Turkey are credited with creating the first coins. It made their king Croesus so wealthy he became the metaphor for “rich.” Why were pieces of metal supposed to have real value? In The Treasure of the Sierra Madre the lead prospector points out that gold is only useful for making jewelry. He says that the value of gold is “all the work that goes into finding it.” But why look for it in the first place? Why, when we say, “as good as gold,” do we assume we said something? Are gold and silver sacred? Shouldn’t iron be more sacred when so much more of value can be made from it? Does scarcity and use in making beautiful objects (and now perhaps electronic components) provide value? What if people had thought gold looked tacky? Is all value just what we arbitrarily agree it to be?
To Marxists and the classical economists who preceded them, was labor the measure of value? Are entrepreneurs thieves unless they work with their hands? What is valuable labor if a robot does the job better? In a post-industrial information economy is labor a meaningful term? If Communist economies mostly failed unless they reverted to capitalism, should we trust what Marx tells us? Is value now in computer codes and how many Facebook likes and Twitter (or is it now Instagram & TikTok?) followers we have? If we work hard and obey the rules, why do other people who don’t have so much more money? It’s sung that “All the gold in California is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name.” Has someone taken all our money before we could get it? Does the concept of fairness have any relation to the value of money?
We’re told our money is backed by our government and the economy of the United States. It’s also fiat money — which means we can be forced to accept it to settle what people owe us. But the federal government spends more each year than it takes in, and is financed by bonds that we hope investors (including those in countries hostile to us, like China) will buy. Does this “security” help us sleep at night? Is our economy like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of legend — dependent on mass illusion? We give merchants money made of paper, coins with zero precious metal content, and cards of plastic — and accept that this equals warm homes, nourishing meals, luxury transport, fine clothing, and jewels. How can this system possibly work? What makes our symbols worth useful goods and services?
Is money just a convenience to help us trade our hard work for stuff we need? (And what hard work is that? Who ranks our work as hard or not? The same ones who rank our work as worthwhile enough to be paid or not?) Is money a reflection of the society and government that tells us the dollar really is almighty? Do economic phenomena like inflation and recession make money worth less or more? How can we be paid much more than we were in the past and feel like we have less? Is the problem the few who have too much money? How do we get it away from them? If we didn’t have the rich or they stopped wanting more money, would the economy fall apart? If money is the measure of value, why are so many wealthy people unhappy and going to psychiatrists and why do some poor folks seem joyful? If the best things in life are free, why work at all? Is a digital bitcoin wallet less real than the wallet we have now? What makes cyber money valuable other than to tax-evaders and gamblers?
On Monday, February 21 from 7-9 PM via Zoom, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask about money, its future, and how we determine the value of anything. Our agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality may temper the bullish and bearish trends of our economic discussion, but if not, the final bell will still ultimately bring our trading ideas to a close for this session.
Zoom link: http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471