The idea of money has evolved over thousands of years; beginning with the simple process of bartering goods between merchants, and now to the belief that dollars, cents, francs, and euros have an identifiable worth to them. I have sometimes questioned how our dollar bills came to be and how we announce their worth. “Money, in and of itself, is nothing. It can be a shell, a metal coin, or a piece of paper with a historic image on it, but the value that people place on it has nothing to do with the physical value of the money” (Beattie). We can all walk into a store with a few pieces of paper and buy an item that does not exceed the amount we have in our pockets. But we do this without ever wondering who says that what we have is worth what we think it is. There does not seem to be anything to gain from questioning the idea of money, we simply go on about our days and carry the bills we believe have worth attached to them. It is interesting, however, to trace our beginnings and see how far we have come, and see how we have actually become rather lazy with our wealth. From trading goods, to exchanging metals of value for products, to developing paper money that everyone in the world believes has worth, just because we have some people in positions of power that say what is actually worth a certain amount.
An interesting take on the beginning of our seemingly irresponsible valuation of money is brought up in the NPR Broadcast titled “The Invention of Money”, they discuss the history of the Yap people of the Caroline Islands and their “stone money”. The Yap developed a system of carving huge stone wheels out of limestone for large purchases between islanders. However, since the large stones weighed thousands of pounds, and there were no roads or carts to move the stone between people, it was simply known and trusted to be owned by that certain islander. Pretty preposterous how an islander could have wealth that is made true by a stone that is on another man’s property. How could such a system work, when there is no actual piece of worth behind the stones? But it is eerie how we question the simplistic monetary values the Yap people had, while we have established our own make-believe system of money in the present day. We have our dollar bills and our pennies and quarters, as do other countries with respect to their own currency, but we have not had a backing to our money since the gold standard was eliminated in 1933. It has been 82 years since our money has actually had a material worth attached to it, yet our economies and monetary systems have been kept in tact for the entire duration. There has been ups and downs in markets, but eventually, the “dollar” gains its worth back just because some computers on Wall Street say it is so. “Money is like Tinker Bell in the final scene of the play, Peter Pan. If people do not believe, it will fade away. But, of course, people do want to believe and the spot-light on Tinker Bell brightens with the loud cheering of the audience” (Livingstone). We have surpassed the point in time where we can question the system in place, and we must carry it on for as long as we can because there is no way to attach values to the dollars and cents we speak of. It is very interesting to look back and see similarities between our society and societies in early history, but it is even more exciting to evaluate and hypothesize what our future holds for us. Hopefully, our imaginary money can outlast all of humanity, before we reach the point of no return and have to go back to building stones of limestone to express our worth, as if our monetary policy isn’t as “cavemen-like” as it was then.
Beattie, Andrew. “The History Of Money: From Barter To Banknotes.”Investopedia. N.p., 17 Apr. 2007. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.
Livingstone, Zuerrnnovahh-Starr. “Money, a Belief System.” Money, a Belief System. N.p., 15 Oct. 2002. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.
“The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. N.p., 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Sept. 2015.