Money is fiction, that is, according to the dispositions and conclusions of certain outspoken individuals, including, primarily, reporters from an NPR broadcast and an essayist from Stanford University by the name of Milton Friedman. These parties, and more, discuss the ideologies behind the concept of money and currency and how it differs and parallels among dissimilar cultures and different scales. Ranging from a tribal culture from an Island called Yap, to the modern United States Federal Reserve and even some samples that were on an international scale. They all seem to bring to light how intangible the reality of money actually appears to be and they write it off as fiction. However, anthropologically it would not seem so fictional, it may even appear beautiful.
Edward Burnett Tylor, father of modern anthropology claims culture “in its ethnographic sense, is a complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, morals, art, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habit acquired by man as a member of society” This means, simply, culture is how humans in a society behave. All over the world all people are part of individual segmented cultures, divided by tradition, environment, and perhaps most importantly, language. Money, however, seems to be immune to these societal boundaries and is more than just fictional, it is an ideology shared among multiple cultures, linking them together.
The tribal culture of Yap, used limestone disks as a form of currency. These disks varied in size and the bigger the disk the more wealth it represented (some even went up to 12 feet in diameter). All it took to claim possession of one of these disks is simply a general consensus among the villagers of to whom it belongs.
Eventually this island became part of a German colony. The Germans wanted these islanders to clean up the paths they used to get around the village, but to the villagers, the paths were perfectly fine as is. After failing to convince the islanders to clean up the paths, they resorted to the one thing that was understood against these highly contrasting cultures; money. The Germans took black paint and painted crosses on the largest of the limestone disks and claimed ownership of them. This acted as a sort of fine to the Yap people for not being obedient. They then immediately got to work cleaning the paths. After the job was complete the Germans removed the black crosses and restored the wealth to the islanders. While sharing no common language, tradition, lifestyles, and overall culture between the Germans and Yap; the concepts of fines, debts, wages and wealth was understood equally from both parties.
Culture originally exists because humans needed cooperation in order to survive, due to them not having any phenotypically superior traits other than intellect and perspiration. It took banding together under a common ideology in order to ensure their survival. No beast was too great for humanity to overcome due to their ability to cooperate and adapt. Culture itself is not represented as a physical item, it is represented through behavior, just like money. Money is as real as culture, and it is the only common cultural trait shared worldwide. Perhaps the idea of money is the first step towards universal cooperation among all of humanity. Which may never happen, but either way, money is, most assuredly, more than just fiction.
Friedman, Milton. “The Island of Stone Money.” Diss. Hoover Institution, Stanford University , 1991.
“The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. N.p., 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 04 Sept. 2015.
Tylor, Edward. 1920 . Primitive Culture. New York: J. P. Putnam’s Sons
“Japan’s Latest Economic Transfusion” nytimes, 13 January 2013. Web. 8 September 2015.