stone money rewrite- brxttyb

On the small island of Yap located in Micronesia, large limestone disks the size of cars are what they use for their currency. Sounds weird, don’t y0u think? Ironically though, the most illogical form of currency is a bit more close to home. “Fake Money”, actually saved an entire country that is now rumored to be the next super power. What is the abstract concept of this thing that makes the world go round?

In the Caroline Islands, there is a small island that goes by the name of Yap. The natives, use a currency of “fei.” Fei are large limestone disks the size of cars. The Yap people mined them and carried them back on bamboo stretchers. Fei was not just for anything, though. Fei would only be traded for something very large. It wasn’t so much possession of the fei though, fei was too big to be moved around from owner to owner. Once someone had possession of the fei, everyone knew it belonged to that person or family. Fei was still tangible on the bottom of the ocean, even. One family is in possession of fei that has not been seen for 3 generations. Story has it that the fei was coming by boat to the island when a big storm hit. Although no one has actually seen this specific stone, the stone is still valid in trade. The fei being at the bottom of the ocean is almost like a bank balance. The physical currency is out of reach, yet the value is still there.

From 1899-1919, Yap was a German colony. The roads were in bad condition, and the Germans asked the Yap people to fix them, and refused. As a way of getting what they wanted, the Germans painted large “X” shapes over the fei stones therefore “freezing” their currency. This alarmed the Yap people, therefore the roads were repaired and the paint was washed off. The yap really believed black paint would freeze their money. This is an example of the abstract concept of money. Although the fei is physical and  concrete, the idea is abstract. A black “x” over the fei symbolizes the German’s power over the Yap, and their currency because the Yap believe in this abstract concept of the fei.

In Brazil in the 50’s, the government printed money to build a new capitol. When it failed and accounts were frozen. Everyday the prices for everyday necessities changed drastically. They needed a plan. A man named Bacha coming out of grad school with his three friends had an idea. They made a fake currency. The currency was virtual. They were called URV’s. People still used their cruzeiro, but everything was priced in URV’s. The plan manipulated how many cruzeiros the URV was worth. Prices would change, but the URV’s were stable. Everyone started to get brainwashed by URV’s. The fake money- eventually became real. It became the country’s actual form of currency called the real. Twenty million people rose out of poverty and Brazil is rumored to be the next super power.

Judging from these stories—no matter where you’re from, we all have abstract concepts of money. We don’t all have physical “goods and services” because our required necessities are more complex. Not everything you want to trade, would be equal and it would be complicated. It must be unanimously known that the abstract currency would be used in trade so people feel like they are getting compensated with what they feel their product or service is worth. Some people such as the people of Yap, believe it more than others. For the Yap, the fei was all they knew. From their prospective, their currency was frozen by these invaders until they did what was asked. For the Brazilians, they believed in the URV in my opinion, because they had nothing else to believe in. They were willing to try anything. For the Germans, they knew the Yap were much less developed than they were, and knew that marking their fei would get them what they wanted. And for Bacha, he just wanted to save his country. The abstract concept of money works for any civilization so people feel as though the value of their product is being met.

I think what the Yap would consider so bizarre about our currency is our banking system. It is so complex, and I feel as though the Yap would find it all so unnecessary. To us though, it is necessary because we are a super power. Honestly, i think the way of the fei would be so much easier.   Today our country is trillions of dollars in debt, we have 1% of the people with 99% of the wealth, and to me it does get confusing. I can imagine how confusing and crazy it would sound to the people of Yap.

So what exactly is the intrinsic value of money? The concept that not all things have correct prices. We think somethings value is right, but a lot of times it may not be based on many different factors. According to Sean Edwards at, “Money doesn’t have value in itself. They have value because we as a society have agreed they can represent our labor”. To me, that rings very true. What can we actually do with it? We can’t drink it. We can eat it. We can wear, sit, or sleep in it. So what really is it? It’s paper. Money is a piece of paper that holds some kind of value in our heads but in reality means nothing. According to Roger Ray, “Real wealth is created when we build something, grow something, mine something, or assemble something.” This is also something I agree with. Whether it be the Yap, the Brazilians, or any society for that matter, we all use abstract concepts of money to represent wealth. Having pieces of paper is not wealth, not really. It is only a concept perceived as wealth.

Before getting this assignment, I never even thought about the concept of money. I remember clearly in 2008 in our recession asking my mom “If America is running out of money, why don’t we just print more?” She laughed. But now that I am more aware of how our economy works, essentially, that’s what we do. I never really knew it worked that way. I always just assumed our money was backed up by gold but now i realize it’s a lot more complicated than that. Why do we have so much faith in things we never see? The Brazilians never saw the URV at first but believed it. The Yap never knew for sure why exactly the fei had value. And we as Americans have so much faith in our country and in our currency but why? I’ve never seen the federal reserve. Or the gold that supposedly backs up our money. So why put so much trust into it? Because it is what we have been told to be true.


Edwards, Sean. “Why Money Does Not Exist.” Sean Edwards. N.p., 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 07 Sept. 2015. <;.

Ray, Roger. “The Truth about Money: It’s Just a Concept.” Springfield News-Leader. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2015. <;.

“How Fake Money Saved Brazil.” NPR. NPR, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 07 Sept. 2015. <;.

Friedman, Milton. “The Island Of Stone Money.” (n.d.): n. pag. Feb. 1991. Web. 7 Sept. 2015. <;.

“The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2015. <;.

“The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2015. <;.

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