Money and Perception
I believe that perception is everything. If you perceive something to be true, whether it is actually true or not, it becomes your reality. Do you believe money has value, whether or not you can hold it in your hand, or see the invisible power it has when you swipe your credit card? History has shown us faith in currency can save countries, and dictate appropriate societal behaviors. History has also shown us that if people lose faith in their government, and their economy, then chaos is the result. So the question is, is money real or is money fictional? I say that it depends on your perception. As a science major, when I hear the phrase “money makes the world go round”, I think it is actually the conservation of angular momentum that makes the world go round, and that the Earth continues to spin because of inertia. But then again, it is a matter of perception!
For example, an imaginary currency called the URV was imperative in the recovery of Brazil’s economy in the 1990’s, which I learned about through the NPR broadcast, The Lie That Saved Brazil. In the 1990’s, inflation was at a staggering 80% per month. The problem began when the government started printing money to compensate for the trillions of dollars spent on building a new city. Subsequently, every dollar lost 50% of its value when new money was printed. Prices of goods and services changed on a daily basis. The people of Brazil stopped believing in the currency, stopped believing in their government, and this caused the economic chaos. Inflation became the number one political issue in Brazil. President after president tried to fix the problem with no success. The solution was to stop creating money and to stabilize people’s faith in money using an imaginary currency called the URV. The URV prices never went up or down, never increased every month, and most importantly, renewed the people’s faith in money. A currency made up by a few men became a real lifesaver to the people of Brazil.
Another example where perception is everything is the story of the island called Yap. In Milton Friedman’s essay, Island of Stone Money, he tells the story of vast wheel- like stones that were used as currency by the islanders, and were often saved for big purchases, like to buy a house or to bring back a soldier who died on enemy territory. However, unlike pieces of paper or coins, these stones were hardly moved. They would sit in one place and only the owner would change. If it was purchased, the people would know who it belonged to and respect it. When the Germans took over the island, they noticed that the footpaths were in horrid conditions. They recruited the people of Yap to fix them. Yet, the people of Yap were unwilling to do so. The Germans decided to mark a symbolic black X over the stones and claim them. The people of Yap worked hard on the roadways until they looked like new, so the Germans went around and erased the black X’s and everything returned to normal. The perception of the people of Yap that these stones have monetary and religious value would obviously not be shared by people of New Jersey.
My final example of how powerful perception is when it comes to currency is my grandfather’s idea of keeping his money safe. My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression, and witnessed his family suffer the loss of all their savings when the banks failed, and there was no insurance to replace the money lost. He watched his father struggle to find work, and provide for his family during a time of poverty and despair. My grandfather is a hero, serving in the overseas military during World War II. Between his pension and social security checks he does not want for much. He has a credit card, and a checking account for his mandatory direct deposit for Social Security checks, however he has no faith at all in the government protecting his wealth. Anyone investing in the stock market is an absolute idiot in his eyes. So my grandfather keeps his stacks of paper money hidden in the proverbial mattress, and has purchased gold coins which are probably buried in the back yard or hidden in the basement walls for us to discover later. I learned that the power of person’s life experiences can dictate perception, and my grandfather is a stellar example. I asked my grandfather if money is real to him, and he pulled out a stack of gold coins and gave me one. He told me its value is around $350, give or take. So not only did I learn an interesting story about my grandfather’s past, I am also $350 richer!
“The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. N.p., 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.
Joffe-Walt, Chana. “How Fake Money Saved Brazil.” Npr.org. NPR, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 7 Sept. 2015
Friedman, Milton. “The Island of Stone Money.” Diss. Hoover Institution, Stanford University , 1991.
Phillips, John. “Bitcoin: What to Expect in 2015.” CNBC. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.
Reeves, Jeff. “Bitcoin Has No Place in Your- or Any-portfolio.” Market Watch. N.p., 31 Jan. 2015. Web. 7 Sept. 2015.