The idea that money is fiction is a concept that challenges our society and our carefully formed, complex government. In the United States our country runs on the belief that money is real even though in most cases the money we use isn’t even tangible. The United States, and many other countries around the world, use different forms of currency to get food, own land, have a home, drive a car, and purchase clothing. This all makes money seem necessary since trading labor or goods is an old, retired practice. Locals on an island called Yap think that money is a concept of fiction, and we rely on and trust the idea that the figures in our bank account actually exist somewhere.
The locals on the island of Yap happen to look at currency in a different, more simplistic way than most countries do. They use limestone as their currency and they carve it on an island four hundred miles away. The stone’s size can vary- it can be as little as a goldfish or as big as an SUV. On the island of Yap there is none of this limestone so no one can illegally make it unless they travel to the other island. This various stones, which are pretty much made to order, is their currency which is known as the Fei. Fei is used in the same way that money is here in the United States. The locals use it to purchase everything.
Usually someone with substantial wealth pays for an excursion to the island to create more money. On the way back from one excursion to the island where they produce Fei, a massive storm hit a boat carrying an enormous Fei. The people on the boat had to make a decision to save their own lives and cut the attached raft with the Fei. The locals believed all of their tales of this Fei, so the Fei never lost it’s worth. Details of the Fei are still being rumored around the island. It’s said to be the largest, most colossal piece of stone ever sent over the sea. A stone bigger than an elephant, which would carry enough wealth to last generations. The present generation of the family who owned this Fei, are still rich off of this Fei that is sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Although no one can see their wealth, just as no one can see the actual money in our bank account, it still holds a value. The Yap understand that the Fei itself has no actual value, it’s just a symbol of an individuals wealth.
The Yap’s Fei gets harder to exchange the larger it gets. Instead of moving these massive rocks from place to place every time someone makes a purchase, they just leave it in it’s place. Word travels, and everyone knows whose Fei is whose. Similarly, in 1933 The French wanted the money the United States government owed them. The United States was going to repay them in gold but decided it was far too much weight to move across the ocean. This was the year the government decided they would just label the gold owed to the French instead of relocating it. The gold was the French’s, and everyone knew about it. It had the same worth sitting in a basement somewhere, as it would have sitting in a room somewhere in France.
The Yap’s and the French, both hold the idea that even though the money isn’t in their hands directly, it still exists. We assume that the numbers on the ticket of our bank receipt mean we have money in our account. But in reality, the bank doesn’t have our money. If we were to withdrawal twenty dollars, a twenty dollar bill would come out. Yet, that isn’t our money. That’s money that someone else could have deposited earlier that day, and since the numbers in your bank account reflect that you have that twenty dollars in there, you get it. In most cases we don’t even bother taking the money out, or ever depositing tangible money. Most jobs offer direct deposit, or pay you with a check. And from there on out we pay our bills and purchase things online or with a debit card. This money isn’t real, it just means were exchanging numbers with companies and people through machines. We aren’t working for money anymore- we’re working for the digits on a screen that represent the idea of money.
Glass, Ira. “The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. Planet Money, 17 Jan. 2011. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.
Friedman, Milton. “The Island of Stone Money.” Diss. Hoover Institution, Stanford University , 1991
Reeves, Jeff. “Bitcoin Has No Place in Your – or Any – Portfolio.” MarketWatch. 31 Jan. 2015. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.
Joffe-Walt, Chana. “How Fake Money Saved Brazil.” NPR. NPR, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 8 Sept. 2015.