Is Your Money What You Think It Is?

I’m away in Washington DC for the week and won’t have the opportunity to post. In my absence, here is some interesting reading on the nature of money from The Daily Reckoning.

Doug: Aristotle, in the fourth century BC, was the first person to define what money is. And what is it? It’s a store of value and a medium of exchange.

The paper we use today is a medium of exchange – it got that way because governments made it illegal not to accept it – but it’s not a good store of value. And it’s rapidly and radically becoming less of a store of value. What we use as money today is actually not money; it’s currency. Technically, that’s simply a word that indicates a government substitute for money.

What does make for good money? Again, Aristotle gives us the answer. It’s something that has five characteristics: it’s durable and divisible, consistent and convenient, and has value in itself. And for these reasons, gold is almost certainly the best thing to use for money. Not because I say so, nor because Aristotle said so, but because, over time, people have found it to be the most durable, divisible, consistent, convenient, and inherently valuable thing to use. Silver is also good, but it’s less durable because it corrodes. And less convenient, in that it takes about 60 times more of it – at the moment – to offer the same value as gold. Copper is the next traditional step down the ladder.

<—–>

Louis: But we don’t use gold today…

Doug: No, it’s as though a bunch of friends without any real money started exchanging IOUs for money, and then after a while forgot that the IOUs were supposed to represent, and be redeemed in, real money.

The problem with this is that, in the case of the IOUs between friends, paper is based solely on hope and trust. One can move away, or die, or turn dishonest, or become insolvent – many other things could happen. A guy stuck with a dead man’s IOU has nothing.

With government IOUs, or currencies, it’s worse, because they can increase the number of IOUs in circulation without telling anyone – that’s what inflation is. Since the government creates the IOUs, it gets the benefit of spending them before the inflation they create raises prices, which is basically stealing from the people. And, of course, sometimes governments do “die,” leaving the holders stuck with nothing, just as with the IOUs between friends. In fact, it’s arguably far more likely that such problems will arise from trusting a government to print IOUs than from trusting a friend.

Doug Casey and Louis James
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

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Photo by: Jonathan Pobre

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