The Invention of Money – Joseph Passalacqua

If you were to tell someone about the people of Yap and their strange form of currency, that person is likely to look at you funny as if you’re just making up a story.  But if you dig deeper into the story of the Yap, and compare their limestone currency with the currency we currently use today, it’s easy to see how much of a crazed money system we live by.  Think of the limestones used by the Yap as an early banking system.  People would use this currency for any trade and goods they needed.  But the weight of the stones themselves would often require more labor than the stones worth.  So people, instead, would trade goods or services for the currency, but leave the currency in the possession of who ever it formerly belonged too.  It still belonged to them, but it was just held by someone else.  This isn’t any different from what we do today with the banks.  We use little plastic cards that tell us how much money we have (being held in the possession of the bank) then swipe the card to transfer our funds to another persons plastic card.  Most of the time, we never actually physically see the money we are told we have. Transferring our money by hand is not a problem of weight either, as I can guarantee that paper money weighs significantly less than stone money.

Before, I was one to believe that money essentially created power.  The more money you have, the more powerful you are.  I still believe that, but now I question who actually has the power and money they claim to have?  If every bank customer in our country was to withdraw all of our money at once, we would start another recession.  Our money is being imagined.  We are told we have more money than what exists and is represented by a number, just as the Yap’s currency is simply imagined and represented by a massive limestone boulder.

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3 Responses to The Invention of Money – Joseph Passalacqua

  1. jpassalacqua says:

    My dearest professor, please provide me with feedback on this post.

  2. jodidziedzic says:

    I think you should cut out the first sentence of the two, and reword it as one whole sentence. Especially since it’s slightly humorous; it would be more effective if it were one sentence.

  3. davidbdale says:

    Thank you for your polite request, Joe! 🙂
    P1. A few quick reminders. You’re going to want to eliminate every unnecessary if/then, such as the one you open with. You’re also going to want to purge your rewrite of the second person, such as “If you.” Both can easily be replaced by a generalized observation using first person plural, such as

    At first, the huge stone disks the Yap use for money seem preposterous to those of us raised on bills and coins that fit into our pocket.

    Try not to talk us through the stages of our awakening too closely, Joe. We don’t want to be told each time we’re learning to accommodate the strange: “If you dig deeper,” and “think of the limestone as a bank account.” It’s better to lay out those small revelations as steps in a defense of a thesis you’ve made clear to us than to talk us through it like our guide. “It’s easy to see” babies us a bit. We’ll resent it very quickly.

    Hmmm. What does your observation “the weight required more labor than the stone’s worth” mean? It’s even odder to say the Yap traded goods “for the currency.” I presume you’re observing that the stones were so heavy that they were not moved unless only by moving them could they be kept track of, but that if everyone knew who owned them they could be left in place. I appreciate that you’re trying to provide the needed background for unfamiliar readers to understand the system. You are right to do so. But do choose to share only the details that illuminate your essential concepts, and be sure your explanations are clear.

    If you keep this basic structure for your rewrite, be sure to start a new paragraph for “This isn’t any different.” Your observation about the weight of the stones (and your debit card) isn’t entirely trivial, but you don’t use it to your advantage. If weight isn’t the reason we’ve chosen magnetic stripes over stones, what is?

    P2. Again, you won’t be chronicling your thought process in your rewrite, so the “I was one to believe” material will need to be generalized. “In our culture—perhaps in every world culture—money motivates labor and is therefore powerful.” The questions you raise in this “throwaway” paragraph are too powerful for toss-offs, Joe. Let’s not pretend that wealth isn’t power; of course it is. But your other reflections—about the total amount of currency in use, whether there’s enough value to sustain it, presumably how it inter-relates to values held in other currencies, what exactly underlies the currency that gives it its power—are the basis, or should be, for a more complex thesis than you’ve decided to defend here so far.

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