Looking into a person’s wallet, one can find some dollar bills, assorted ID’s, credit cards, and debit cards adding up to a certain value of money. This has never seemed strange because it is just the way money and its value works. No one ever has ever questioned the monetary system, but they may start to question it when reading the stories of the island of Yap, inflation in Brazil, and the exchange of gold between the United States and France.
The people of Yap, whose “coins” were gigantic limestone disks too big to move, did not even bother to transfer physical ownership of their money, but merely let their community know that the massive rocks indicative of great wealth had “changed hands.” This policy of creating and exchanging wealth through “word of mouth” was also used even when one citizen lost their giant disk in the bottom of the ocean. This sounds like something so foreign and ancient but yet the same sort of thing has happened here in the United States. The French wanted to make sure that the United States would pay their debt to them, so they asked them to simply put aside the sufficient amount of gold bars and label them “France.” In both cases, the receiver of the money did not physically hold it, but yet were still held to that value. This idea of intangible money is still present today in the form of checks and debit cards. A person can write a few items on a check or simply swipe a debit card and the value is deemed to be now in the hands of the receiver, whether that be another person, a store, or a company. The customer does not physically take the amount of money and give it the cashier, nor does someone in the bank take stacks of cash and move them elsewhere.
The story of the island of Yap also showed the insecurity of money. When the Germans came and marked the fei, the people of Yap were terrified and therefore did what the Germans asked. Most people believe that it is ridiculous to believe that if someone draws a mark on a dollar bill, that it loses its value, especially because it happens all the times to prevent counterfeitting. However, the value of our money can change with a “black mark” just not in the literal sense. Whenever there is a news report stating that there is a recession or the market is crashing, consumers get scared. They are forced to believe that their money is ultimately worth less than it might have before. These reports and worries of harsher times are our money’s “black marks.” The value of our money is changing all the time, which is very similar to the marking of the fei from the Germans.
The inflation in Brazil, the most shocking story of them all, was caused by just creating more money, with no value backing it. This bad decision by the government caused the severe rise in prices, thus hurting their people. In order to save their economy, they created a new form of currency. They then tricked their people into believing their money was still worth the same and that prices were not rising. In reality, prices were not rising, but the exchange rate was. This lie ultimately saved their economy, their government, and their people.
The lesson to be learned from all of these stories is that the value of our money is not soley based on trust instead of numbers, markets, supply, or demand. Monetary policies and systems only work on trust. People trust that their money is worth some value. They trust that they truly do own the amount of money that some machine might tell them they have. They trust that their bank does move aside stacks of cash, puts them in a drawer, and labels them with their name when you deposit into one. They trust that their government will ultimately keep these policies in motion and will not disrupt the system in any way. They need to trust all of these things in order to use money as it is used today. Maybe, the saying “money makes the world go ’round,” should be changed to “trust makes the world go ’round.”