Money Rewrite-Kirsten Smith

Although we use money every day, most of us never think about the true concept of money. Money is the abstract idea of worth. Paper dollars, metal coins and numbers in a computer system don’t mean anything if we don’t give them worth. Think for example about how much it would cost to see a Beyoncé concert. Why would it cost more to see Beyoncé sing than a normal unknown person with the same amount of talent? They both are providing the same service, but the worth that we assign to someone that is famous has the same logic behind it as the worth that we assign to these pieces of paper and metal coins. The amount a person gets paid for their job and the amount that they pay for different goods have been assigned that price.

Money is really just an idea, yet in our minds, the item that we chose to represent this abstract idea with, is what holds the value. When the French demanded that their gold be set aside to make sure that the United States wasn’t going to spend it, no money changed hands. The United States knew its debt and they had the gold in their possession to pay it back, it was just locked away in a vault. As soon as the gold was relabeled, the United States felt as if they had experienced a great loss, when in reality, they still held the gold that they “paid” to the French.

The Yap, however, would have viewed the transaction between the United States and the French complete. These Yap people traded huge lime stones as money, but instead of it changing hands once a deal was made, they just metaphorically gave it up to the person while still keeping the stone outside of their house. The Yap might consider the fact that we keep most of our wealth in an electrical system without much visual or tangible reassurance other than virtual numbers, the most bizarre. Even though the Yap never literally gave the limestone up when they paid, they at least could go see their money existed in the real world and they could touch it. We can only look at numbers on a screen or a little ticket to tell us how much money we have and just as easily as we can look at the numbers someone can change them. For us, it’s like owning a cow that lives somewhere else. We can have someone send us pictures of our beautiful cow, but we can’t go see him and pet him. Using the same analogy, the Yap would own the same cow, but they can go take a walk a couple blocks away and make sure their cow still exists. That is why the Yap would find it harder to understand only being able to see their money in a virtual world. Although the one stone that sunk to the bottom of the sea wasn’t able to be seen in real life because it sunk to the bottom of the sea, I’m sure not everyone was able to recognize the sunken stone as legal tender right away unless they were having the wealth of it bestowed upon them.

Money is an idea not an object and “dollars” are an object not an idea. That is why different countries can have different currencies, and that is why there are exchange rates for different types of money. Every country at one time created a monetary system and followed it. Since the beginning of time, different countries have traded and that is why we have to have exchange rates.

For money to exist, it has to be reliable. Just a few short years ago, Brazil was in a debt crisis because the government was printing more money than it could back. For many years, the Brazilian monetary system was completely out of whack, prices were increasing daily at alarming rates and the citizens had lost faith in their money. When Brazil changed their money to the real, and made it so that it was stable, Brazilians started to trust the new currency because the new money’s value stayed the same throughout the day, week, and for months to come.

The amount of debt the United States is in at the current time has certainly raised questions about how reliable our money is. If the President can keep raising the debt ceiling, then what’s the point in establishing a certain number that we cannot surpass in debt? It’s supposed to stop our government from spending our country into oblivion but the debt ceiling is just as unstable as Brazil’s old money system. At some point this country’s whole money system has to come crashing down unless the debt is fixed or we could be facing the same fate as Brazil did just a few short decades ago.

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One Response to Money Rewrite-Kirsten Smith

  1. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Kirsten. Thanks for asking for feedback. I don’t remember if I told you I don’t compare first drafts when critiquing rewrites. I read the revision as new material and respond as I read so you’ll know how one reader feels about your writing while reading.

    P1. What’s a “true concept,” Kirsten? Are you distinguishing it from a “false concept” we all have of money?

    You say we use money, but that it’s an idea—”the abstract idea of worth.” Does that sound like what you mean?

    I completely understand paper dollars and metal coins, but unless you identify “numbers in a computer system” as the numbers that represent my bank balance, I won’t know that you mean those numbers to also represent money.

    The Beyoncé Comparison. I love this idea, Kirsten. You have a strong notion that values are arbitrary and that they depend on an agreement among others to assign them relative stability. The phrase “with the same amount of talent” is critical to your argument and very well said.

    “The worth” of “someone famous” is different and problematic for you for two reasons:

    1. Buyers of Beyoncé tickets value being at a celebrity concert more than at the concert of an unknown
    2. More people want to be at the Beyoncé concert.

    In other words, the fame of the performer is part of the value of being at her concert. And furthermore, the fact that she’s famous means more people know her, so when she advertises a concert more people bid for tickets, driving up the price.

    That’s not quite the same thing as you and I agreeing that a $100 bill is “worth more” than a $1 bill. It is very close though, and you’re the first student to try to work this comparison, so I’m delighted with the attempt and hope I won’t discourage you by questioning it. (You could, of course, refute my objection instead of accepting it, which would be tremendously impressive.)

    P2. You’ve already said “Money is the abstract idea of worth,” which is fairly explicit. There’s no value backtracking to “Money is really just an idea . . . this abstract idea” without being at least as explicit, Kirsten. If anything, get clearer as you go, not less clear.

    Remember, your reader will not have a clue what “the French demanded that their gold be set aside” means. You can’t assume you’re talking just to members of our class. Provide enough context so every reader will get your reference.

    The reason the gold story is so intriguing is that something very abstract did in fact change. An additional pledge of value was made. Here’s an analogy for you:

    If I purchase an airline ticket online I own something of value: the right to fly on a scheduled plane. If the airline overbooks that flight, it has diminished the value of that ticket, effectively stealing from me, by selling the same right to two people. The French demanded a guaranteed seat and got it. That guarantee is value “changing hands.” Do you agree?

    P3. I don’t understand the first sentence at all.

    Please never refer to anyone as “these Yap people.” It’s the first step toward the offensive “these people.” No reader likes to hear them, especially, in this case, the Yap.

    Rewrite your second sentence from scratch, if you keep it. I’d be happy to talk through some alternatives with you.

    Your third sentence makes a very nice observation that would benefit greatly from a reminder that we’re still talking about currency, such as: ” . . . the fact that we’ve dispensed with currency almost completely, and keep our wealth in an electrical . . . ” See what I mean? The echo of this note is sounded in your next sentence, which includes: “Yap never literally gave the limestone up . . . ” The music is better with both notes.

    PLEASE do not throw away your finest observation yet: “just as easily as we can see those numbers, others can change them.” The opportunity for fraud, simple human error, even catastrophic changes in the economy to radically alter the amount of our wealth is much greater when we’ve eliminated currency. (Of course, the currency is no guarantee either: it can be swiped from beneath our mattresses.)

    This paragraph, fine as its ideas are, gets ridiculously wordy, Kirsten. I am very tempted to rewrite it for you as a model and example, but you’ve shown considerable ability here, so I don’t want to insult you. We could compare versions if you want to tighten it up yourself first and share a revision with me.

    P4. Well, almost. Suppose we don’t have money yet and are still trading cows for fish for lemons. My island has cows, yours has lemons, we both have fish. I can get a lot of fish from you for my cow because of the scarcity of cows where you live; you can get a lot of fish for your lemons if I want them. Etc. There’s an exchange rate between our “currencies” because of the relative values of what we’re trading.

    P5. Here, as opposed to P2, you provide the context readers need for your discussion about Brazilian inflation. Good work. Your explanation of the “solution” won’t satisfy any reader who’s at all curious about the Brazilian situation, but maybe that’s OK for your purposes. (Room for improvement.)

    P6. Just one example of how to streamline language to keep your readers from tuning out:

    The amount of debt the United States is in at the current time has certainly raised questions about how reliable our money is.

    could be

    America’s huge current debt load makes our money less reliable.

    The original sentence would make a good example in “Try to Say Something,” Kirsten.

    1. The amount of debt the US is in
    2. has raised questions about
    3. how reliable our money is.

    None of the three phrases makes a claim.

    Do you mean, “If Congress can keep raising the debt ceiling, what’s the point of having one?”

    There’s so much to admire in your essay, Kirsten (and so many ways to make it even better). This comparison to Brazil’s overspending, and the resulting crisis of confidence in its currency, is strong stuff that comes almost from nowhere. It would be much more effective if we could have sensed your progress in this direction along the way. Is there anything in the Introduction (or in your intervening observations about faith in money) that hint you’re headed here?

    Nice work overall, Kirsten. I hope you find this helpful. (I’ve left you several opportunities to respond in writing, in replies, or in conference. I hope you’ll take me up on one or more of them.)

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