Sunday, March 7, 2010

Where Wealth Does NOT Equal to Paper Money

It is often perceived that money equals wealth. We have been taught that we must work in order to acquire some money. Why money? Because money can buy many good things in life. Generally, the more Green Bucks (or whatever currency) one possesses, the more one is able to get things that he/she wants by the means of purchasing them from market transaction(s) that recognize the currency he/she uses.

So simplified is the concept of money that we are taught to think that the paper money we are using is wealth by itself. So far the concept had derived from it that we even treat those paper currencies as commodity, as if the paper by itself has an intrinsic value that can be used to make something or something that can be readily consumed. This is a betrayal to concept of money, where whatever we use to represent our wealth is supposed to be grounded as true representation of wealth, not mere imagination of it.

It took me a long time to understand why the Bible make such a strong statement regarding money:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10, New International Version)

Notice the Bible (or the Bible translators) did not use the term 'wealth' as the root of evil. Rather, the term 'money' is used. This calls for scrutiny, is the concept of money is at fault or the medium we are using as money is at fault, or both? Now let us identify some possible consequences of lazy stereotyping of money equals wealth.

First, imagine if the entire monetary system crumbles overnight (or almost overnight) due to loss of trust in the banking system. This had happened in Latin American history and Japanese Banana Currency in Malaya. As a consequence, whatever monetary value (i.e $100 000) one has in the bank or in hand, the value is now useless in terms of representing wealth. In short, one is just as broke regardless of certain amount of Green Bucks with a person possessing none. But with seemingly unrelenting confidence of the mass with this 'fiat money' system, they rest their fate based on mere trust on the 'legal tender' of the government that their money really have real value!

Paper money is not equal to wealth. A wealth is a material good that one can use for consume and/or to produce other goods. For example, a pound of rice is wealth because one can eat the rice and consume it. A pair of male and female goats are also wealth because they can give birth to more goats - adding to more wealth of similar kind to the owner. But paper money is being treated as wealth in our modern society. People invest in interest-giving accounts and in money market in hope that it can serve to multiply their wealth, in terms of making more money.

But when it comes to issue of stability, paper money is hardly stable. The value fluctuates daily and its perceived value is determined by the Central Bank of the government that produces the money. Interest rates are used by Central Banks to determine the purchasing power of money - meaning if the Central Banks will, they can make one (artificially) rich and poor by decreasing and increasing the interest rate and/or amount of money in the market.

And the derivatives that come from this paper money is no better. The prevalence of plastic money and now, online money, adds more to the misrepresentation of wealth. The material goods, which is supposed to exist and can be seen (picture the living pair of goats and a bag of 1lb of rice), is now imaginary numbers in one's head. Transactions are now perceived as the increase and decrease of those numbers instead of real transactions that involve real transfer of wealth. Let alone outrageous interest rates charged by those who operate in the plastic money industry, almost literally enslaving those unawares with a vicious cycle of debts.

Nor does paper money money a good motivator to create real wealth if it is to be seen in the electronic transactions of Wall Street and Nikkei. Those involved produce more money (or lose them) by mere clicks, form fillings, and shouts of the computer and at the floors of the stock exchange, not planting apple trees and nurture them until they bear fruits that can be consumed or produce more apple trees. Again, the former is derived from the assumption of the credibility of imagined value, and the latter is derived based on true creation of wealth.

There must be an alternative to this system. The concept of money itself is not a problem, but they way we treat money as equal to wealth is. What alternatives are available out there? Should we resort to barter trade? Should we use other commodities (i.e. gold, silver, or precious metals) to represent money? Or should we rethink the entire concept of market transactions based on money?

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