Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nothing But Numbers

Modern "money" is so bizarre. It's all numbers, stored in different computers, sent back and forth. Long ago, a man would be concerned wealthy if he owned great stores of precious metals and gems. Now, a man is wealthy if there are lots of zeros, preceded by a higher number, in his bank account(s). Of course, he probably buys precious metals and gems and fancy houses, cars and other stuff with those numbers in his bank accounts, but his net worth is all about the numbers. Think of it in terms of us everyday working stiffs. We get jobs. On Friday, we get paid. The "pay" consists of numbers, sent electronically to our banks. The numbers are added to whatever numbers that were left in our bank accounts from previous pays. Most of us have various bills (mortgage payments, utilities, etc) taken directly from our bank accounts. We don't even write a check to pay them. Numbers are just subtracted from our accounts and then added to our creditors' accounts. For the bills that we do pay by check, it's still just transfering numbers from our checking account to the creditor. No actual cash changes hands. If we go shopping or out to eat, we tend to pay by credit card. No cash, except perhaps to tip the waitress.

- On the rare occasions we do use cash, it feels like it's tangible wealth; it looks valuable, it has heft. But really, it's just promisory notes from the U.S. government, not backed by anything of actual value. I remembered how shocked I was, way back in college when I was taking Economics I, and I was told that our currency was not backed by gold. Just the full faith and something-or-other of the U.S. government. Those greenbacks in my wallet suddenly felt lifeless. But compared to today's sterile numbers shuffling back and forth over the banking internet, currency still seems somehow more valuable.

- How do you feel about it? If you were to win a million dollars in a lottery, would you feel richer if you were handed one thousand thousand dollar bills, or the number, $1,000,000, printed on your bank statement?


Gorilla Bananas said...

Which is easier to keep safe, Madam Z? I think it's electronic money. The only good thing about hard cash is that you can put in your bath tub and howl with glee. I'd like to see you in a bath tub with a million bucks, howling gleefully with madness in your eyes.

Harry said...

Probably the only place you can break a $1000 bill is at a gas station if you're filling up. I'll take 50,000 twenties please.

Jodi MacArthur said...

I would take the damn cash! Since I've been on the border my identity has been stolen through credit cards and once through my debit card three times. NOT COOL. There is some sort of device the person runs the card through then zips it through the normal one. Gah. I would have like to live back in the days when gold and jewels were exchanged. Or a pound of honey for a leg of lamb. Things that are real and tangible, you can hold them in your hands and its not floating around through out space. Maybe I'm just a hands on person? Good post.

Madam Z said...

GB, while "electronic money" is probably safer, playing with the million bucks in the bathtub, with you watching, sounds like more fun.

You're right, Harry. So unless you do an awful lot of driving, the 50,000 twenties is more practical.

Jodi, you've certainly had some bad luck with electronic money! I'm a "hands on person" too. If we could get our hands on a time machine, we could go back to the good old days, when your money and other valuables were stolen from you in person, instead of over the internet!

Bill said...

So, now who's being philosophical?

To answer your question, in fantasy, I want tangible-real-in hand wealth. But today, electronic money is what works so that's fine by mine.

Still, money is a screwy concept in that it's disproportionately distributed. Who's more valuable - the CEO of a major corporation or the babysitter of your children? A baseball player or a teacher?

Connor said...

I dunno. I think getting a statement fromt he bank with the 1,000,000 showing in my balance I'd be pretty happy...Either way though