“So you think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?” ~ Ayn Rand
At the time of my writing this, I’ve yet to read Atlas Shrugged. I think I might already know a great deal of what’s in it, much like when I first read The Lost Symbol. However, at the insistence of my mother, and many others, apparently, I’ve made Atlas Shrugged the very next book on my reading list.
Even still, Ayn Rand makes a very good point. What is money? Have you ever really thought about it?
For most people, when you mention the word “money,” a lot of things come to mind. To some, it means little green pieces of paper or metal with pictures of dead presidents on them. For others, it may call to mind an image of the mint printing vast rolls of the stuff. On the one hand, money can be the source of great stress and grief if we don’t have it, or great opportunity and abundance if we do. Pious people avoid it like the plague, while people that have it are willing to do anything to get it and can’t seem to get enough of it.
Most of these are probably incomplete observations, made by equally ill-informed observers. I know that, for most of my own life, I kept having the wrong impression about money, and only recently am I beginning to see money for what it actually is.
But what is that, exactly?
The Uniform Commercial Code is the Bible of commercial law. UCC Article 1, Section 201b, Line 24 gives the definition of money as it’s used throughout most of the world today:
“Money means a medium of exchange currently authorized or adopted by a domestic or foreign government. The term includes a monetary unit of account established by an intergovernmental organization or by agreement between two or more countries.”
In brief, money is simply a medium of exchange, an I.O.U.
When you play Monopoly, the paper is just there to help regulate how much you’re worth in comparison to the other players. If you run out, the game even tells you to make more money out of regular paper, because it’s just a medium of exchange with no inherent value of its own. Or if you play in digital form, it’s all done via electronic transfers and moving numbers around. It’s Bookkeeping, the Game and boy do we love playing it!
If this were a barter system, we’d trade goods directly, like a camel for five bags of potatoes, or whatever we happened to agree was an equivalent exchange.
Money is just an indirect way of trading. For instance, say I had a hat, but needed a pair of shoes. I meet a man who needs a hat but has an extra pair of shoes. So I trade him the hat for the shoes. Now this man, some time later, needs to buy food. He needs the food more than his hat, so he finds someone who will make the trade with him. In that process, the hat was used as money because it was the medium that facilitated exchanges.
If we wanted, we could really use anything for money, as long as it was agreed upon by everyone involved; and in ancient times, that’s exactly what happened.
It used to be that money was more than just worthless paper. When things like gold, silver, beads, shells, stones, and feathers were all used as money, the money itself had inherent value. It could be used in trade, or kept by its possessor because it was worth something for its own merit. Over time, certain things like copper, gold, and silver became more standardized as money because their value as a medium of exchange was more universally accepted among disparate cultures. Eventually, people began to store, lend, and borrow coins and soon the first banks were formed. From there, it was a short while before people started carrying around certificates that represented an amount of hard currency being kept in a vault somewhere. And thus, we arrive at paper money.
The documentary Money as Debt elaborates more on this concept and gives a brief, allegorical history of the evolution of money.
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” ~ 1 Timothy 6:10
Money is a form of power. So it follows that the love of money is the love of power and of control over one’s self and others. What we do with that power, however, is the determining factor.
Greed and lack are just flaws in perception. The world is nothing but abundant with wealth and resources for all, and then some, yet this misguided belief of never having enough to survive is what leads people to commit both great and terrible acts in an effort to get more money. Rest assured, it’s not the paper or the numbers that they want, but the power and the goods that said money represents, as you will see later on.
The cure for greed and the cure for poverty are one in the same: recognize that there is more than enough to go around for everyone and find a way to satisfy everyone at the table.
It is important to note that money is not, itself, a bad thing. It’s just a tool, like a hammer or a pencil, that facilitates a purpose. In the case of money, that purpose is to act as a catalyst for the trade of goods and services. Just as guns don’t kill people, neither does money create problems. It is only people that kill people or create problems. How can money create something? It’s just a tool. Only divine beings, living souls, can create anything.
Without getting into too much detail, there is a principle in law that states that the created cannot be higher than the creator. Who is the creator in this case? We are.
We humans are the creators of every organization and institution on this planet, and we are the creators of governments and money. They are our tools, our creations. They have only the power and authority and value that we say they do or that we give to them; and we alone have the ability to revoke that power, authority, and value. Whether we choose to abdicate our role as creator and be overrun by these Frankenstein monsters or not is our choice. But eventually, the human race will be pushed to the breaking point unless it wakes the fuck up and remembers that the power was ours all along.
Like what Glinda, the good witch, tells Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz, you’ve had the power to go home all along. It’s just that you weren’t in a position to accept or believe it, and so no one told you, but instead left you to figure it out for yourself. Well, consider this your wake up call, with me giving you formal notice the power is yours.
“The man who has no money is poor, but one who has nothing but money is poorer.” ~ Orison Swett Marden, New Thought author
Return we now to the subject of paper money. It’s really almost absurd how everyone knows that paper money is just worthless paper, and yet we still choose to rely on it for everything. We covet it as though it were the secret of eternal life. But why? What makes paper money so valuable?
Recall that, in ancient times, people used mainly gold and silver as money in the form of bars or coins. Bars and coins were used because they could be regulated in terms of weight and purity, but they were not without their flaws. The most basic reason for switching to paper money was because it was lighter in weight and easier to carry around. You could write up a certificate for really any amount of money that you wanted, so long as you had enough gold or silver somewhere to back it up.
For hundreds of years, it was the case that all certificates of this kind could be turned in any time the holder felt insecure and he would be given an amount of gold or silver equal to the amount that was written on the document. What had value wasn’t so much the actual paper, but the confidence that it could be exchanged for something of worth. And soon people began to trade these papers as though they were actual value.
If you look at the top of any American dollar bill, you will see the words “Federal Reserve Note” scrawled on it. The word “note” in this case means a promissory note. In other words, it’s a promise to pay.
If you’ve ever taken out a loan, you probably filled out a promissory note and gave it to your creditor or bank. That promissory note is your promise to pay. It’s your promise to them that they can redeem it for something of actual value. With that confidence, the note can be exchanged as though it were actual currency. They can trade it in for whatever it’s worth (which these days is just an extension of credit).
Things start to get interesting when you begin to realize that all cash is just a promissory note. What we think of money is really just our promise that the holder will get something in return for it.
More interesting still is that, if you look at a dollar bill, it no longer says “redeemable in gold or silver.” Prior to 1933, all dollars were promises of payment in either gold (which was standard) or silver to the holder. So what happened in 1933?
“What difference does it make how much money you have? What you do not have amounts to much more.” ~ Seneca
For a more in-depth history, I would recommend the documentary The Money Masters, but suffice to say that the history of America has really been one of banking and trying to avoid central banks, in particular. The Founding Fathers resisted the Bank of England and wrote into the Constitution the power of Congress to coin money and to regulate its value. And our country managed to survive well enough without a central bank for over a hundred years. Since our inception, private international banks have tried to get Congress to give over that power to them and, in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson finally caved with the signing of the Federal Reserve Act. From then on, the Federal Reserve (a private international bank) would be the sole creator of all the currency used to fund the government, which it lent to us at interest.
Prior to 1933, the United States was on a gold standard and most of its currency was backed by gold. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered a seizure of all the gold held by private citizens in an effort to pay off the national debt. With the signing of HJR 192 on June 5, 1933, the use of promissory notes backed by gold was ended and a new form of currency replaced it: the Federal Reserve Note.
Federal Reserve Notes (which replaced United States Notes) are what’s known as fiat currency. Fiat means that is isn’t backed by a commodity (like gold), but has value because of government decree. It has value because the government says it does and will force you to accept it if offered for the payment of any and all debts in the United States.
If you look in the corner of the dollar bill, it says as much. The word “tender” in this case means “an offer of money.” It’s an offer of money because it’s only a note, which is a promise of money, not actual money itself. There is no money. Roosevelt took it all from us to pay the debt, which we still have hanging over us to this very day.
Following World War I, Germany was in bankruptcy because a lot of its infrastructure was destroyed and it had no money to rebuild or to pay the war reparations that its enemies demanded as a condition for accepting German surrender. As a result, Germany suffered massive inflation and the Deutsche Mark became incredibly devalued without anything to back it. It is said that marks were used to wallpaper people’s houses, that’s how worthless they were. It was only through the aid of private banks and corporations – some of them American – that the Nazis were able to rise to the levels they did, and we all know how that turned out.
Similarly, after the Great Depression, people began to hoard gold as the only valuable form of currency. Without gold and value passing through the American economy, the government had no funds to operate with. It couldn’t afford to maintain its military in wartime or repay the Federal Reserve and its other creditors. So the United States was also forced to declare bankruptcy and stole all the gold of its citizens in an effort to pay off its debts.
While we may have gotten out of the Great Depression through a re-stimulating of the economy via Roosevelt’s New Deal, we continue to employ the Federal Reserve and its worthless paper. So a rational person would have to conclude that it’s only a matter of time before we fall back into that same pit again. Only next time, it’s liable to be a lot worse. Remember, we brought the Fed into this world and we can certainly take it out.