Stone Money- abcdefg577

On the surface, the story of the islanders from Yap may seem outlandish and make them out to be unenlightened neanderthals. These individuals use giant stones crafted from limestone, which is obtained by boat from an island 400 miles away, as their currency. The typical American would most likely view this, scoff, and wonder how anyone could be so illogical. However, their tale is no more laughable than that of our own, shedding light on our fictional and transitory economy that places value on pieces of paper that have no intrinsic worth; we simply give them imaginary values and treat our monetary proceedings as infallible.

The NPR broadcast “The Invention of Money” presents a clear picture of an economy that appears quite different from our own.  The Yaps’ use of large stones for large purchases does not make much sense. These cumbersome rocks are near impossible to transport, so when a rock is given to someone else as payment, it remains in the same position. The island collectively acknowledges that the fei, the designated name for the currency, is now under new ownership. Milton Friedman’s “The Island of Stone Money” explored another instance of the The Yaps acting questionably. The Germans, who claimed ownership of the island, wanted the Yaps to build them roads. To do this, they painted black crosses on all of the fei and said that they were now in their possession. The Yaps, who were used to respecting claims of ownership, conceded and built the roads to regain their fei.

From a first world nation perspective, these practices seem alien. Yet, America has undertaken similar peculiarities. For much of our nation’s history, we relied on the gold standard. We mined from afar, hauled and traded large hunks of metal, albeit not as big as the stones of the Yaps. Still, the idea is rather absurd. In 1932, France asked the U.S. to transfer its dollar holdings to gold. The Federal Reserve placed the designated amount of gold in cabinets with labels indicating that France owned it. No money changed hands. This simple act undertaken by the Federal Reserve set the nation into panic, the markets viewing the U.S. dollar as weaker and the Franc stronger. This is eerily reminiscent of the German actions on Yap.

Currently, we have something which may be even more outlandish than the system the Yaps utilize: we rarely interact with physical currency. This is not to say that American dollars should be regarded as being worth much of anything; they are simply a slip of paper that represents the concept of money, or the established buying power held within that paper. Money is continually becoming more abstract. Physical dollars rarely trade hands these days. Rather, numbers and information are transmitted electronically, through computers and other forms of technology. The information needed to represent transactions floats about in cyberspace. Thinking of our money in these terms, our own economy appears much more imaginary and intangible than the redesignating of rocks.

Bitcoin is a prime example of this recent trend of entirely non-physical money. Wholly digital, bitcoins “can go to zero either because they have no underlying value or because some hacker has stolen them and left you with no recourse” (Reeves, 2015). The Yaps’ stone money appears smarter and safer than bitcoin. To steal a fei requires extreme physical force and isn’t likely to go unnoticed as thieves roll it down the street. Bitcoin can be stealthily stolen online by hackers, without any real world evidence left behind. The currency is also subject to great swings in price, “driven by speculation, investment, and government regulation” (Phillips, 2014). While the bitcoin is speculated on and driven up and down in value by several outside forces, the fei’s worth remains generally the same, a large one continuously being used as a dowry, payment for property, or other high-end purchases.

As we analyze the practices of foreign cultures, whose customs may appear illogical, we must not overlook the fallacies in our own doings. It may appear counterintuitive to use immense stones as currency, but the American reliance on credit and debit cards, bitcoins, and banks is no more sound. Two plus two equals four, as does three plus one. Each way of going about a task has its positives and negatives, whether they entail large limestone monies or the U.S. dollar, but usually end up with similar, if not identical, outcomes.


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Works Cited

Glass, Ira and Channa Joffe-Walt. “The Invention of Money | This American Life.” This American Life. WBEZ, 7 Jan. 2011. Web. 04 Sept. 2015

Friedman, Milton. “The Island of Stone Money.” Diss. Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1991.

Reeves, Jeff. “Bitcoin Has No Place in Your- or Any- Portfolio.” Marketwatch. N.p., 31 Jan. 2015. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

Phillips, John. “Bitcoin: What to Expect in 2015.” CNBC. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

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4 Responses to Stone Money- abcdefg577

  1. abcdefg577 says:

    Feedback provided.


  2. davidbdale says:

    Hello, abcdefg577.
    My method for providing feedback is to respond as I read rather than reading through all the way first. I do so to provide you with a paragraph-by-paragraph reaction to your writing as any reader would respond. I hope you find this method helpful.
    P.S. I am very critical of all writing; harsh comments are common. I will praise your work only when I find something truly commendable. If you prefer gentler guidance, you only have to ask. I can be kind.

    P1. This is impressive, abcdefg. You’ve told a complete tale here, identifying the underlying oddity of the Yap currency, then chiding Americans for considering Yap culture backwards, then promising that you will shortly reveal that ours is just as odd, fictional in fact, imaginary.

    I worry that you will consider your sentences so carefully crafted that you’ll resist changing a syllable. They’re good, but they could still be shredded. I seriously suggest that you decide which sentence is your favorite and then trash it. Write a better one and see if that liberates you to trash another.

    Examples of language that could be more precise or effective:
    1. You start with “on the surface,” but never look more deeply, so the effectiveness of your opening is lost. You might mean “at first glance,” but then you’d have to take a second look at it, which you don’t.
    2. You say the story “may seem” outlandish, as if you haven’t decided, when what you really mean is that it does seem outlandish.
    3. To me the least outlandish feature of the Yap currency is that it’s mined from afar. Anything readily available could be counterfeited. We probably scoff at other factors.
    4. This “typical American” comment is VERY dangerous, abc. It insults your readers, makes you sound conceited. That’s not your intention, but it is the effect. ALWAYS choose “we” as your preferred pronoun. Own your part of every failing. We scoff at this illogical notion, but we shouldn’t: our currency is just as illogical. See what I mean?
    5. Their tale? Very vague. Their currency would be clear. Their economic system. And instead of laughable, make a more meaningful comparison. Their currency is not more fictional than ours. Ours is as unreal as theirs.
    6. Our economy may well be transitory, but how does that claim relate here to the reality issue?
    7. I find “economy that places value on pieces of paper that have no intrinsic worth” to be particularly effective (like so much else of what you’re doing here).
    8. The rest of the sentence is repetitive (give them imaginary values repeats the first clause) or off-topic (treat our monetary proceedings as infallible. Here you’ve probably just chosen the wrong word. You most likely mean “reasonable” or “unassailable” rather than infallible).

    P2. I don’t understand your strategy here, abc. Your first paragraph establishes that your topic is the unreality of relative currencies, fei and dollars. If that’s not your focus, then your introduction needs work. But if it is your topic, then the observations in P2 seem irrelevant. Sure the big rocks are cumbersome, but that’s a mechanical objection, not one about essence. The observation that the Yap, in your lovely phrase “collectively acknowledge” the change of ownership, is more nearly an abstract objection, the type we thought you’d be making. What also could qualify as an abstraction is that the black crosses effectively devalued the fei for the Yap. In your other best phrase, you notice that the Yap “were used to respecting claims of ownership.” What’s missing from these claims of yours is the clear indication to your readers that the sense of ownership and value are imaginary and not intrinsic to any physical property. The change of ownership (with no mark at all) and the devaluing of the fei by the Germans (with meaningless markings) are what’s peculiar and noteworthy for your purposes, not the size of the cumbersome rocks.

    P3. I was worried when you used more than one example of peculiarity in P2 that you wouldn’t find parallels in the US economy in P3. You make them, but you could excuse your readers for getting lost. The gold we mined from afar goes back to P1. You call it “absurd,” but that’s insufficient. Then you drop the comparison and move on to the French cabinets. There’s no parallel offered for the cumbersomeness of the big stones, but you might be missing one. Wasn’t it to avoid the trouble of shipping the gold to France (rolling the stones) that everyone agreed to simply label the cabinets? And isn’t that a lovely parallel to “collectively acknowledging” ownership?

    P4. You’re a fine writer, abc. Your grammar and rhetoric are impressive. If you’ve been actively revising P1-P3 in response to anything helpful I might have said, I trust you’ll find your own ways to improve this admirable but shreddable paragraph. Notice how many times you seesaw between physical and abstract: More outlandish / rarely physical / not valuable / worthless paper / abstract concept / physical paper / more abstract / dollars rare / electronic transmission. If it’s not strictly speaking repetitious, it’s certainly not economical. The points are all valid, mind you. Examine the style. Lovely phrases I’m coming to expect: slips of paper, dollars rarely trade hands, transactions float about, redesignating of rocks.

    P5. The Bitcoin claim of non-physicality is not well supported by the quote, which has little to do with its non-physical nature. Our money could just as easily go to zero by losing their value or through hacking. The Yaps’ stones went to zero by being painted with crosses. How is that superior? Still, I concede the point of Bitcoin’s vulnerabilities, but you don’t want me conceding; you want to earn the points. The wild swings of valuation are more pertinent, caused by the lack of backing for the currency. Nobody and nothing supports it. The Yap trusted their culture to respect their coins. We trust the Japanese to back up their yen. The Brazilians took time to develop faith in their new real. Not sure what is the purpose of your last sentence. Is it claim or support?

    P6. Try again.

    An impressive debut, abc. I hope you’ll be committed to the revision process. You have the makings of a fine writer and a strong thinker. I can’t improve your thinking, but if I can help you express your ideas more clearly, you’ll SEEM like a better thinker, and that’s what it is to be a good writer.

    Did you find this feedback helpful? Overbearing? Some of each? I can only afford to spend this amount of time on writers who value the interaction. Please reply.


    • abcdefg577 says:

      Thank you for taking the time to give your in-depth feedback. Looking back over my writing with your comments in mind, I do agree with basically all of your advice. I see that my second paragraph does need to focus less on the size of the rocks and more on the change in ownership/devaluation. My third paragraph needs to be clearer and have a direct point. Also, I will incorporate quotes from the articles that better support my claims in my rewrite. The ones I used do seem to be just thrown in there now that I look again. I will definitely utilize your points in my rewrite. Thanks again!

      “I can’t improve your thinking, but if I can help you express your ideas more clearly, you’ll SEEM like a better thinker, and that’s what it is to be a good writer.” Well said, David Hodges 🙂


  3. abcdefg577 says:

    Whenever we play the famed board game Monopoly, we treat the currency with the face of Rich Uncle Pennybags as worth something, if only for a few hours. The participants of the game all agree that the paper money will be traded. Our palms sweat and hearts race whenever we near the Boardwalk space loaded with an enemy’s hotels, and our potential loss of our dear money looms. If we were to continue trying to use Monopoly money in the real world at Starbucks or for deposits in our Citibank accounts after the game was packed away, we would get many baffled stares and questions. Yet, this is exactly how we treat the imaginary currency we call U.S. dollars. We all agree it is worth something, as we do with Monopoly money during the game. The Yap agree that their fei are worth something. After a closer look, the mechanics of Monopoly, the U.S. currency system, and the Yap transactions may not differ ideologically after all.


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