Stone Money — Shazammm

The Lies Behind The Dollar Sign

I can say with strong conviction that our perception of money is influenced immensely by culture and the natural environment in which we live. Since there are varying societies and places in the world, monetary systems are bound to be different from one another. According to Milton Friedman’s work The Island of Stone Money, he uses the account of William Henry Furness III to describe the Yap people’s subject of payment, which are large stone wheels known as “fei.” Friedman additionally mentions France’s use of gold and the U.S. ‘s use of paper cash for currency, calling to mind the differences between each nation’s monetary system. However, despite the distinctions between these financial structures, they all lead me to the same universal standpoint about money: it is a man-made illusion. Money is not real because it is merely an idea that people throughout history have rethought over-and-over again. It only seems real to us because we use physical objects like stone, gold, and paper to symbolize currency. No ruler or supreme being ever told us that these resources are high in value. Yet, we humans have chosen these things to be our precious goods. That is why wealth is becoming unimportant. If the concept of money is fiction, so is wealth. The more people realize this, the less desire they have for material possession.  

Prior to reading The Island of Stone Money and listening to the NPR broadcast The Invention of Money, I did not think much about the concept of currency. To be frank, I never questioned the idea. I merely perceived money as something priceless, tangible, and as real as the earth we walk on. Now, after analyzing it globally, my attitude toward the subject has changed. Firstly, not only is money an illusion, but it can turn the wealthiest countries in the world into impoverished nations with ease, putting innocent citizens in vulnerable positions like lack of education, food insecurity, and unemployment. Unfortunately, the effects of losing money are painfully real. Take Japan’s economic system, for example. In The New York Times 2013 opinion editorial “Japan’s Latest Economic Transfusion,” Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was relying on his new $16 million stimulus package to boost his economy and position in the upcoming elections, even though it was putting his government more in debt. What troubled me about this so-called stimulus package is that it was a double-edged sword, a financial plan that came with consequences. Indeed, it had the potential to create new jobs for Japanese citizens and expand health care spending. But only for a short period of time, which is not enough time for a country. Not to mention it was beating more money out of the already-bankrupt government. What saddened me the most about Japan’s situation is that they depend immensely on money to be deemed one of the wealthiest countries in the world, even though money is actually a falsehood. So was the stimulus package worth it in the long run? I would have to say no.  

The second observation I made about money after reading and listening to the article and broadcast is that anything can be used as currency. For instance, in the “Prologue” of the NPR broadcast The Invention of Money, Ira Glass and the Planet Money team informed their audience about the Yap people’s use of large stones as payment. Before, I merely imagined money as paper cash because that is my country’s form of currency. I never imagined money in any other form. So the way I physically see money has changed. I can also come to the conclusion that money can easily be converted into something different to fit the financial customs of other societies, places, etc. Since money at its heart is fiction, we can alter it at any point in time. In The Island of Stone Money, Friedman recalled how in 1932-33, the Federal Reserve Bank converted dollars into gold for the Bank of France to quell their fears about the U.S. not following the “gold standard.” After reading this section of the article, I could not help but think that money’s role is more than just paying for necessities. It allows us to communicate with people unlike ourselves and trade services with them. As counterintuitive as it sounds, without money, nations would not survive on the world map, for they would be left on their own. 

Finally, the last observation I made about money after doing my research is that it can create distrust between governments and their citizens. In act one {“The Lie That Saved Brazil”} of the NPR broadcast The Invention of Money, Brazil’s government was unable to persuade people that their money was valuable due to the rapid rise of inflation. When citizens are living in an environment where prices are constantly increasing drastically, and they cannot seem to catch up with the skyrocketing charges, they are bound to question the worth of their money and, eventually, the people regulating their economy. It makes total sense. If I were in their shoes, I would have felt the same way about my money and the economy. Why would I put my faith and trust in an imbalanced monetary system?       

In conclusion, money, no matter how much stress it causes our world, is a necessity. We have depended on it for centuries, and we will continue to depend on it because it is the only thing we know that will keep us from becoming poor. The bottom line is that money comes with consequences that are either good or bad. The more money you have, the better off you will be. The less money you have, you will physically and emotionally suffer. It is a cruel rule we have in our world. However, the positive aspect of it is that we have the power to make changes to that rule. If we can create monetary systems and change them for others, we can change them for ourselves. We just have to think outside the box. 


Friedman, M., Leeson, R., & Palm, C. G. {1991}. The island of stone money. Money Mischief, 3-7, 

{2013}. Japan’s latest economic transfusion. The New York Times. p 22 in print, 

Glass, I., Joffe-Walt, C., Kestenbaum, D., Blumberg, A., Planet Money {2011}. The invention of money. This American Life, NPR,

About Shazammm

I like cake.
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4 Responses to Stone Money — Shazammm

  1. Shazammm says:

    Just an FYI, the author who wrote The New York Times opinion editorial is not named on the website. So I apologize if my citation for that article looks a little funky.


  2. Shazammm says:

    Oh okay thank you. Also, do you have any critiques for me on how I formatted my paper, my use of language, my claims/points on money, etc. ?


  3. davidbdale says:

    1. You skillfully introduce your sources and important concepts in the first paragraph, Shazammm. You use that good start to draw a peculiar conclusion, but I’ll give you credit for making a startling and compelling claim. And I won’t downgrade you at all for having opinions different than mine. I will, however, be interested to see how you support the claim that people have lost their interest in wealth. Just one note about gold. It and silver and platinum (copper and tin and bronze, for that matter), all have actual tangible value, so they’re not purely symbolic.

    2. It’s odd to call money “priceless” when its price is its whole essence. It’s also odd to claim that money can turn rich nations and people into poor nations. (That would be like saying food is nutritious but it can also starve us by not being there.) The oddness of this claim wastes the first half of your second paragraph. If you cut it (and you should), you’d still have the important half: the Japan story.

    The Japan story is a little odd, too. The theme in your essay so far seems to be to blame money for sometimes being undervalued and sometimes overvalued. You don’t actually explain inflation in your paragraph. Instead, you say, “It [I think you mean the stimulus package] was beating more money out of the already-bankrupt government.” Hard to follow that one. The stimulus package had a benefit, but a country can’t print more currency than the world BELIEVES IN without consequence.

    3. This is your best paragraph so far, Shazammm. It’s amusing that you needed to see dollar bills converted into gold to convince yourself that money “could be made of anything.” The hard transition was convincing the world that dollar bills were “as valuable” as the gold they used to represent. The French [the world] accepted that until the dollar looked weak; then the world [the French] wanted to return to a material that had “real” value to reassure themselves.

    4. You have a chance to draw a stronger parallel between the French and the Brazilians if you want to, Shazammm. The French lost faith in the US paper currency and needed the reassurance of something they could trust to hold its value: gold. The Brazilians lost faith that their currency, the cruzeiro, would be worth the same tomorrow as today. They had to be reassured that SOMETHING—in their case, the URV—would buy the same gallon of milk tomorrow as today. And it did. Even though it was completely fictional. It broke their distrust and replaced it with trust.

    5. Kind of. Real estate can “keep us from becoming poor.” A forty-acre peach orchard is a pretty good hedge against poverty. What’s REALLY fake are paper profits; stocks, for example, or Bitcoin, that haven’t been converted into a stable currency. Their value can disappear overnight if you don’t sell them today.

    What’s most interesting about your conclusion is that it leaves room for cryptocurrency, which very much “changes the rules.” We used to depend on countries and governments to issue currency, but Bitcoin was invented by some guy as a money whose value is based on absolutely nothing except that other people think it will appreciate. Most “collectibles” that appreciate, like rare baseball cards, for example, are at least “things.” Bitcoin is a string of code. Not even that. The code is just the password that opens up the nothing that is the right to sell the password to the nothing. That’s REALLY changing the rules!

    I wouldn’t recommend spending time to revise this piece, Shazammm. Put the energy into your research and your 3 Short Arguments. “Dusting the furniture” won’t help here. You’d need to bring in a whole new decor.



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