Stone Money- PitandThePendulum

Money: The Perfect Illusion

If all currency were to disappear today, one could expect results of apocalyptic proportions. Think Great Depression, The Purge, and The Walking Dead (minus the zombies, of course) all at once. Without money, the world would be instantaneously thrown into Dark Ages: The Sequel. As civilized people, we want to believe that we wouldn’t immediately become violent, rampaging beasts if our currency systems were to disappear. We, as people, tend to like to believe that we are above that. But we are inherently violent creatures, evolved to fight off predators, survive cold and heat and plague, and believe in an imaginary system called ‘money’ that dictates out everyday lives.

The concept of the Island of Yap seems absolutely ludicrous to us. The idea that large, circular carved stones being used as currency is completely unfathomable in comparison to our magic glowing boxes that can purchase goods with just a tap at a register. Milton Friedman in “The Island of Stone Money” explains that when the Germans arrived at the island, they began to ‘claim’ the currency by marking them with large black x’s in spray paint. This worked as an immediate deterrent, and the people of Yap began to fall into an impoverished state. When the state send out agents to scrub the crosses off the stone, the people of Yap were instantly returned to their previous wealthy state. Though the concept of stone currency is a foreign one, the feeling of having money and then having it taken away is familiar. The Great Depression is a prime example of this. Society fell into complete chaos after money that people had never even seen ‘disappeared’ and left them with ‘nothing’. While we may scoff at the residents of Yap and their nontraditional currency, its principles are similar to the ones we are so familiar with.

NPR’s “The Invention of Stone Money” podcast offers a counterintuitive view into the fictional nature of the value that society places upon currency. In Act One, residents of Brazil recount the drastic inflations rates that their country underwent, and how all of a sudden, their currency was viciously devalued. Prices for necessary goods were constantly fluctuating, and the government’s solution to this? Instead of working to find a solution to bring value back to their money, officials simply sat down and, with the push of a button, created more valueless currency to circulate. For such an ‘important’ pillar of society, money is incredibly easy to create and circulate, despite its value.

Anne Renault explores the fictional nature of ‘monetary value’ in “The Bubble Bursts on E-Currency Bitcoin”. Within the article, she explains the ludicrous nature of E-Currency, money that has no physical trace or value other than in the virtual world. Having spent millions of dollars on one single coin, purchasers were mortified to find that when the Bitcoin economy experienced its first crash, their money flew out the metaphorical window and virtually disappeared, leaving them with a valueless piece of code. This look into the world of E-Commerce further drives home the point that money, even outside of this form, can be devalued and rendered just as useless in the same amount of time.

After taking a counterintuitive approach into the world of finances, it is safe to assume that money only possesses the value that we put on it. The little green slips of paper or numbers in a code in a bank account are only worth as much as we deem them to be worth. When we stop thinking in dollar signs and start valuing things not based upon their monetary worth and resell value, is when we as a society, will be able to move past our primitive ‘stone money’.


“The Island of Stone Money” by Milton Friedman, 1991

NPR’s “The Invention of Money Podcast”

“The Bubble Bursts on E-Commerce Bitcoin” by Anne Renault, 2013

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