Meekonomics; Chapter One; A Brief History of Money, Part One

You’re just a number.

Despite what the advertising says, when you walk into a bank  today, you’re no longer human you’re nothing more than a number on a screen.

Psychologists and self help books tell us that we are more than that.  That our value is made up of our life experience, our personalities, our innate or learned skills, but when you walk into a bank, nothing matters but the number on that screen.  How that number is arrived at may have something to do with all those things but in the end it all comes down to that number.  To a banker your number means everything.  Your number determines where you get to live, what you get to eat, the car you get to drive, and the level of education you get to give your children.  To our children our number therefore has a huge impact on the things they get to experience, the formation of their personalities, and how their skills, both innate and learned get developed.  And so it goes, from generation to generation.

Numbers are easily manipulated.  They can be placed in various configurations, sorted, separated and combined, valued and devalued and they never complain about it.  Why; because numbers aren’t people.

Our society has reduced each and every person on this planet to a number on computer screen.  It’s degrading, dehumanizing and completely contrary to our psychological make-up.    By assigning value to human lives in this way those with the money get to make decisions that affect the lives of each and every other human being on earth without so much as a second thought.  We used to call it trickle-down economics and convinced ourselves that it was a good thing but with over a billion people living on less than $1 per day it’s now clear the that what was once a steady stream of money moving about the world has slowed not just to a trickle but in many of the most desperate places, it has stopped altogether.

The unequal way in which money is distributed throughout the world is staggering.  According to published statistics as recently as 2003, the top 1 percent of Americans controlled nearly 40% of all the wealth.[1]  In real numbers that is an annual income of
approximately $12.5 million dollars.  On a global scale, the average American household, who in 2003 had an annual income of $62,000, placed within the top one percent of the entire world.  We may not think in those terms here at home in the west but we are not only wealthy, we are rich beyond the wildest dreams of more than half the world and as the population continues to increase the gap is only going to widen.

As I will show in the next few pages the way in which that has happened has as much to do with the way we track and report money as it has to do with any real value we may create. In prehistoric times wealth had to do with physical possessions, the number of sheep in a heard or the size of your field. In those days everyone was on relatively equal footing because a man could only accumulate what he
himself could control.  As societies moved from trading those physical possessions, I’ll give you one of my sheep for that bushel of wheat, into the invention of currency it became easier to transport money but for the most part it still had to be tied to a physical possession, this piece of gold represents my sheep, that peace of gold represents your wheat, etc.  So long as wealth was tied to physical possessions even though it was easier for some to transfer ownership than others you were still limited to accumulating only what you could personally control.  In the last century, as governments have moved away from the so called “Gold Standard” money itself has been released from any connection to physical possessions and now flows freely.

It used to be that the controlling of assets led to the control of money, now money itself has become the most freely traded asset on
earth.  Currencies are bought and sold, speculated on and transferred around the globe in the blink of an eye and at the click of a mouse. Their value goes up and down effecting the lives and lively hoods of individuals communities and even entire countries based not on the tangible price of goods that are produced or the amount of gold reserves a country my hold but on far more subjective criteria that have little to do with true economics and more to do with the political climate.

If we are to regain an equitable distribution of money we need to remember one fundamental truth that has been lost in our world-wide frenzy to accumulate wealth.  At the end of the day money is just a number on a screen, it was invented to represent
value but it has no value on its own!  To understand true value, and true cost we have to start by rolling back the clock a few millennia and take a look at the early dawn of civilization and the invention of trade.

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