Brain Food

What is money? We use it every day, but have you thought about what it really is, how it was invented, how it's created?

Listening to NPR a few days ago I caught part of a fascinating This American Life program: The Invention of Money. The next day I downloaded the broadcast and listened to the whole thing. It's really good.

Prologue: The people on the island of Yap use giant stones as money and what that means.

Act 1: How Brazil escaped hyperinflation.

Act 2: How the Federal Reserve creates money.

Teaser questions - Why is the stone money of Yap still relevant today? Is stopping runaway inflation more about fiscal policy or psychology? Does the Federal Reserve create money by printing bills? Who oversees the Federal Reserve? What is the Federal Reserve doing differently since the recent financial crisis?

Listen or download

I've also been listening to a collection of short stories by Cory Doctorow. All are well written and have interested me. Cory focuses on near-future fiction, usually some current-day technology extended and/or used in a different way. Being a techie I like this stuff, but since most of the stories illustrate a misuse of technology, and being in the 5-10 years out range, it was a downer to consider. You know, far out stuff you can shrug off, but possible tomorrows are uncomfortable.

The stories are available to read in a variety of formats or listen to as MP3s. And all free.

Yesterday I took advantage of Alta's ski free after three deal. A bit of a drive for 1.5 hours of skiing, but it felt good to be on skis and breathing fresh air - appreciated all the more on the drive down and seeing the brown-red soup air in the valley. I tried some backward skiing, and did OK but it's awkward. I even found some chop to ski.

Today I zipped up American Fork Canyon to XC ski. I went up from Pine Hollow to Salamander Flat and back. With a small off piste detour. Other than one snowmobile coming down as I was going up, I had the place to myself. Serene and lovely. I skied at a decent pace (for me). It was snowing on the way down - finally some new snow. I hope it clears out the gunky valley air.


Watcher said...

Thanks for the link. I will listen to it this afternoon, while pretending to work.

Money absolutely fascinates me. Not the "having it" part so much (though that's certainly nice), but how it works. It only works/has value because everyone accepts that it works/has value. This sometimes makes folks nervous, leading to calls for a return to the gold standard or some such, but of course that's no different; soft yellow metal only has value because we all accept it has value.

KanyonKris said...

Watcher - I think you'll enjoy the program.

I agree about the gold standard but must admit that gold does have a little more intrinsic value - I could form it into a ring or spoon or something that someone would want to buy/trade for. Paper money doesn't have many alternate uses (fire starter, mattress stuffing, bike tire sidewall repair). But this minor difference isn't strong enough, IMO, to return to a gold standard.

I imagine you've heard about The Utah Sound Money Act that has been put before the Utah legislature. Even on the surface it's got so many problems I don't care to list them. Yet another ridiculous bill to waste time at the capital.

Salt Lake Tribune article

Daily Herald editorial

(Ten other States are considering this idea?)

DB said...

IMO, the most important characteristic of gold as a monetary standard is not its intrinsic value but rather the fact that there is a limited supply of it. It seems like that would certainly limit the ability of the FED to inflate away the value of our hard-earned cash to nothing over time.

Jake Spurlock said...

I read Cory Doctorows Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom a few years ago and really enjoyed. Great author.