I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that I don’t really understand money. Barter, that I get. Here’s a bear steak. I’ll swap it for your chicken. Simple. I even get gold. Oooh! It’s shiny. But I’ve never quite grasped how printing a president’s picture on a piece of rag paper turns it into something of value, and by picking a different president, you give it more value.
I must not be the only one, because when I was a kid, much U.S. folding money was still labeled as “Silver Certificate,” indicating that if you gave it to the government, they promised to give you some shiny metal. But I have no idea what a “Federal Reserve Note,” is aside from “Legal Tender for all Debts Public and Private.”
I’m even more confused by direct deposit and debit. I never see a paycheck anymore. All my money goes straight to the bank, somehow, even though I can’t go look at it in the vault. They give me a piece of plastic. I go to stores and wave it around and they give me the stuff I need. I don’t know what I would do if they ever stopped, but so far, thankfully, they haven’t.
Realizing there must be something I’m just not getting, I try listening to NPR’s Planet Money and The Indicator podcast. But somehow it doesn’t help. Yesterday’s edition of The Indicator was about CryptoKitties, which is a kind of cryptocurrency you buy with another cryptocurrency called Ethereum. But unlike Ethereum and most other cryptos, where each unit has the same value (fluctuating from day to day), each CryptoKitty has a unique value, determined by the desirability (cuteness I imagine) of the digital drawing of the cat within. I think you lost me back at “bear steak.”
And not only do the ‘Kitties have real world value, you can “breed” (I don’t want to think how) the most valuable ones and sell their offspring. But at least that gets me to a point I do understand. There’s that scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life” where James Stewart is left with two one-dollar bills on hand after the run on his savings bank. He puts them into the vault in the hope that they will breed. And through the magic of Hollywood, it all works out.