Thursday, September 4, 2014

Honor Thy Currency

Honor Thy Currency

Hi faithful followers (both of you!)  Today's posting is about money --and by this, I mean actual currency:

Did you know that this country has a national currency?  Anybody know what it is?  Is it this?

You know, that's what I thought too!  However, these days it's getting a little more difficult spending these little bills (and their larger denomination brothers in particular), and THAT leads to some problems with some sinister overtones, as well as some just plain pain-in-the-ass inconveniences that you may or may not experience flying an airline whose name may or may not be JetBlue.

"Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device --who the
fuck am I kidding?  We'll all be dead by the time we hit the water!"
But first, a little primer on just what hell currency is, where it came from, how long we've used it and just how it is under threat today.

I know you have heard me say it time and time again, but it all goes back to the Sumerians


Look, I'm sorry!  Really I am!  It's just that those li'l fuckers were so damn smart that they invented just about everything --with the exception of the arabesque raised-legged fart on demi-point (I invented that).  You see, the Sumerians were the first people who realized that it was a total pain in the scrotum to bring all the goats with you that you wanted to trade for a couple tons of mud-bricks (SO much more classy than those awful dung-bricks the Hurrians were making shit --err, stuff out of). The goats would run off, butt your trading partners in the nuts, eat everything in sight, or just plain DIE before the trade was concluded.  Something else was needed: something that had to be portable, symbolic and as non-goatlike as possible, yet simultaneously preserving the essence of what a goat actually is.

Enter the token:
I don't fit in anywhere
Uhhh, the Sumerian kind.  To solve their goat-exchange problem, the Sumerians made little clay token-sized goat figurines, each about the size of a game-board piece.  Then, all the goat herder had to do was drive his goats to a central pen, get the correct number of goat-tokens (identical to the number of actual goats he had), and hit the trade-marts of Ur, Lagash or Nineveh and haggle for his best deal.  In time, the Sumerians had a token for every item traded in their economy -even
Wait- where's the top-hat? --or the car?
--or the flatiron or the doggy, fer chrissakes?
the priestesses at Ishtar's temple got into the act (their tokens were pussy-shaped because of what they traded).  Just so long as somebody remembered to occasionally feed and water the actual goats, the goat-tokens, wheat tokens, wool tokens and pussy tokens made buying and selling stuff in Sumer a whole lot easier.

Still, the Sumerian token system wasn't quite the same thing as money, because the goat tokens could only get you goats, wool tokens only got you wool, etc.  It took a lot of time to come up with real money, and in the end, it wasn't the Sumerians or any of their relatives that did it.  But before I tell you who did it and when, let's first discuss what exactly money is and what it does.

"That's easy, Ex-Proff!  Money is that stuff the bank gives you when you cash your unemployment check!"  True, but I was thinking of a more complete discussion.  Money is a medium of exchange.  That means that one can get anything with money (except for Love, according to the Beatles song, "Money Can't Buy Me Love")  Don't believe me?  Get 250,000 dollar bills and 125 pennies, and go buy yourself a new house and a pack of gum with it.  You can do this.  You can buy a dog, a skyscraper, the air rights above it and the mineral rights below it, and the dog-park next to it so your dog can run around and play with its doggy friends.

The meal price went up since the 1970's,
but not the salary of the guy who made it.
Money is also a way of storing value.  Houses fall apart, dogs die, minerals get mined and air rights vanish into --thin air?  --but money retains its value.  Sure, currencies fluctuate in their value due to the market forces of supply and demand, inflation and deflation, gravity and the number of "likes" on FaceBook (ok, maybe not gravity), but money can still be used to buy it --only the amount changes.

Finally, money has an intrinsic value.  While the ten dollar bill in your pocket is made of ink and paper that together is worth much less than a dollar, a ten dollar gold coin from 1879 is worth about $691: the worth of the gold itself, plus the worth of the coin to coin collectors.

So, who invented this wonderful stuff called money?  It was the Lydians.  "Who the heck were they, Ex-Proff?  A girl named Lydia used to date my roommate's brother Daryll.  Was it her?"  Uh, no, the Lydians lived in present-day Turkey (which they called "Lydia" because they couldn't speak Turkish) around the 500 BC's.  They were major trade partners with the Phoenicians, who had been trading grain, dyes, olive oil, wine, adult novelties and cheap imitation Egyptian knick-knacks (the Phoenicians lived in modern-day Lebanon but called it Phoenicia because they weren't all lesbians).  Because of all that trade flowing through their country, the king, named Croesus, had one of his smartest pointy-heads come up with this little gem: the coin.
Croesus picked the lion-eating-a-goat motif over the pretty-ponies-and-rainbows
motif because fuck-yeah, Croesus had a pair of iron cojones
Strangely enough (or who didn't see THAT one coming), this new invention made Croesus the richest king in the entire ancient known world because HE  EFFING  INVENTED  MONEY and whenever he ran out of it he just MADE  SOME  MORE.  He was so stinking rich that he became famous for just being rich.  How wack is that: being famous for being rich?  Wow, people were really dumb back then.  There's NO way something like that would ever happen in today's modern world!
I dated Croesus.  He's hot.
This kind of ticked-off Croesus because he did a lot of stuff besides being rich that he was really proud of, stuff like being a king of an entire country, taking credit for inventing money, fighting wars and even winning a couple times.  But no, all anybody ever wanted to hear about was the money-thing: how much do you have?  --where do you keep it?  --what are you going to do with it?  --can I borrow some?  --I have this great business proposition I want to tell you about, if you could just spare me a moment of your time.  You get the picture.  The important thing about Croesus' invention is what happened to it later: everybody else used it, and I do mean everybody.  Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Bythnians, Numidians, Mauritanians, Egyptians, Samaritans --even the Jews!

You know, I really think this money thing could be big...
Throughout history, money got some updates and improvements --paper money, national currencies, non-precious metal coins --but has basically remained something ol' King Croesus could recognize and know how to use.  Until now.  Today, money is in danger of going extinct, with the advent of bitcoin, debit cards and various non-monetary negotiable instruments, like credit default swap certificates and commodity future options.  And 7-Eleven stores.  And passenger airlines like JetBlue.

Here's the deal: money can be counterfeited, lost, stolen, and used for illegal transactions like buying drugs, unregistered handguns or prostitution, all things governments hate (yeah, right!)  Another thing that governments hate about cash is that it's really hard to tax transactions conducted in cash, because they have to hope the buyer or seller report the transaction and pay the tax on it.  And so this type of thing is happening: cash is no longer accepted, or its use is viewed suspiciously.  7-Elevens won't accept 50 or 100 dollar bills, because convenience stores are always getting robbed and the Middle Easterners who own those stores don't want to lose a bunch of money to robbers.  Airlines don't accept money for drinks because the flight attendants were either stealing it, losing it or never having enough change for the douche-canoe in 14-A who paid for his Sprite with a c-note.  And every transaction in cash of $10,000 or more must be reported to the IRS.

Negative, he's just a harmless nut who wants to spend his money.
Roger, I'll hit him up for a campaign contribution.
But here's the OTHER deal: every bill printed in America has this little note written on it: "This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private."  So that means that Bhadjee at the LateNight Mart and Aimee at JetBlue are breaking the law when they refuse to take my real, non-counterfeited U.S. currency, right?  I actually researched this question the last time I saw President Obama- I asked one of his Secret Service dudes (who were getting paid by my taxes to essentially keep me as far away from the President as possible and still be in the same gymnasium as him) if they thought it was illegal and he said, "Probably."  There you have it: a guy who works for the Treasury Department said it might be illegal to not take money for stuff you want to buy.  So EAT  IT, Bhadjee and Aimee!!!

Seriously though, I think this is a great lawsuit waiting to happen.  All it would take is to have some shlub denied the opportunity to spend his or her money, and then they could sue the pants off whatever company denied them.  I would do it in a heartbeat, except I have no money to pay a lawyer.  Or to pay the filing fee.  Or to make the original purchase.  Which is why I am accepting donations through this blog --just don't send cash, please.

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