Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Money is a symbolic metaphorical system

Money is the greatest invention. A friend of mine is trying to invent a new money, he calls it "stars" (as in I have five star bucks) and plans to compete with uncle sam. But money, and American money in particular, is universal in the economy. Better to call his alternative "smiles", because a smile means in the same thing no matter what language you speak.

A Peruvian economist, who has become a national celebrity (link needed), wrote a book comparing the free market winners and looses, and concluded that globalization favors those with liquid assets. Liquid means interconvertable from one physical form to another. This is the basic insight of metaphors, and it is what makes private property and money so valuable. A good system of money can convert anything into anything else, whether it be farming rights, wheat, or human organs.

It is at heart a symbolic notation system that can be manipulated across time and space. I qualify for a $100,000 home loan because the bank knows that the home can be converted (bank auction) back into money at any time. In developing countries, the metaphorical system is shakier. People don't trust its (admittedly fantastical) conversions and machinations, and even if they did, there are more things there that money can't buy. For example, traditional grazing rights are not codified or written down.

In this sense, money is the logical conclusion of written language. Roman numerals are more universal than English words. American money is the translation between the two. The transition from literal to metaphorical culture was fought by the Catholic church, who didn't understand or approve of lending at interest, creating something from nothing by doing no work, only accepting risk.

Re: gambling vs. investing vs. buying. When you buy something it depreciates, or there is a restocking fee, and you have less money after awhile. When you invest in something, it may appreciate (increase in equity) and you'll have even more money to buy/invest in even more things -- power of positive feedback). Resistance to borrowing debt is symptomatic of this old fear, and guilty of ignorance of the power of equity feedback. But we did loose something when we started calculating human lives in monetary terms. "One of the first things a student of Old English has to learn is that the word that looks like sell usually means "give." " Interestingly, it was traditional to pay a certain amount of money to appease the family of a murdered man, his ransom.

What are things worth? Rare: moss in washington is worthless, but in Arizona it becomes rare and beautiful.
What are things worth? Kramer didn't pay me rent for living in my house for two weeks, but I let him do it because the "lost' money was the worth of his visiting me.

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