Monday, May 30, 2016

The History of Money

We take money for granted. Need to pay for something? We just whip out some piece of paper or some plastic card or some electronic device and see it done. Ledgers are debited and credited in the background without a second thought. But for most of human history, this medium of transfer that makes the exchange of goods so easy didn't exist. In The History of Money, Jack Weatherford takes us through money's evolution, from the first coins in ancient Greece, to the current electronic forms of money that are all Greek to me.

It's not far-fetched to say money has completely transformed our society. Each new generation of money has allowed its owners to transact in a manner that was previously impossible. The first shell necklaces could be used to store the fruits of production rather than require an immediate product-for-product trade. The next generation, coins, could allow strangers to trust each other thanks to the standardized weights and seals of rulers. Paper money then allowed the exchange of money without having to carry around heavy metals, making it easier to transact in large amounts or over large distances. Electronic money means I don't even have to go anywhere to transact anymore.

Weatherford takes us through how all of these changes came about, and/or what stopped them from happening sooner. Weatherford believes new inventions (or their suppression) of forms of money to have been a monumental cause of the rises and declines of some rather large empires through history. I thought he gave money a little too much credit myself. (Thanks, I'll show myself out.)

There's no reason to think the evolution of money is done, and so we are probably likely to see even more changes in how we transact going forward.


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