From the beginning, productivity improved with specialization. If one person can produce fruit more efficiently while the other was a better hunter, more wealth will be generated if the hunter hunts and the farmer farms. Forcing the farmer to hunt or the hunter to farm is just plain inefficient. But in order for the system to work there has to be a medium of exchange. Somehow the farmer has to be able to get the wild game in exchange for his crops. And what if the farmer wants meat but his crops aren’t ripe yet? Well, that is how credit developed. In today’s post Bill Bonner looks at mediums of exchange i.e. money and credit. He examines how they began and what they mean for us and our economy today. ~ Tim McMahon, editor.
Good As Gold
Over the last 10,000 years, humans have tried two different kinds of “money.” They began with exchanges based on credit – “You give me a chicken… I’ll pay you back later, maybe by helping you build a new wigwam.”
Then, when society became too large and extensive, they switched to gold and silver. The advantage of this was obvious: You didn’t have to remember who owed what to whom. You could settle up right away. “You give me a chicken. I give you a little piece of silver. Done deal.”
Periodically, governments were tempted to go back to credit systems. Essentially, they issued pieces of paper – IOUs – and declared them “money.” Usually, these hybrid systems began with some collateral backing up the paper. Issuers typically had gold in their vaults and agreed to exchange the paper for metal at a fixed rate. Holders of the paper money were told that it was “good as gold.”
In some cases, people believed [Read more...]