Why do we use dollars and cents?

circle of lifeMoney is a hot topic, it usually is, historically speaking. Whether it is in the form of precious metals or stones, or State sanctioned tender (which itself typically had intrinsic value until only recently, historically speaking), money could be said to be the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Homer (Simpson, of course) once said that about beer, I don’t know about that, but I think the saying applies equally as well, or even better, to money. I find myself now preoccupied with money, not because of greed, but because of need. I am currently in-between having finished a graduate degree and securing gainful employment out in the traditional workforce. I employ my time quite well pursuing a career as a writer and author, as well as with spending quality time with my wife and daughter. And though I am enjoying my work as a self-employed writer (I’m a great boss, but I don’t pay well at all), I’m not earning significant amounts of dollars and cents, which means I worry. Not because I need money exactly, but because I need what money has replaced: food, shelter and water.

We use money because we aren’t all producers any more. There was a time, at least in the U.S. when most people produced. They lived on family farms. Children grew up, worked on the family farm, hired out around the community and eventually obtained their own farmland. Or they sought specific training and found another vocation of production. There were doctors and lawyers and teachers. In some cases, depending on time and location, there were sheriffs and fire fighters. All of these were producer roles, although these last five I have specifically mentioned don’t produce food or living materials, but rather security. All of these jobs could be done without electricity. The point is that the U.S. has a historical tradition of being a nation of producers. Then the people got too smart and simplified their work.

Manufacturers of tools and other necessary items developed machines to do a lot of their work for them. Farmers were also able to turn over some major aspects of their work to machinery. Not all people were able to, or wanted to, turn the work over to machinery, but many did, and I don’t blame them! I don’t think there is anything wrong with the industrial revolution, but some of the unintended consequences do trouble me. I don’t think it was the intent of the people to turn over their production work so that they could spend more time surfing the web, or watching gossip-based reality television shows, or glut themselves on processed foods. I don’t think they saw this stuff coming at all. But all of the new found free-time needed to be spent doing something else. John Adams said (paraphrasing) that he learned of war so that his children could learn of science and his grandchildren could learn of art. He saw some aspect of what was to come. I think his progression is logical, and welcomed, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in what I would consider to be the best way.

With industrialization came the need for more organizational jobs, those that would get the goods and services into the homes of as many people as possible, homes that were no longer in rural America, but lumped together in urban centers. It isn’t feasible to pay these new employees with baskets of produce, so they used money. Money had been in use well before, of course, but I’m more concerned with the use of money in place of tangible life sustaining resources. Another unintended consequence is that the worker is another step away from what they need to stay alive: food, shelter and water. Rather than producing these things themselves, they work in a manner of shifting them around for other people, for which they are compensated with paper notes, official IOU’s. They then take those notes and bring them to a different middleman who gives them food or whatever else in exchange for the notes.

We are too far away from the natural law of hard work yielding results. It’s just money! We spend it freely. For many of us we earn it by sitting in a chair and thinking (I’m happy to do it, but I don’t think it is the best method) or talking and working with numbers that represent things or people, all through a computer. We do it for the money, which now we don’t ever even handle, we just use cards and electronic banking. All of it working together to take us further from the ability to sustain ourselves from the land itself.

Why do we use dollars and cents? I think at the start it was for convenience, and today it has become necessity. But there is danger in it because money is subject to inflation, loss, theft and negligence. The same can be said about a harvest crop or livestock, well, maybe not inflation, so inflation is the danger to highlight. Perhaps crops can be considered subject to inflation because constant harvesting from the same plot of land can leave soil depleted of nutrients, thereby giving the appearance of crops but without the significant nutritional value needed? But I’m not a farmer. Time to digress.

Legal tender is subject to inflation, which means no matter how hard you work your compensation is tied to other factors than what you’ve done. Using dollars and cents removes control from the individual and places it in the hands of the issuer. Obviously I don’t have a universally applicable answer to the title question, it’s something I’m offering up for contemplation and discussion. I do have opinions, plenty of them, and in this case I think the reason we started using money was for convenience, but it adapted and became a necessity, an unfortunate necessity because it is such an easy method of control over a population. I wonder if that was the goal of Caesar or the King of England or the Federal Reserve all along?


About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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