What is money anyway?
Posted on October 14, 2013 at 10.41 am
Q. Why is gold so much better than fiat money? It has few industrial applications, and very little is needed to make a large quantity of jewelry. If we want money to have value outside its use as money, wouldn’t a titanium/copper/etc. standard be preferable? — amateurpolymath, from tumblr.
A. The basic rules of determining what can be used as money are this:
- A lot of people have to want it — otherwise there’s no point
- It should be relatively portable — i.e. small quantities have value, because you don’t want to carry around a wheel-barrow full of stuff just to go buy milk
- It should be durable — so trading doesn’t become a game of hot potato
- It should be easily verifiable — so counterfeiting is not a constant worry
- It should be protectable — I know that’s not a word, but you get the idea
Other characteristics could no doubt be added to this list, but you get the basic idea.
Now, gold has historically been a popular substance for money because, for better or worse, it fits the criteria:
- It has value because people think it has value. That’s what matters. The human race has a long-standing fascination with gold, regardless of utility. It’s pretty, and we value it. (This is where baseless paper money fails, by the way — we only value it as only as the organization saying it has value sticks around; once that organization goes away, it’s just a novelty item.)
- Small amounts are valuable, making it portable.
- It’s malleable as metals go, but pretty sturdy in the grand scheme of things, so it’s durable.
- It’s easily verifiable. As a metal, it has a specific melting point, weight, feel, etc. which allow us to pretty quickly (and using pretty primitive tools) determine if it’s real.
- It’s protectable. It’s inanimate, and small amounts are valuable. This is something we can easily hide and/or hold on to.
That said, there’s no reason why we have to stick to gold in particular. Certainly other metals or commodities could be used as a basis for money, especially if certificates were issued (as would be practically necessary for lower value metals, like copper).
But old habits die hard, and I don’t see humanity’s love affair with gold going away any time soon.
If it were legal tomorrow, would you do meth?
Posted on October 11, 2013 at 5.09 pm
Q. RE: Drugs, would you say “legalize” or “decriminalize”? As far as I’m concerned, people shouldn’t be thrown in jail for possessing any illicit drug. That being said, legalizing would have larger implications, and it would be a cause for alarm, say, if someone started manufacturing on a large scale without regulation. I mean, if someone started a grow-op, who cares, but if someone started manufacturing large amounts of meth, that could be problematic. Lines in the sand? — itsawhorestealingourlemons, from tumblr.
A. Well, decriminalization is a great start, but I support full legalization.
I’d answer your scenario with this: Drug use rates are not significantly lowered by drug laws. Use rates in America simply have not been substantially affected by the war on drugs:
And the reason for this is simple: People don’t use or avoid drugs because of what the government tells them to do. They make their choices based on their own value systems. For instance, if all drugs were legal tomorrow, would you suddenly start doing meth, cocaine, and heroin? You wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t, and the vast, vast majority of us wouldn’t — because it’s not the laws which are keeping us sober. There might be a short-lived spike in experimentation, but that’s about it.
In fact, with time, we’d likely see a decline in drug use — and we know this because it’s already happened. In Portugal, a relatively similar society to ours, drugs were decriminalized over a decade ago. After 10 years, drug abuse declined by half.
It’s certainly possible and maybe even likely that major drug manufacturers would spring up in the event of drug legalization. But bringing this industry out of the shadows of criminality could only be an improvement. We already have huge drug cartels, and currently they’re extremely dangerous organizations. Given the present situation, I’d much prefer to have drug providers as “regular” businesses, able to be sued for fraud and poisonous products and uninterested in murder as a business practice.
So yeah, sign me up for legalization. I’ve never even seen pot in person, but I’m ready to completely end the war on drugs.
A Word on the Government Shutdown (or, Let’s not alienate 800,000 people from the cause of liberty)
Posted on October 2, 2013 at 11.48 am
In the wake of the government shutdown, I’ve noticed many libertarian types cracking jokes about how we’d love it if the shutdown were permanent — if the “non-essential” employees stayed permanently furloughed.
And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Politics creates some of the most absurd situations we ever encounter in real life, and sometimes you just have to make fun of stuff. I’ve even engaged in a little of this myself (but then, who wouldn’t when it involves Ron Swanson, amirite?). Plus, we do actually want the government to be a whole lot smaller, and on a gut level, this feels like a step in the right direction.
But an unintended consequence of all this joking is how off-putting it can be to those who are actually, you know, furloughed. By most estimates there are about 800,000 government employees temporarily out of work right now — only about 20% of the federal government’s total payroll. And, given that they possess natural human feelings of wanting a livelihood, they don’t really like it when we say we want their jobs to disappear.
This is understandable. If I said, “I’m worried that I might not be able to keep my job,” and you replied, “Hahah, good, I hope your job disappears forever,” I would probably not be your biggest fan.
So that’s why I think it’s so important for us (libertarians, conservatives, civil libertarians of all stripes — anyone who wants a significant cut in any part of government activity) to stop a second and say:
We don’t want you to be unemployed.
We want you to have a job you like which will take care of your family.
We just think that your current job does things which would be better done by the private sector, not the government. You might even make more money if it were, and we’re 100% in favor of that.
So when we post memes and quotes and commentary apparently rejoicing in the government shutdown, it’s not because we think you aren’t valuable. It’s a rough, political-humor way of saying, “We think there are better ways for you to use your skills and expertise than working for the government, and we’d like to have a national debate about that.”
It’s a lot like how saying “I don’t think we should be involved in this war” doesn’t mean “I want all these soldiers to be thrown out on the street to starve.” It means, among other things, “I wish these soldiers could be here at home working in civilian jobs instead.”
Second, it’s also important to note how crude a measure is the government’s designation of “essential” vs. “non-essential” employees really is. For instance, a friend of mine works in press and social media communications in a House office. I’d say her work is essential, because it’s important for a Representative to stay in touch with constituents via the press and more direct communication online. Especially with big debates going on — and given that, constitutionally, the House is in control of the money — we need people getting the word out about what’s happening on the Hill. The government disagrees, however, and my friend is furloughed.
By contrast, you know who’s happily chugging along at work right now? Everything sucky: The NSA. The TSA. Domestic drones and all kinds of other crappy, police state programs. So those 800,000 people who have been sent home? They’re not necessarily the people we actually want sent home.
All that said, I’m not suggesting that we have a “No Memes Allowed” rule when talking about the shutdown. Memes are for the internet; and the internet is for memes; and let’s all be funny. But let’s not let our funniness get in the way of communicating what we actually think about this situation — and the fact that we do want these 800,000 people to have jobs.
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