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the value of a dollar

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During my Sunday search for jobs this evening, a fragment of something I heard on NPR ran through my head. I’m not exactly sure what it was–something about the US eliminating debt for some countries.

Before I go on, I feel compelled to say that I never did well in Economics. Or government, or history for that matter. I never got a full grasp on any of the basics.

And the thing I got to really pondering about (and happily, I might add, as I’m quite fond of ponderances) was the value of a dollar. What is a dollar, really? I mean, really.

To me, the dollar is an abstract idea (or ideal). Sure, I can hold a piece of green paper in my hand and say ‘this is a dollar.’ I get excited when I find them in my pockets on laundry day. I recognize how many of them I get every week from my employer. In lieu of doodling, I do math–trying to figure out just how many dollars I need to make per hour if I am to live within my means.

So I get the basics of it. It’s all the Big Stuff I don’t understand. Like how one nation can owe another nation money. I mean, how does that work, exactly? And what does the transaction look like? Are there really a whole bunch of dollars (i.e. pieces of green paper) handed from one person to another? Or maybe it’s in the form of a check, but who cashes it? And why do other countries want to borrow money from us? Why don’t they just make more of their own money?

The Depression, you say. Remember when we printed all that extra money and then everyone went broke and Bad Things happened? Sure. I remember learning about that. I never understood it, but I did learn about it.

Here’s what I’m getting at (if, indeed, this bit of writing is to arrive at anything in particular): the stuff that gets printed (the green stuff)–that’s just paper, right? Sure, apparantly there’s some gold sitting somewhere to back up the value of those green things, but I’ve never seen it. Have you? So what’s the point of having green paper back up the value of a metal? If the metal is the Object of Value, why don’t we use it? What ever happened to gold coins, anyway?

Can you see the economic ignorance coming out? Are you embarassed to be reading this? Embarassed to know me now? Just wait…

So we’re told not to worry about the gold. It’s well hidden, well taken care of. Okay. Sure. Have we ever been told that we can trade in our green papers for the gold? I have an old five-dollar bill that says it can be traded in for silver. Now that means something. But what can my paper be traded in for?

Just goods and services. Money’s just a voucher. A voucher for work.

See, here’s what I figured out during my job hunt… (And remember, I never promised any sort of representation of my genius here.) We get these pieces of paper for working. For the job I do, I get ten and a half pieces of paper for every hour I sit there–regardless of what I do. I could spend that time reading a book or using the bathroom, eating a sandwich, doing mindless bookkeeping–whatever–and I’d still get my ten and a half pieces of paper for doing it. So, at my job, one hour is worth ten and a half pieces of paper.

So really money is a voucher for time.

Bear with me here. I think I’m getting somewhere.

So we work for X hours and get X dollars, depending on who we know and what we’re doing. Then we take those dollars and give them to other folks for Stuff. Then, that Stuff becomes a representation of time. Take, for example, my new glasses. They cost me $192. Now that’s just a little more than eighteen hours worth of work. So, for two days of sitting at my desk at the place I work, I get a pair of glasses. Sure, I could have sat at a desk at the place that makes glasses, but lots of people need glasses so it could get quite crowded in there if we all gave our Time to the places that do Stuff for us.

And, I suppose, if we all gave our Time to the places we get our Stuff from, everybody would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And since time is money, everyone would have the wrong money. (ba dump bump) Seriously, though, nothing would get done. The people at the glasses place would be out giving their time to, say, the people who make food. And the people who make food might be at the place where they sell books. It’d be mayhem.

So the dollar keeps us in line. Keeps us going to the places we’re supposed to go, doing the stuff we’re supposed to do, buying the stuff we want to buy.

When I sat down to write this, I had a Big Idea. Now that idea’s gone and I’m getting pissy. I recently told Krystal of my interest in reading some stuff on Marx after I get through a few more texts on Buddhism. Her reply was that Marx would just get me riled up. I don’t think I need to read him to get riled up. All I have to do is think of how abstract our society is, and how that abstraction is viewed as a constant reality by the masses.

All I really know is that my father would be truly upset with me for being a thirty one year old who doesn’t understand the value of a dollar.

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Author: Kim Sharp

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