What is money? Some people think of money as cash or credit cards. Other people describe it more abstractly as freedom. One famous English expression says, “Money is the root of all evil.” We all want it and we need it to survive, but what is it really?
Everyone knows that we need money to buy and sell things, but it wasn’t always necessary. Before the creation of money, people traded for what they wanted. If you had apples, but wanted beef, you found another farmer who had cows and tried to exchange the meat for your fruit. Of course, this wasn’t efficient. If the cattle farmer didn’t want apples, you couldn’t easily get what you wanted.
In order to make exchanging things easier, people needed something else of value that they could use to buy and sell things. Different cultures used different things such as corn, stones, beans, shells and even salt. Anything that was durable, could be easily divided, and everyone recognized as having value could be used as money. For a long time, many cultures used gold and silver as money. Being durable, easily made into coins, and rare, everyone agreed that it was valuable.
Today we use pieces of paper and electronic numbers in our bank accounts as money. These things have zero intrinsic value. We can’t eat the paper or use the numbers in the bank to keep us warm, but everyone believes they have value, so we can use them to buy food, clothes or whatever we want.
Some people think that money is necessary for a society to grow, but one of the bigger cultures of the 15th and 16th century survived without any form of money. The Incan empire stretched through much of South America, including parts of modern day Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. At its height, it had a population of 12 million and was incredibly rich in textiles, food and gold. They had complex agriculture and were master builders of cities, pyramids and highways. Amazingly, they did it all without any form of money.
In Incan society, the government provided everything from clothes to food and all the necessities of life. In exchange for these things, everyone including city planners, soldiers and farmers worked for the government.
In the modern world, a society without money wouldn’t be able to compete with other societies, but it’s interesting to think back on a simpler time. What about you? Do you think you could live without money?
How would you finish this sentence, Money is___________.
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