Define Money Pt2


Sumer woman's head dress death pit
From the book, Ur of the Chaldees, by Sir leonard Wolley. A Woman’s head dress, from the death pit

In my last blog I posed the question, Define Money, I am going to fill in a few of the gaps in my theory.

an unlimited number of factors and variants

In the final analysis the money that circulates as cash is just a token. The actual item whether a note, coin, cheque, figure on a computer screen, an intangible figure in a debit card, or a debit on a credit card statement, only exist, because we each have the confidence that another person will accept the value. That value is arrived at, not by any one person deciding its price, but by an unlimited number of factors and variants, that no individual decides, but that a nebulous idea brings about.

Back in the Neolithic period, humans had a revolution in development, it was called farming, this was one element, along with others that led to the ‘Invention’ of money.

On a personal level I am not happy with the term ‘Invention’, as it suggests a single human was responsible for it coming into being. This isn’t really the case, it comes into existence, because of efficiencies, or to give it another term, productivity. Money is a result of a surplus of anything over and above the needs of the being that creates it. The fact that more goods can be moved more efficiently by water, makes boats a contributing factor in money. That flint knapping is more productive than other stone tools, contributes to money coming into being.

together they increase productivity

Farming was probably the spark that started the fire, but the required kindling in the form of other efficiencies, boats, flint knapping are two, keeping livestock is another, together they increase productivity, this all led to the creation of money.

My roses need dead heading, but even with my part time work on them, they have multiple blossoms. A person working full time in a field can harvest much more than Nature naturally produces.

When the first proto money was being used, there was probably no concept of money, certainly no word for it. All that would be happening was an exchange of goods, they could not define money.

But take note, this in itself, is an increase in efficiency.

Hunter gathers have been studied in the 20th century, and one thing that is striking is, any tribes who have not come into real contact with modern peoples, don’t carry goods from one place to another. This blows out of the water any thinking that, hunter gatherers saved excess food for times when there was a famine or drought.

Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) people were hunter gatherers, however that is only part of the story. Archaeological evidence from studies carried out in Central Europe, show that Mesolithic people had a base from where they hunted or gathered, but that when the food ran out, they moved to another base.

human digestion system to gain more calories

Some Mesolithic people kept domesticated animals, these would seem to have been moved with the particular tribe. This results in an efficiency, so they had some food, to tied them over until they could gather more food. There is also cooking to be considered, the process of heating food, allows the human digestion system to gain more calories from the same amount of food. This allowed Mesolithic people to support larger families, for the same amount of food.

They also had boats, alright they were simple dugouts or timbers lashed together and caulked to allow them to float, or hides in the form of coracles. No matter they were more efficient than a simple log.

The problem is, Mesolithic people have no universal exchange medium in excess to their needs, such a thing starts to define money.

The upshot is they had no item that can be universally exchanged.

At this point there is no useful item that is both large or small that can be universally exchanged. Gold, silver, bronze, etcetera have not been discovered. Food always has its own value, because it can sustain life, boats have a value to a person wishing to cross some water. Metals on the other hand have no value in themselves, until they can be made into some technological item. So if you see someone chucking an old PC away, just remember, that there is gold in them thar circuits? Until the Neolithic period and farming, there is no excess of food, over and above that needed to support life.

doesn’t need to be fed and watered

The advantage of metal is, that one person can accept it, then save it for a period, knowing they can use it again later, to exchange for a good they may require. It also doesn’t need to be fed and watered to maintain its value, all other things being equal, it is an ideal token.

Everything points to the concept of an intermediary token, being used, before the idea of money came into existence. We cannot at this time even begin to define money.

Sumerian numbers
Sumer in the fertile crescent had a base 60 numbering system.

In the Fertile Crescent, where money is first recorded, it was as a measure of grain. So firstly there was a measure, which just happens to be grain, and is accepted by the peoples of who at the time are called Sumerians. This is the Tigris and Euphrates region of modern Iraq, you may also know it as Babylon and Mesopotamia, although these are slightly different eras.

Everything starts to come together, around these ‘Cities’ that have been established.

They invent writing on clay tablets, which enables records of transactions to be kept, as a consequence of keeping track of goods. Numbers begin to be used and so early mathematics is invented. This allows for measurements to be kept, and the kings establish a measurement for grain, the shekel. Also bookkeeping came into being, and so accounts of different animals belonging to different people were kept.

So when someone in Sumer/Mesopotamia/Babylon died, and their chattels were being calculated, there needed to be a means of estimating how this should be divided amongst the family. So what is a goat in comparison with a sheep, or cow? Here is where we need some means to define the universal value, and in doing so, we define money?

Money is such a slippery thing

But do we? Money is such a slippery thing, the above calculation only pins down what a person had in goods, not their value as a human being. This is where money becomes a cumbersome burden. We can calculate a value or worth in money for each and every person, but only in on one level, their ability to add monetary worth to the world. But people have more than one level to their lives, this leaves the value in love and happiness, incalculable.

There is also the unseen value of what a person brought to the world while they went about their daily life. Yesterday, is a song written by Sir Paul McCartney, it has brought untold joy to many. In 1965 the Beatles were awarded MBEs for services to British industry, many people objected, mainly because they had no concept of the value of music, and the joy it brings, but also that it is a manufactured good, just the same as the Mini car that was being sold at the time. Ask yourself, which was the last you saw or heard. A 1960s car, running around the roads, or a song from the 1960s. I’ll lay money that 90% of you, it was the song from the 1960s?

It is money, but not as you would define it?

Author: John Ashtone

John Ashtone, aspiring author, on Politics, Economics and History, with a few dashes of humour thrown in for good measure. I currently live in Wakefield, just south of my Home City of Leeds, both are in West Yorkshire, England.

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