King Croesus' gold

The first state-backed money

One of the ideas that has fascinated me for a number of years now is the idea of am alternative economy that is not based on resource scarcity and does not use money as the medium of exchange. Most of this thinking was inspired by Cory Doctorow’s sci-fi story “Down and out in the magic kingdom“. Recently I have had some more fuel to add to this fire.
I am listening to an excellent podcast series produced by the BBC called “A history of the world in 100 objects”. In today’s episode they talked about the gold coins of King Croesus. These represented the first (along with some money in China) state supported currencies. They were significant because the state provide a guarantee of the weight and purity of the coins. This allowed for much more fluid and efficient commerce, and it was all based on trust. The system worked because people believed in the government to produce fair coins. In the podcast the host points out that this new way of thinking about trade was spurred on by the human desire to value things that represent possibilities. People will aquire wealth and hoard money well beyond what can ever be spent in a lifetime because of the possibilities that such wealth represents. It stirs their imagination.
When not listening to that podcast I am reading the excellent book “Thoughtful interaction design”. Today I read an interesting passage that talked about design ability and how that can be understood as a kind of intelligence oriented toward creating things for certain purposes. They reference a book by R. Musil called “The Man without Qualities” where he talks about a related notion to design ability, something he calls a “sense of possibility”. Someone with such a sense can just as easily perceive what is possible as they can describe that which already exists.
It is this inherent creative ability that exists to a greater or lesser extent in all of us that allows us all to participate in the global fiction that is known as “money”. It is also the fueling of this sense of possibility that seems to drive people to accumulate massive wealth. That is why Doctorow’s notion of a popularity currency is so rational to me. It formalizes the aspect of popularity and power that we all know – the fact that people will give and do things for a person of influence. If you have enough status, the possibilities are endless.

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