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12/24/98 The Parking Lot
12/10/98 Mountains
12/01/98 Garage Sale
11/12/98 The Car Salesman
10/29/98 What Is Money?
10/15/98 Sick People
10/01/98 Baseball
09/17/98 Dollars and Sense

What is Money?

I look around and see legions of people living the American Dream. We are surrounded by nice cars, spacious homes, manicured streets, and a terrific school system. For all intents and purposes, we have "arrived."

Lately, however, I have worried about how we can maintain this standard of living. After all, I'm kind of attached. What is this thing called "money" and how do we have so much of it?

I believe that money is a figment of our imagination. Once upon a time, it was born to facilitate trade (since buckskins are so heavy to carry), but it has since grown into a comic abstraction. Money refers to a mass of numbers, or concepts, floating through the air. We call this "cash flow." When our trees need trimming, we dip our finger into the cash flow and fling some at the gardener. When our car needs gas, we pull up to the pump and swipe some data through the machine. Some gas stations allow you to wave your data at the machine. With Direct Deposit, we don't touch a paycheck anymore. Our employer dumps the numbers on our name, and off we go.

We are currency redistribution centers.

Money is energy, which we create by performing a service. For our service, we receive a statement reporting our energy gain. We can trade it in for cash but with the understanding that it is the president's picture on the bill and not our own. In other words, currency is vulnerable to the Have-Nots. When we buy a hamburger at McDonald's, the food is assigned a numeric value demanding a specific amount of energy. We hand over some green pieces of paper on which the energy value is recorded, and the whole lard feast is ours.

There is a vignette in the book Jacob the Baker that tells of a man who placed a basket of free apples on his ledge for passers-by. People strolled by and saw the apples but stayed away. One day, the man placed a sign on the basket reading, "Delicious apples, $5 each." Soon he was swamped with people who had to taste a five-dollar apple.

Value is whatever we make of it. In the middle the desert, a glass of lemonade is worth our life savings. On a deserted isle, a pot of gold is worthless. And what makes gold so precious anyway? All it does is glitter, and even then with the help of light. Gold isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

You may have noticed the 652,741 homes burrowing into the hillsides. We have more rich people than we do hills to put them on. The land is appraised by value experts who assign long numbers to them. If we keep carving up the scenery, however, those same experts will change their minds. Or the numbers themselves may change alongisde people's viewpoint.

A recession is just a rumor that other people don't have money. Wealth is just an abundance of energy (serious money instead of money that's screwing around). Debt is an energy imbalance. The national debt is an IOU from a guy named Franky who lost his ass in seven-card stud and snuck out the back door with the world's last beer.

For these reasons, I've decided to stop obsessing about the future. No more worrying about where money is coming from, what it will do when it gets here, or how I'll live when my skin shrivel. Instead, I am going to enjoy my sojourn here in the American Dream as long as it lasts. As any surfer will tell you, take what the wave gives you. I will be free with my dead presidents because, like Doritos, they'll make more. I will make more. And when someone asks me how much money I earn, I will say, "It depends on what mood I'm in."


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