Stone Money—Flyerfan

Money is a vital factor in our society today. It buys houses, pays bills, and even can build cities. Money is also used in everyday business, being exchanged for products or services. Money may be vital to society, but is it vital for humans to live? Money physically cannot feed a family, it cannot clothe people, cannot be put together to build a house, so what is money all about? If I walked on the street and asked different people what money was, I would probably get different responses from each person. However, each response would be along the lines of “money is used to buy stuff.” Others may have to take time to think of their response. The official definition of money is a current medium of exchange between coins and bank notes. This is a definition defining money as a physical item, even before this assignment I too thought of money as a physical item. However, after thinking about it, I assure you that it is far from it.

When I head over to a gas station or convenience store, and use the ATM, you receive a slip of paper confirming your transaction, it gives you the balance of your account. If the balance of the account is for example $5,000 dollars, then that $5 grand isn’t right there in your hands on the slip of paper, and there is not a little compartment in the ATM that holds your 5 grand. The banks physically do not hold all of your money in a little room, your money is circulated all over the world. Here is a physical example to help you understand, say I get paid a 100 dollar bill. Holding this germ covered, green piece of paper with 100 written all over it, you see Ben Franklin looking at you with pride. Say I take this green piece of paper, draw a red X on it and deposit it in the bank, a week later I go and withdraw 100 dollars. Will I get my red X 100 dollar bill back, no I will not. When I deposited that 100 dollars the only thing that changed was a number on a computer system. That number can be viewed by the bank, by an ATM machine, and by me on a banking app. Our red X 100 dollar bill has now been taken into the banks safe where it is put into circulation. What does this mean, this means that if another person comes by to withdraw 100 dollars they may wind up getting my red X bill. Then they deposit it, and the cycle continues.  If you think about it, money is just an abstract concept. A long time ago in the early stages gold was the only currency of our country. To buy food, or water you would actually have to hand the clerk a piece of metal. Then the abstract concept of paper money was born. Due to the unfavorable test of lugging gold around, you could go to the bank and exchange cash for gold. You could get 1 dollars worth, or 1000 dollars worth, just as long as you had the cash. The money was just an abstract concept because it represented the gold sitting in the bank. If all the gold suddenly disappeared one day, then all the cash would be worthless. For example if I went to the bank and exchanged a little bit of gold for cash, but suddenly the gold disappeared, my cash wouldn’t be worth anything, the cash was just a convenience. It was almost like a title on a car, you can give another man the title, and yes he may own it, however if there is no car then he is just holding a piece of paper with a name of a car.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was an island near Germany called Yap. The people of Yap used fei as their currency. However, fei is very special because it is a large wheel like stone. The fei is made from limestone which can only be reached on another island. Milton Friedman talks about how these people on the island of Yap, use fei as their currency. “Their medium of exchange they call fei, and it consists of a large, solid, thick, stone wheels, ranging from a foot to twelve feet,” says Friedman. The people on Yap’s currency is enormous, it cannot fit in any wallet I own. The people on Yap had to go to another island which was 400 miles away, and had to carve the fei from limestone. Limestone was not found on Yap. The people used canoes and rafts to make the treacherous journey. With extremely heavy stones and flimsy canoes and rafts, something is eventually going to happen. When talking about the people of Yap and their currency the NPR broadcast states that,”You don’t actually have to have the stone to own the stone. The stone is sitting on a path or something, and everybody knows that I own it.” You physically do not have it, but in everyone’s mind you do. One day while sailing back to Yap, the canoes sank, sending all the fei to the bottom of the ocean. “They came back and told the people of Yap what happened, the people of Yap said that’s fine, thats no problem,” “the stones at the bottom of the ocean are still owned.(said in NPR broadcast)” So the people of Yap physically did not have the fei in their possession. They just had the possession of the idea of the fei. For example, say I’m on Yap and have 3 fei, ones in the ocean, ones on a path somewhere, and one is in front of my house. A random stranger from the US comes by and sees my house he would assume I have 1 fei, but my neighbors on Yap would know I have 3 fei.

While searching around about fake, abstract money I noticed an interesting article titled, “How Fake Money saved Brazil.” In the article, Channa Joffe-Walt talks about “how an economist and his buddies tricked the people of Brazil into saving the country from rampant inflation.” Joffe-Walt talks about the crippling inflation that had hit Brazil.” In Brazil, inflation was killing the economy. Milk, and eggs would be priced at a dollar one day, the two dollars the very next day. People would have to run faster than the clerk who would mark up the prices to get the lower prices from the previous day. With many factors like inflation, who knows what can happen? The stock market crash, and the housing market crash are all reminders how are economy can be crippled just like that.

What is money? This question has been asked forever, and is still being though about today. My definition is that money is fake, it is an illusion of our society today, it is a status symbol, a tool, and sometimes a savior. It does not accomplish anything physically, just metaphorically. You cannot build a house out of money, but you can pay for one. There may be physical items paper money, gold, coins, and fei, however money is just fake.

Work Cited

Work CitedFriedman, Milton. “The Island of Stone Money.” Diss. Hoover Institution, Stanford University , 1991.

The Invention of Stone Money.” 423: The Invention of Stone Money. This Is American Life, WBEZ. Chicago . 7 Jan. 2011.

Joffe-Walt, Chana . “How Fake Money Saved Brazil.” 4 Oct. 2010. 9 Sept. 2017. <>;.


5 thoughts on “Stone Money—Flyerfan”

    1. I presume the summarized item is the anecdote of the aunt’s comment. As a standalone bit of writing, it nicely captures a moment in time. But its placement in the middle of that long paragraph creates an uneasy pivot in your argument.

      My overall recommendation is to start a new paragraph every time you’ve developed a main idea and are ready for the next. Your paragraph 2 appears to contain several.

      That nice Zuckerberg McDuck section illustrates the absurdity of imagining “our money” being collected in a discrete location. It doesn’t have to be any more because money is shedding its physicality.

      But the aunt’s comment about money’s fictionality is essentially different. She means: those houses were never “worth” 3 million dollars each. The buyers didn’t have enough money to pay for them. There wasn’t enough income to justify the loans. ETC. The whole thing was just imaginary valuation. She’s not talking about digital currency. She means money is only as “valuable” as we think it is. Its value is imaginary.

      From there you pivot back to a discussion of actual physicality. Gold became paper. The paper was an abstract representation of gold, not its physical reality. It was practically speaking an “option” to get some actual gold from the bank.

      See the problem? You couldn’t blame your reader for losing track of your argument.


  1. Your turn, Flyerfan. Thank you for your patience.

    I recognize that notes would have been more useful to you if I’d written them for you days ago, and that we’re rapidly approaching tonight’s midnight deadline for your Rewrite. But the deadline is not final. It’s a step in a process. If you’ve been working at your rewrite by reflecting on the “lecture” examples and advice, these individual Notes will only enhance—I hope—what you’re already doing. Post your best Rewrite by the deadline, but don’t consider it finished unless you’re satisfied with it. You’re permitted—advised!—to continue to improve your posts at any time, before and after the deadlines, before and after grading.

    You haven’t asked for any particular type of feedback, so I’ll just read and respond as I go and see how far we get.

    I’m going to be honest, Flyerfan; I read your first paragraph out of obligation, not interest. Harsh-sounding but helpful, I hope. We’ll describe this sort of writing in class as “throat clearing,” or the essay equivalent of tapping the microphone and saying “Testing 1 2 3.” What we want is the main act. You first grabbed my attention with the slip that comes out of the ATM. Why can’t that be your introduction? Answer: it can be. Start there, in the middle of the mystery. And don’t be a slave to reality. Invent a scenario if you like.

    When my dad told me he didn’t have any money for hot dogs, I always knew he was lying. All he had to do was go to the ATM with his card. Making money was easy.

    Or something timely:

    In Puerto Rico right now, the ATMs are closed by power outages but people still have money. What they don’t have is cash. When the power comes back, the banks will probably have to limit cash withdrawals because if everybody wanted to withdraw all their cash at once, there wouldn’t be enough currency to meet the demand. The question about money is, “Where’s mine if the bank doesn’t have it?”

    You spend A LOT OF WORDS on the exchange of dollar bills for gold, Flyerfan. We’ll work on slimming down those fat sentences another time. For now, it’s a strong example that introduces the concept of money’s representative value, its abstractness.

    By the time you get to the car title, you’ve used three illustrations to support three concepts in just one paragraph. A better organizational plan would maximize the impact of those examples by devoting a paragraph to each. The car title example is the best of the bunch for several reasons.

    First, it’s like that ATM slip. It proclaims your ownership of something else, but ownership of the paper is inconsequential. The deed to a house. A contract that guarantees me a dollar every time Starbucks sells a latte. A check for $1 million. They are just documentary evidence of social agreements. A dollar was a promise of a dollars-worth of gold. Now it’s a promise of some coffee. But a dollars-worth of gold isn’t the same amount of gold every day. (When it changes, is the dollar worth more, or is the gold worth less?) All commodities fluctuate against one another, coffee, dollars, gold, the house. This week, coffee is worth a dollar at Wawa. And it doesn’t matter how much coffee. What sense does that make?

    That title is worth AT LEAST a paragraph. Not because it needs more words, mind you, but because it suggests so many ideas.

    Reading your Yap paragraph, I’m waiting for the claim that will show me the value of all these words. The details are interesting, but . . . .

    Let me use an analogy. You and I are visiting a Costa Rican rainforest with a guide but I’m wearing my Sony MDR-XB950B1 Extra Bass Wireless Headphones while you’re paying attention. I see the guide point to trees, frogs, birds, lichen, ferns, and poop. Eventually, I see YOU start pointing at things and the guide nodding in agreement. At the end of our walk, you have a clear understanding of the impact of global warming on the local ecosystem; meanwhile, I have just seen a lot of things. We took the same walk. One of us was prepared to understand.

    You are the guide for your reader. Tell your reader what to look for and what the evidence shows. You’ve introduced the VERY USEFUL concept of the car title. It should be fantastically helpful to you and your readers.

    Nobody knows from looking into my garage how many cars I own. We’re completely comfortable with the idea that I can own cars that aren’t on my premises, just as we don’t fret when someone owns two houses but lives in only one at a time, or owns an apartment building without living in any of them. So why do we think the Yap should have to physically possess the huge limestone disks they used as money?

    That would be a startling and effective way to introduce your Yap paragraph. It would shape our entire understanding of the value of that paragraph BEFORE we get all the details. It would force readers to collaborate with the writer in understanding almost simultaneously, that we initially resist the idea of owning that stone at the bottom of the sea nobody has seen, but that we’re just silly to have misunderstood it.

    The ONLY difference between us and the Yap in this example is that we would keep a written (or now, a digital) record of the transactions. A title to the car. One day you will pay off the car you’re making payments on today. Nothing will change. You’ve been driving and maintaining the car for years, lending it to friends, and tomorrow, when it’s yours, you’ll still be using it to pick up hitchhikers. Only the paperwork has changed. The fei stays where it is. At the bottom of the sea. But you own something that was the property of the bank.

    If these strategic approaches to making the most of your illustrations and collaborating with your readers by guiding them to the appropriate conclusions help you improve your writing, Flyerfan, it will be because they improve your thinking, not your use of language.

    In future revisions, we can spend more time on that.

    Thank you so much for engaging in this conversation, Flyerfan. I look forward to your response and your Rewrite. Do as much as you can to improve your work by midnight, but remember the deadline is just a marker of progress. Even before it receives a grade you can improve it. And after it receives a grade, you can continue to improve it. Please reply.


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