Calling Money “Promises”

Context: Money is an entirely human construction that we often believe helps humans make exchanges between one another. To quote the narrator in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, who is reflecting on our current society from one million years in the future “The value of their money was imaginary”. The value of money is currently not attached to anything. It is something we make up together and trust is true. It is based on a series of promises that we will respect each other’s perceptions of what value these numbers and pieces of paper have. The numbers and pieces of paper (or metal or plastic) are commonly referred to as money, but money is what it represents, not what it is. Why are we not calling these agreements between people, these promises, what they are? With how much these fundamental human relationships have been perverted by the “financial system” (eg. derivatives), the trend is certainly to simplify what the hell is going on.

Idea: Let’s call money “promises”, or “agreements”, or “value” or some combination of the three. The intention is to bring back the meaning of this instrument we call money. Instead of having 5 dollars, you would have 5 promises, or 5 units of promises. Giving someone $5 for a beer is a promise that you have done or will do something that will provide as much value as both of you believe that beer is worth. Then you see that some people’s promises are worth a lot more or less than others. 5 units of promise to one person is not much of a promise at all compared to someone whose work we promise little value for. We’ll be saying things like “We’re giving that person this many of our promises for doing that, and we’re only promising this hard-working nurse a tenth of that?”. We often say these things already, but always in reference to an amount of money, that thing that represents the promise of value, but is not value in itself (except in our imaginations). Bankers will have to explain in much simpler terms what they are doing with our promises, and who the agreements we are making are with, and why the value of our promises is increasing. This is a whole lexicon shift away from the inaccessible hyper-complex system that most people in North America are bought into, some would argue by necessity. This change will require championship and publicity from thought leaders, and a seriously slick and funny and logical advertising campaign.

Problems

  • This idea tries to make capitalism seem more wholesome without addressing foundational flaws in it.
  • It will be hard as hell to make people think of money as anything but money. Person-to-person conversation seems to work fairly well.
  • The “financial system” will remain very difficult for most people to understand, and conversations like this will seem futile until the power held by the major financial institutions is eroded substantially.
  • The sort of campaign needed to change the conversation in this way would require a huge amount of resources and there are few organizations with the required resources who would think it is their role to do this.
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