Think back, if you can, to the first time you handled $100 bill. Remember who’s on its face? What was your feeling?
If you haven’t done that, go to your bank and get one. It won’t bite, I promise. Now, as for the feelings?
How about a silver dollar?
Neither is it something we use in our general circulation.
Even though the Ben Franklin is worth something like a $20 bill was back when I graduated from college, that twenty still seems to be the max that people handle easily. Even a fifty gets suspicious looks at the checkout counter.
As for that silver dollar? It’s for collectors, right? Or something like a jewelry drawer?
When you started these exercises, were you shrugging off cash as a neutral object possessing no spirit or motion of its own? Did you — or do you — view money as being totally dependent upon the temperament of its users? This, of course, is the classical argument of the science of economics.
But as we’ve been looking more intensely, we’re seeing money issues scuttle off in many directions. Just what are people exchanging? The fact that we call coins change says something of their chameleon nature.
And we speak of money as a medium of exchange. Maybe we need to remember that a medium can meddle with spirits, as in a seance, or burn with friction, as in electrical resistors — the kind that heat stovetops and ovens, clothes irons, and electric blankets.
Is cash nothing more than an extension of barter? Or does something much broader occur as we handle our finances?
Dictionary definitions often help sharpen our focus. With money, however, they yield surprisingly little insight — which is, in its own way, informative. For example, there’s this, from an American Heritage edition:
MONEY 1. A commodity that is legally established as an exchangeable equivalent of all other commodities and used as a measure of their comparative market value. 2. The official currency issued by a government. 3. Assets and property considered in terms of their monetary value; wealth. 4. Profit or loss measured in money.
We’re still at the noun stage. A cold noun, at that. Perhaps the first definition in a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary is more helpful:
Officially issued coins and paper currency that serve as a medium of exchange and a measure of value and may be used as payment for goods and services and for settlement of debts.
At least we’re getting a glimmer of some verb action — it pays up or settles debts and even measures values. What is still missing is an awareness of the emotional content of money.
Tell us your experience of touching the $100 bill or the silver dollar.