An in-depth look at something best not to think about
Q. What, in the simplest terms, is money?
A. It’s a non-existent entity that we base our entire economy on.
Q. What do you mean it’s “non-existent”? I have some dollars in my wallet right now. Those are real.
A. Maybe you have some paper currency that says it represents the value of “one dollar,” but it might as well say they represent the value of “one leprechaun” since a leprechaun is just as real as a dollar.
Q. You’re just talking nonsense. If money isn’t real, how come I buy things like food with it every day?
A. The existence of money is a very commonly held superstition, and as long as enough people are deluded into thinking it’s real, you can use it to exchange for goods and services. It’s like if everyone was absolutely certain bigfoot was real, people could exchange coupons good for one piggyback ride on bigfoot as currency.
Q. But you can’t actually get a ride on bigfoot.
A. Well, yeah, if people started trying to exchange their coupons for actual bigfoot rides and then found there was no bigfoot, that system of currency would immediately collapse. The American government solved that problem by stopping claiming the dollar actually represented anything. It used to be you could exchange a dollar to the government for that amount in gold — which, unlike bigfoot, exists — but in the 70s, they decided to make the dollar an entirely fictional concept that represents nothing real or claimed to be real. Thus, you can only exchange it with other people who have a superstitious belief in the existence of a dollar — which, luckily, is the vast majority of retailers.
Q. This all sounds very precarious.
A. Well, yeah, the system has worked okay for a long time, but if people suddenly went, “Wait? What is a dollar? You can’t eat a dollar? You can’t build a house or clothes out of it?” then everything we know would crumble to dust.
Q. So everything could collapse at any moment?
A. Technically, yeah. Look at it this way: You know how Wile E. Coyote sometimes walks off a cliff but doesn’t fall until he looks down? With the American dollar, hundreds of millions of people stand on nothing. Now, a handful of people can look down and see we’re standing on nothing, and that won’t affect everyone else because until a critical mass looks down, we’ll continue to stand there… on nothing.
Q. What’s a critical mass in this situation?
A. I dunno. 3%, maybe. After that many people make a fuss, things would start to spiral.
Q. And the whole economy will collapse?
Q. If people finding this out could cause the economy to collapse, why are you telling me?!
A. Well… you asked. And this is an FAQ.
Q. But if this information could destroy everything, you should be hiding it!
A. Hey, it’s not my job to keep society from collapsing. My job is to write. That’s how I make money.
Q. But you just said money isn’t real!
A. Where did you get the idea that I, Frank J. Fleming, would not exploit people’s superstitions? I kept telling my kids about Santa Claus to get them to behave. BTW, if you haven’t already, consider becoming a paid subscriber to this Substack. Before you hesitate, remember that the money you’re spending isn’t real.