To an economist, money is a rather cold commodity. It just needs to be a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value.
But there is much more. Money has its human side.
The Human Side of Money
Economic anthropologists tell us that money creates relationships. Their lens sees the networks and hierarchies within which forms of money circulate. They see money as glue that can help a society stick together. For individuals, they see the characteristics of relationships that a monetary link can establish. Something as simple as a cash gift shifts how two people relate. For entire family groups, a cash gift can initiate a lifetime of social obligations where both sides become givers and recipients.
From here, we can leap to the national level. By approving and disseminating a form of official payments, the state is expressing its power. When Europeans colonized distant lands, their form of money replaced and thereby subjugated others. They literally imposed the power of the purse.
Again at the national level, the money itself conveys a message. The design on a bill can reflect the power of a leader, the romance of the national environment, a lesson in history. In the U.S., many of us cared about a new image on the $20 bill. Having a woman replace Andrew Jackson would have sent a new national message.
Our Bottom Line: Defining Money
So yes, we can add up our money. We can calculate what we owe to others and to our nation. But also, money says more. It has an emotional side through a present to a child or a divorce settlement or even some life insurance. It provides clues about a culture, mutual obligations, relationships, and even an election. Money affects our individual identity and how we connect to the billions of people on our planet.
So yes, the three characteristics of money are just a beginning that we have just started to consider today.
Our featured image is from Pixabay.