Posted by Allison on 5 April 2009, 10:58
You can tell a lot about a person by what they say. Similarly you can find out a lot about a particular subject by what people say about it.
Currency is a typical example. Let's face it, money as a whole is intricately linked with human development. From those first days when we started to trade items with each other, we realised there was a need for some way of completing those trades quickly and easily.
Of course, trading currencies is rather more complex nowadays than it was back then, which is probably why so many people have such a lot to say about it.
David Bach got it right though when he said the following about what money means to us as a whole: “Financial education needs to become a part of our national curriculum and scoring systems so that it's not just the rich kids that learn about money… it's all of us.”
Since currency can and does have a profound effect on how we live our lives, David's idea would seem to be a good one.
You may not have heard of Eli Broad, but he has perhaps one of the best definitions of currency you will ever have heard. Eli is extremely rich and is a philanthropist, and he has this to say about currency: “Ideas, more than money, are the real currency for success.”
Those are very true words spoken in a world where we tend to get too caught up in what money means to us. Relationships between countries can become extremely fraught if the exchange rates we are used to suddenly change in any marked way (witness the fall of the dollar for example – that has got many Americans talking about what their currency is really worth and whether they should adopt the Gold Standard again). What Eli is urging us to do is to take our eyes off currency and focus them on how we can work in a more productive way. A currency is after all no more than a means of exchange.
However there are some people who have an altogether different view of money – although thankfully the most notable of these is a cartoon character. Charles Montgomery Burns (Monty Burns for short) will be very familiar to viewers of The Simpsons as the richest person in the programme and a very selfish and money obsessed man. His view of currency is as follows: “One dollar for eternal happiness? I'd be happier with the dollar.”
But going back to the real world, there is much more to learn about the currencies which rule our everyday lives from those who actually play a role in making money from them. Jim Cramer is an American hedge fund manager and he has this to say: “I've lost tremendous amounts of money in various markets and I think that that's something that makes you better at my job, not worse.”
That's certainly a positive attitude towards currency and trading that many other people could probably benefit from. The world of finance and the stock market is also neatly summed up in this quote from the same man: “Every once in a while the market does something so stupid it takes your breath away.”
But while we can learn something from all these quotes, some people have a more direct approach to telling the truth about currency in all its forms. None is more profound than this quote by none other than Ernest Hemingway: “The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.”
That quote certainly speaks the truth by putting currency in direct comparison with war. It makes you look at the whole idea of currency in a different light.
But while currency might seem like nothing more than something that we hand over in exchange for something we want (whether that is a cup of coffee or a brand new house) in truth it is an indicator of much much more. This quote from Ross Perot illustrates the point very well: “A weak currency is the sign of a weak economy, and a weak economy leads to a weak nation.”
I wonder what the current American President George Bush has to say about that, in light of his country's troubles and plunging dollar at the moment.
We can also see the knowledge of others giving us a further insight into how the world of money really works. It can often seem somewhat confusing if you don't have a lot of inside or detailed knowledge about it, which is why comments like this one from Steven Hess help us understand how the economy works: “But finally they… are moving in the right direction by raising the interest rate. Inflation is relatively high and therefore the higher interest rate will help to stabilize the currency.”
An even better – if more direct – quote comes from the sixth President of the United States of America, John Quincy Adams: “All the perplexities, confusions and distresses in America rise, not from defects in the Constitution or confederation, not from want of honor or virtue, as much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.”
There cannot be many more truthful statements than that, and if that quote tells us anything it is that currencies are far more than simply a means of trading with one another; they are also a way of keeping a country moving forwards and being competitive with others.
But it is a workbook belonging to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago that really told the truth back in 1975. It said this about the reality of currency: “Neither paper currency nor deposits have value as commodities; intrinsically, a 'dollar' bill is just a piece of paper. Deposits are merely book entries.”
We can learn so much from what other people have already observed about currency, and it is arguable that it's here that we can really find out the truth about money and how it works in our world. So much of our current system of currency operates on simple (and some would say blind) faith and nothing more… and this can be quite a profound realisation when it finally hits you.
It is small wonder that so many people now believe the dollar is worth less than the paper it is printed onto. But more than that, currency does still have the capability of affecting an entire country – despite the fact it is printed on nothing but paper: “It is possible to impoverish a country merely by reducing the value of their currency… What we have grown is still there, but the value of our wealth has diminished fifty per cent.”
Mahathir Mohamad spoke those words, and none are truer. So the next time you think about how much the money in your pocket is worth, don't forget that there is far more to the world of currency than first meets the eye. If you are still not convinced, reading through the above quotes again usually does the trick.