“I’m sorry. I only have a debit card.” The elderly woman is purchasing a guitar string, the price–one dollar and ten cents. Plus tax. She has no cash, but her trusty plastic card is readily accessible and is in her wrinkled hand in a flash. It is only one of a multitude of such cashless transactions which will be handled through my cash register today. I smile at the lady and tell her not to worry. “We like plastic!” It is, in fact, the mode of payment for the great majority of our sales these days.
I mention this mundane event, truly an everyday occurrence for us, only because of the deeper thoughts that I can’t stop from racing through my head. I chuckle every time someone apologizes for not handing me what they think is real cash, as I consider the progression of this thing we call currency. I laugh because I have recently heard many people bemoaning the lack of the stamped coins and folding printed bills with which to pay their tabs in my store. They’d rather pay with cash, but they only carry the plastic cards now, and they miss the way their wealth used to feel in their pockets and hands. And, as I hear them complain, I am taken back a few years to the time when the printed money was changed in appearance. “It looks like someone spilled coffee on it!” I heard, as one man held up the then-new ten dollar bill. “They’re just like Monopoly money,” was heard again and again, as the new bills appeared in wallets and cash registers. Back then, I found myself recalling a time a few years before, when President Nixon had effectively taken us off of the so-called Gold Standard. It was almost like heresy to many, who wanted to believe that their cash had something tangible to back it up. Before that, under President Johnson, silver coins were devalued when new silver-clad ones were issued, much cheaper copper making up the bulk of the coin hidden inside. We sarcastically called them sandwich coins, intimating that they were worthless, although in appearance, they were quite similar.
Do you see a pattern here? If all you have done as I’ve written about the changes in our currency in recent years is to agree that we have greatly devalued our money by these changes, you are missing the point. Back up just a bit more and take in the entire scene. Go back a few more years. See the gold being confiscated by President Roosevelt. Think about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in paper money issued during the Civil War, without any backing whatsoever. Almost a century before that, when the Continental Congress issued the first money for our new nation, it was called Continental currency. Within months, it was worthless, backed by no assets whatsoever. Many refused to take the Continentals in exchange for their goods or labor, giving rise to the phrase, “Not worth a Continental.”
Have you backed up far enough to see it? Sometimes we are so spellbound by the magician’s hands that we don’t see what the rest of his body is doing. Yep. It’s all just an illusion. I’m talking about currency again. We focus so much on what we have worked all of our lives to earn and save, that we don’t realize that the dollars, or pesos, or yen, are nothing more than simple tools which have been elevated in our collective minds to be the finished product. We believe the cash itself is the goal, when in actuality, its only purpose is to help form a common evaluation which can be used to acquire goods and services.
The value is not the dollars. It is what those dollars will accomplish. Yet whole civilizations have risen and fallen based on worthless currencies. Kingdoms have been built out of trashy pieces of paper and shiny pieces of metal. Countless generations have sold their souls for those same baubles and knick-knacks. Even our generation is right now sacrificing our children and our grandchildren on the altar of cash–that cash, without argument, just as much an idol as any wooden or stone image ever formed with human hands.
I have a proposition to make. Maybe we could agree to recognize money for what it is—simply a tool to perform a function. Perhaps, in this election year, we could even agree not to be offensive to each other as we discuss how this tool is wielded by our representative government. Perhaps we could talk rationally and cooperate with those around us, as we help to open as many eyes as we can to the folly of trusting in the paper and coins cranked out daily by our printing presses and mints. We say that we trust in God. Let’s prove it by not arguing about money. There are more important things about which to go to battle. When we fight over the false gods of the world, we guarantee that the world will ignore any other warnings we may voice about the real dangers all of us face.
Cash, or credit. It matters not. I’m finally beginning to see through the illusion.I think I’ll be putting my trust in something just a little more dependable.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…Command those who are rich in this world not to be arrogant, nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain; but to put their trust in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
(I Timothy 6:10a,17~NIV)
“Money is the worst currency that ever grew among mankind. This sacks cities, this drives men from their homes, this teaches and corrupts the worthiest minds to turn base deeds.”
(Sophocles~Ancient Greek playwright~Fifth century BC)
(Sophocles~Ancient Greek playwright~Fifth century BC)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.