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Posts Tagged ‘money

“To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace”*…

 

What does having money mean for us and for our neighbors? When the art critic John Ruskin took up this question in 1860, he started from the assertion that more money for us means less money for them, and he didn’t have to go much further to conclude that disparity, after all, might be the whole point of the enterprise…

Suppose any person to be put in possession of a large estate of fruitful land, with rich beds of gold in its gravel; countless herds of cattle in its pastures; houses, and gardens, and storehouses full of useful stores; but suppose, after all, that he could get no servants?

In order that he may be able to have servants, someone in his neighbourhood must be poor and in want of his gold—or his corn. Assume that no one is in want of either, and that no servants are to be had. He must, therefore, bake his own bread, make his own clothes, plough his own ground, and shepherd his own flocks. His gold will be as useful to him as any other yellow pebbles on his estate. His stores must rot, for he cannot consume them. He can eat no more than another man could eat, and wear no more than another man could wear. He must lead a life of severe and common labour to procure even ordinary comforts; he will be ultimately unable to keep either houses in repair, or fields in cultivation; and forced to content himself with a poor man’s portion of cottage and garden, in the midst of a desert of wasteland, trampled by wild cattle, and encumbered by ruins of palaces, which he will hardly mock at himself by calling “his own.”

The most covetous of mankind would, with small exultation, I presume, accept riches of this kind on these terms. What is really desired under the name of riches is, essentially, power over men; in its simplest sense, the power of obtaining for our own advantage the labour of servant, tradesman, and artist; in wider sense, authority of directing large masses of the nation to various ends (good, trivial, or hurtful, according to the mind of the rich person).

Via Lapham’s Quarterly, John Ruskin on the Master/Slave paradox: “Blessed are the Poor.” (From Ruskin’s “The Veins of Wealth.”)

[Image above, from here.]

* Confucius, The Analects

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As we wonder about wealth, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that Woody Guthrie wrote (the first version, he varied the lyrics over time) of “This Land is Your Land.”; he didn’t record the song until 1944, nor publish it until 1954.

Guthrie wrote the lyrics (to an extant tune) in response to to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio, he lifted his pen…as he’d considered writing a retort, he’d thought to name it “God Blessed America for Me”; happily, it surfaced with the title we know.

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Written by LW

February 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency”*…

 

In a world full of smartphone payments and cryptocurrency, 85% of all transactions are still done in cash. Australia actually sees cash demand rising at a steady 6% to 7% per year with no decline on the horizon.

As printers and scanners become more sophisticated, the government has moved to ensure that its currency is safe. “What we noticed in recent years, with the availability of technology—particularly around reproduction technology like scanners and printers—counterfeiting in Australia had started to increase. We’re in the fortunate position where it’s still pretty low but it is rising,” says James Holloway, deputy head of note issue at Reserve Bank of Australia. “We thought we just don’t want it to keep rising in a sustained fashion, so the time had come around upgrading security”…

How Australia means to frustrate counterfeiters: “The Painstaking, Secretive Process Of Designing New Money.”

* Vladimir Lenin

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that President George Washington named Alexander Hamilton as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  A founding Father, Hamilton created the Federalist Party, the world’s first voter-based political party, the the United States Coast Guard, and the The New York Post newspaper.  As Treasury Secretary Hamilton stabilized the nation’s economy and paid back the mountainous debt resulting from the Revolutionary War.  He established the first national bank and created the U.S. Mint in (the precursor of) the form in which we know it today.

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Written by LW

September 11, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Money doesn’t talk, it swears”*…

 

In 1858, the United States was an industrializing nation with a banking system stuck in frontier times… Heated battles over ‘the money question’ came to dominate the country’s politics, but no matter how unsatisfied the people, any solution that tended toward centralization was, due to the prevailing prejudice, off the table.

America was a monetary Babel with thousands of currencies; each state regulated its own banks and they collectively provided the country’s money. Officially, America was on a hard-money basis, but the amount of gold in circulation was insignificant…

And therein hangs a terrific tale, “Printing Money,” an excerpt from America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve in the always worthy Delancey Street; read it here.

* Bob Dylan

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As we bite our coins, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that money market deposit accounts were first offered by banks and S&Ls across the U.S.  Pioneered in the early 70s by brokerage houses, the accounts were a way around the Regulation Q prohibition on interest payments n demand accounts.

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Written by LW

December 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Making money is art”*…

 

Back in the 1890s, there was a conscious effort to turn American money into pocket-sized works of art. It resulted in the creation of what is still regarded as the most beautiful set of bank notes ever issued in the United States: the Educational Series of silver certificates…

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)—the government agency that controls what designs appear on the nation’s paper currency—was open to the idea of a money makeover. With the United States innovating and industrializing, it seemed an apt time for the nation’s progress to be reflected on the art of its bank notes. And the standard dead-president design was getting a bit tired: a New York Times article from March 3, 1896 acknowledged that “there has been for a long time a desire to make a change in the inartistic and stiff paper currency of the years that have gone.”

In an effort to bring more artistic merit to the silver certificate, the BEP approached Edwin Blashfield, Will H. Low, and Walter Shirlaw, three artists known for their elegant allegorical paintings. As muralists, Blashfield and Low were accustomed to working at a much larger scale than the 3.125-by-7.4218-inch dimensions of a silver certificate. But the painters’ flair for eye-pleasing composition and their ability to translate principles of national character into gorgeous tableaus of women in flowing robes was paramount. They were encouraged to submit large paintings, which a team of skilled engravers could then translate to currency-compatible format. According to the aforementioned Times article, 15 to 20 engravers worked on each note, each one assigned to a particular section of the design.

The resulting three artworks formed the basis for the $1, $2, and $5 silver certificates that came to be known as the 1896 Educational Series…

Flip through them at “Object of Intrigue: the Most Beautiful Banknote in U.S. History.”

* Andy Warhol

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As we consider the corporate logos on our credit cards, we might recall that it was since this date in 1908 that the motto “In God We Trust” has been stamped onto all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck by the U.S. Mint.

1908 P Indian Head Gold $2.50 “Quarter Eagle”

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Written by LW

July 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Got no checkbooks, got no banks”*…

 

Trinidad and Tobago, the tiny twin-island nation off the coast of Venezuela, has struck gold. Its newly re-released $50 note (TT) earned top billing in this year’s competition convened by the International Bank Note Society (IBNS).

Designed in partnership with the British banknote manufacturer De La Rue to commemorate the 50th (golden) anniversary of the country’s Central Bank, the $50 note shows familiar takes on its national symbols like its coat of arms, a red hibiscus flower, and a red capped cardinal bird, its wings fanned out like a palm tree. The back of the note depicts a smiling carnival dancer, collaged in front of the 22-story Central Bank and Ministry of Finance twin towers, which are the tallest buildings in the entire country…

Read the whole story and see the runners-up at “The world’s best banknotes of the year.”

* Irving Berlin, “I Got the Sun in the Morning”

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As we reach for our wallets, we might recall that it was on this date in 2012 that Facebook went public.  The IPO was the biggest in technology and one of the biggest in Internet history, with a peak market capitalization of over $104 billion.  Some pundits called it a “cultural milestone”; in any case, a great deal of money was “printed.”

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Written by LW

May 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”*…

 

People sometimes say “If I had all the money in the world …” in order to discuss what they would do if they had no financial constraints. I’m curious, though, what would happen if one person had all of the world’s money?

– Daniel Pino

So you’ve somehow found a way to gather all the world’s money. We won’t worry about how you did it—let’s just assume you invented some kind of money-summoning magic spell.

Physical currency—coins and bills—represents just a small percentage of the world’s wealth. In theory, you could edit all the property records on Earth to say that you own all the land and edit all the banking records to say you own all the money. But everyone else would disagree with those records, and they would edit them back or ignore them. Money is an idea, and you can’t make the entire world respect your idea.

Getting all the world’s cash, on the other hand, is much more straightforward. There’s a certain amount of cash in the world—it’s about $4 trillion—and you want it all…

Find out what you’d have to do with all that scratch on Randall Monroe’s What If? at “All the Money.”

* Sociologist William Bruce Cameron (though often attributed to Albert Einstein)

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As we go all Scrooge McDuck, we might send imperial birthday greetings to Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (better known as Vespasian); he was born on this date in 9 CE.  Vespasian was crowned Emperor of Rome in 69 after a year of civil strife following the death of Nero; he served for six years and founded the Flavian Dynasty that ruled the Empire for another 20 years.  Vespasian was judged (by Suetonius and others) to have been a witty and effective ruler, even as he had to govern through severe financial turmoil.  Indeed, to this day urinals are known in Italian as vespasiano, a vestige of Vespasian’s tax on urine (which was valuable in his day for its ammoniac content).

Roman aureus depicting Vespasian as Emperor; the reverse shows the goddess Fortuna.

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Written by LW

November 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery”*…

 

A survey of 43 countries published on October 30th by the Pew Research Centre of Washington, DC, shows that people in emerging markets are within a whisker of expressing the same level of satisfaction with their lot as people in rich countries. The Pew poll asks respondents to measure, on a scale from zero to ten, how good their lives are. (Those who say between seven and ten are counted as happy.) In 2007, 57% of respondents in rich countries put themselves in the top four tiers; in emerging markets the share was 33%; in poor countries only 16%—a classic expression of the standard view that richer people are more likely to be happy. But in 2014, 54% of rich-country respondents counted themselves as happy, whereas in emerging markets the percentage jumped to 51%…

More at “Money and Happiness.”

* Groucho Marx

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As we wander past a warm gun, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that British archaeologist Howard Carter and his crew discovered a step leading to the tomb of King Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  The subsequent discovery of Tut’s nearly-intact tomb was a world-wide sensation, and ignited renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which “King Tut”‘s burial mask, now in Cairo Museum, remains the popular symbol.

(For an amusing– and enlightening– explication of “The Mummy’s Curse,” click here.)

Mask of Tutankhamun’s mummy

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Written by LW

November 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

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