The Illusion of Money, Part 1

We think we know what money is. We use it every day and our lives are unimaginable without it. But look more closely and you find that coins and dollar bills aren't "real". They're promises, symbols, ideas. And exactly what money is has evolved enormously over the ages. IDEAS contributor Anik See explores how we're rethinking one of the most basic features of human society.
Joris Luyendijk is the author of "Swimming with Sharks", an anthropological investigation into the culture of finance. What surprised him the most was how terrified insiders were during the financial crisis of 2008. terrified insiders were during the financial crisis of 2008. 1:48
Listen to the full episode53:59
We think we know what money is. We use it every day and our lives are unimaginable without it. But look more closely and you find that coins and dollar bills aren't "real". They're promises, symbols, ideas. And exactly what money is has evolved enormously over the ages. IDEAS contributor Anik See explores how we're rethinking one of the most basic features of human society. **This episode originally aired February 24, 2016.

Anthropologist Joris Luyendijk describes the consequences of saving the financial system from its near-collapse in 2008 1:02

 

"Money is something we no longer understand. Because it describes a claim on future goods and services, but it's also a store of value, it's used as a productive resource. It's all sorts of different things. And I think it's terrifying because if our economy is the body, then money is the blood and the financial sector is the heart. And if we no longer understand the blood that's keeping our body alive, we're in deep trouble." – Joris Luyendijk


What money is, how we treat it, and how we've come to regard it has changed a great deal since it was invented. Perhaps then, money is not a thing but an idea. Yet it seems not a day goes by when we don't hear about money: downturns, growth, rising tuition fees, unstable stock markets, real estate markets with skyrocketing prices.


Participants in this episode:

  • Serge Onnen - multi-disciplinary artist based in Amsterdam, and author of The Lost Cent.


Further reading:

  • Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin, published by Vintage 2014.
     
  • Swimming with Sharks: My Journey into the World of the Bankers, by Joris Luyendijk, published by Faber, 2015.


**This episode was produced by Greg Kelly.

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