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Fiat Values

I have never spent much time thinking about money, perhaps because I have never had enough to worry about keeping or losing it.  Ignorance, however, is no serious obstacle to the hardened pontificator, who, armed only with coffee, tobacco, and access to the errors of Wikipedia, feels up to tackling any subject.  The American publishing industry—academic presses in particular—is proof of Pope’s observation on the bliss that rewards ignorance and condemns wisdom as folly.

Since money is so much a part of how we live and think, it is impossible not to have some curiosity about what it is and how it evolved.  For that reason I looked forward to reading Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money, hoping to learn something about the nature and evolution of money.  I found it an informative and absorbing work, but, although he did have some interesting things to say about banking and the Rothschilds, Ferguson seems to know even less than I do about the origin of money and the first two millennia of its history.

Ferguson is content to quote the conventional view of money as “a medium of exchange, which has the advantage of eliminating inefficiencies of barter; a unit of account . . . and a store of value, which allows economic transactions to be conducted over long periods as well as geographical distances.”  This description of some...

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