The End of Money

Some favorite quotes from The End of Money:

In the uneconomically titled chapter of [Marco] Polo’s travelogue, “How the Great Kaan [Kublai Khan] causeth the bark of trees, made into something like paper, to pass for money all over his country,” he described the bizarre arrangement, this slight of hand that somehow wasn’t. Yet the explorer knew full well that for his readers back in Europe, the explanation would likely fall short. “For, tell it how I might, you never would be satisfied that I was keeping within truth and reason!” I kid you not, Polo was saying. This paper money thing is out of this world. – p2

In (literally) cash-strapped Argentina, inflation and a scarcity of bills have recently forced some residents to line up at the bank the night before it opens, to be able to withdraw money the next morning.” – p46

By supplying us with cash, he says, governments enable the very evasion they wish to curb. – p51

[$100 bills] account for about 60 percent of notes in circulation. In 2010 alone, $268 billion worth of $100 bills were printed, the majority of which were or will soon be whisked overseas because that’s where most of the banks and drug dealers are demanding it. The Fed itself estimates that 90 percent of all C-notes have been sent to foreign banks, and most of those notes are no interest in repatriating. – p52

In Italy, off-the-books transactions rob the government of about E100 billion annually, or about 20 percent of the country’s GDP. For Greece, it’s over 27 percent. – p54

In Spain, the E500 note is nicknamed the “Bin Laden”: no one has ever seen one, but everyone knows what they look like. – p55

Money exchanges in the UK have stopped changing E500 notes after British investigators concluded that 90 percent of these notes within the country were being used domestically by—you guessed it—gangs, drug dealers, and money launderers. This was the rationale of non other than the U.S. Treasury when it decided in 1969 to stop issuing $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000 notes. – p56

One curiosity about the banknote business is that some of the most high-tech physical money circulates in countries that can least afford it—places like Nigeria, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and Kazakhstan….Why is this? Not because criminals are lining up to counterfeit the Bangladeshi taka or the Nicaraguan cordoba, that’s for sure. One explanation is that manufactuers give poorer countries discounts in exchange for what equates to free advertising. The notes are mobile billboards, displaying the latest technology to central bank officials elsewhere. – p80

The denomination effect:
The large number [1,000 bhat = $32] will trick you into thinking prices in Bangkok are steeper than they really are. As a result, Americans in Thailand are far more frugal than predictions of rational economics decision-making would suggest. What happens when the situation is reversed? Raghubir found that Americans transacting in Britain or Bahrain, countries where U.S. dollars are represented as a fraction of the local currency, spend more. – p95

Gifts in Japan:
The custom is to give crisp new banknotes, except in the case of a condolence for the family of someone who has died. In that situation you have to give old banknotes, indicating to the recipients that you know this is not a happy time. – p98

One idea for the monetary future of the world is to nuke all but a few of the most influential currencies. It’s not as radical as it sounds. Panama, El Salvador, Ecuador, and East Timor have all officially adopted the U.S. dollar, and in countries from Uruguay to Cambodia, the Caribbean to the Caucuses, the dollar is accepted just as regularly, if not more so, than the local currency. – p105

Even [in foreign countries] where the local currency still reigns as far as officialdom is concerned, “spontaneous dollarization” is widespread. More than half of the bank deposits in Latin America are denominated in U.S. dollars. – p116-117

Investment guru Warren Buffet famously observed that gold “gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hold, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.” – p144

When I mention to people that we’ll soon just be texting money, they immediately worry….Luckily, humanity has a solid track record of warming to innovations, including money-related ones. Online payments provider PayPal once sounded precarious. Making a check deposit via ATM initially struck people as chancy, and, a century ago, holding a deposit certificate instead of a satchel full of coins was seen as wildly risky. – p182-183


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