If you were an alien being standing just far enough away from Earth to watch the events going on every day, you would see billions of people trading things back and forth among themselves in order to make sure that everyone has what they need. You would see that in some places life is quite simple (say…rural Indonesia) but most have what they need, while in other places (say the U.S.), people think they need much more than they actually do, and as a result of this, those people really work hard at getting things for one another. You might notice that a few areas really don’t have what they need, but overall, most true needs are met.
From your point of view as a watcher of all this, you might marvel at the amount of collaboration going on all over the earth, especially in those places where big group projects are being worked on. You might also notice lots of people dealing with some imaginary stuff called money, and if you didn’t understand or believe in money yourself, you might wonder why they bother with money when it’s clear they are all plenty busy making sure that the participants in their world have the real things that they need.
It is fairly well-known and documented that the dollars we use to transact business among ourselves are not backed by anything “real.” In other words, the dollars are printed and distributed to everyone, and then we all pretend that they have great power. We use them to buy milk and bread, gas for our cars, shower gifts for a pregnant niece, a boat, or a house. This is the equivalent of playing the game Monopoly®, but we don’t seem to see that it’s a game. We really believe in the dollars and their power. We believe in these dollars and their power so much, that we have even moved them into abstraction as imaginary dollars inside a debit or credit card. But what is that power based on? It is based on trust.
We go to work every day trusting that at some point in the near future, someone is going to give us money for showing up. We go to the store, get our milk and bread, and hand our debit card to the clerk. She swipes the card through her machine, hands us a receipt, and we leave the store…leaving the store merchant to trust that some dollars will now be moved into his account so he can go and get what he needs. It is the same at the gas station, your local dentist office, your favorite restaurant, or your own small business.
Our financial system operates 100% on trust. If it crashed and there were no dollars available, could we continue to operate on that same trust? Could we just keep making an effort to make sure that everyone is taken care of and has what they need? Wouldn’t we be surprised to discover that if the money went away or was cut sharply, all of the trust, the resources, the cooperation, and the willingness to help one another are still there and still exquisitely real?