What is money? Why do we need it?
These are some of the big questions writer Frederick Kaufman explores in his book “The Money Plot: A History of Currency’s Power to Enchant, Control, and Manipulate,” which was published in the thick of the pandemic.
Kaufman, a journalism and English professor, is interested in what we project onto money, from our desires of abundance and freedom to — most of all — safety and security.
The book comes at a time when our most basic understandings of money are being challenged. (When I hear the word, I still picture cash, not bitcoin. What does one even picture when they picture bitcoin?)
One way to get an idea of what’s coming next is to look back. And in reading Kaufman’s book, which traces the history of money, you see how bitcoin is not all that different from the beads used as currency 40,000 years ago.
More from Personal Finance:
60,000 stimulus checks sent to dead people have been returned
Inflation-proof your spending by avoiding these purchases
54% of Americans support state cuts to unemployment
I recently interviewed Kaufman about his new book. (Disclosure: I was enrolled in one of his courses at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.)
The following exchange has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Annie Nova: What is the biggest way money has changed?
FK: Primitive money is very material: It’s a feather, it’s a bead. Over time, it becomes very metaphorical — a coin, paper money. And then finally, of course, there’s very little material money in the world. Only about 5% to 10% of money in the world is in any material form. And then one might say the end game is cryptocurrency. It has all the attributes of primitive money, it’s our security, except it has no material parallel.