MONEY AS PERCEIVED BY MARSHALL MCCLUHAN
by Lindsay G. King

In his great book, Understanding Media---Human extensions, Marshall McCluhan defines money as: THE POOR MAN'S CREDIT CARD (CHAPTER 14).

And doesn't this make sense? If a poor man gave you an authentic ten dollar bill, you would accept it without question, wouldn't you? However, if he asked you for credit, you would think twice. Nowadays, we even check the credit cards of those who look more or less prosperous.

McCluhan makes note of the fact that Samuel Butler, in his book, ERERWHON (which spells NOWHERE backwards) refers to money as a type of sacrament---an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. He goes on to say many things about the nature of money: It is a social medium which you and I can use to extend ourselves. Therefore, it creates social and spiritual values; it expresses externally our internal wishes and motives.

Further more, money talks. It is a metaphor, a figure of speech which likens one object to another. It is a bridge from one thing to another. It can even be understood as a form of transportation which carries one thing to another.

It is also a storehouse of work. It stores the work of one trade to that of another. It also speeds up the exchanges between the trades and, therefore, tightens the bonds of interdependence between one person and/or one community and another. Creating community it operates in space and time so that both can be looked upon as forms of money.

McCluhan indicates there are two kinds of money: COMMODITY MONEY AND
REPRESENTATIVE MONEY. The paper money that you and I have in our Wallets is
REPRESENTATIVE MONEY. This means that it has no intrinsic value. Paper money will not go far if one were to use it to boil an egg. However, depending on the number on the piece of paper, it can go far and buy the power needed to get the job done. Canadian Tire Money is a form of representative money. Any corporation or individual can create this kind of money--- providing they are willing to back it with goods and/or services.

Please take note: THE REAL VALUE OF MONEY IS DETERMINED BY WHAT IT WILL BUY. In short, MONEY IS WHAT MONEY DOES. Even the classical economists agree that this is one definition of money. They also agree that a full definition of it is a complex matter.

Interestingly, this kind of money has, in recent times, supplanted gold and silver and most other forms of commodity money. In the light of this, consider this question: When was the last time you saw gold, or even silver, circulating as a form of currency?

WHAT IS COMMODITY MONEY?

It can be any product that is in demand or has practical value. For example, animal skins. It can also be tobacco, alcohol, gasoline, you name it. Most certainly, it does not have to be gold, silver or other form of precious metal exclusively. Commodity money also has the habit of going out of circulation. When, for example, the tobacco user gets the tobacco and smokes it, he takes it out of circulation. Gold and silver are no longer in general circulation. Perhaps the copper cent---which I believe will soon be replaced---is the only coin with a real commodity value. In the U.S., attempts have been made to replace the copper coin with ones made out of aluminum.

In my possession I have an aluminum French franc which I found on a visit to Paris in 1972. It was minted in 1944 and was obviously issued by the Vichy government set up under German occupation. It has no value as a commodity. Regardless of its value it worked. Why? Because it was issued and backed by the government in power and was accepted by the people as a transfer of value. It didn't have to have any real or intrinsic value of
itself. It was the community that gave it its value. When the nature of the French community and those in authority changed following the war, a whole new system had to be started.

MONEY AND COMMUNITY GO TOGETHER

All of this goes to show the powerful and important role of community in the creation and use of money. It also shows the important role that is played by those who govern (locally and/or nationally) the community. As McCluhan points out, all forms of money are powerful expediters and transmitters of goods and services. As such it is one of the main tools of modern civilization. It is also one of the main tools of THE GLOBAL VILLAGE as well the LOCAL VILLAGE OR COMMUNITY.

The story of Robinson Crusoe illustrates what the lack of community does to money. As McCluhan points out (p.125), when Crusoe found himself alone on what he thought was a deserted island he discovered something about money he hadn't thought of before. On visiting his wrecked ship he found some coins. It suddenly occurred to him that he had no use for them; that a knife he found was far more valuable. However, he failed to discover---I should say that Jonathan Swift failed to write about it---what we all need to discover: The real value of money need not lie in the medium itself, but in what it will purchase from other members of the community.

MORE ABOUT REPRESENTATIVE MONEY

One of the functions of commodity money such as gold and silver, we are told by the so called experts, is that it can store value. As prices go up, if you have your money in the form of such a commodity, it is supposed to go up. In the 1970s we were told the same thing about real estate. In the late 80s and early 90s, it went down. It can happen to all commodities. Its a money game that the average person with little money to lose should think more than twice before entering.

Representative money acts more like a language, as a translator and transmitter of current valuables. As a agent of exchange or translator of values, it can move with greater and greater speed and ever greater volume. It is important, therefore, not to confuse the two kinds of money. REPRESENTATIVE MONEY IS NOT THE SAME THING AS COMMODITY MONEY. Like C.M., R.M. acts as a measure, a ruler, a weight, an accounting system. However, It only has real value if it is circulated. For example, Canadian Tire Money has no value lying in the bottom of some drawer. It only has value when you use it to buy products at Canadian Tire. To get your business, some smart companies, even some fast food outlets, will often accept Canadian Tire Money, knowing that they can use it at Canadian Tire. Smart workers, knowing that they can use it to buy gas and parts for their car, will even accept it a part of their pay.

Canadian paper money---which is really a form of REPRESENTATIVE MONEY---our so called legal tender, at one time pretended to be commodity money. Allow me to elaborate. But, first, take a look at one of our current bank notes. There you will find the words: THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER. Until the late 60s the words were: THE BANK OF CANADA WILL PAY THE BEARER ONE DOLLAR, TWO DOLLARS---whatever the bills denomination. What did this really mean? I presume it  was there to assure us that our paper was backed by metal such as silver, gold or copper. But was it really? Was there really enough gold and silver to cover all the paper issued? I don't think so. Without telling us what was going on, the change was made.

It is true that R.M., such as Canadian paper money, can be changed into commodity money. This is what happens when we use it to buy shares in companies we hope will grow. But we must always keep in mind that investing is a risky business.

Understanding that there are different kinds of money, will help us avoid a lot of the confusion referred to by McCluhan. I am not sure that he understood this. Certainly his quote from J. Maynard Keynes, A TREATISE ON MONEY, indicates that Keynes was still stuck with the confusion.

However, he does understand that REPRESENTATIVE MONEY---or should we say, MONIES?--- need not be stuck with the ancient role of merely being a store of work. It can also fill the ancient function of being a transmitter and expediter of any kind of work into any other kind. This is what LOCAL EMPLOYMENT TRADING SYSTEMS (LETS) are all about. Such systems, now operating all over the globe, use currencies designed for local use. Some systems call them GREEN DOLLARS and they keep track of their use by means of the computer. Each local system is autonomous. Many big companies, for example Bill Gates' MICROSOFT, use their own form of money. Gates' Microsoft pays less wages in American dollars because the staff agree to accept a fair percentage of their pay in MICROSOFT DOLLARS.

The beautiful thing about RM dollars is that they are only limited by the goods and services available. RM dollars are like inches, weights and measures, or letters of the alphabet.

Ask yourself: Does a carpenter ever run out of inches? Does a merchant ever run out of weights and measures? Or does a writer ever run out of words? One may run out of things to measure and things to say, but never out of the means to measure and say them.

To uncomplex the whole question of money take a few moments and ask yourself: what goods and services do I have to offer? How many hours a week am I willing to work offering them to others? Then ask, based on the average wage of the community, how much do I believe I am worth per hour?

At the same time, ask yourself: what goods and services do I need? Then ask how much per hour am I willing to spend to get the goods and services I need?

 Finally, ask "What do I have to do to bring the two together?"

The answer is: I have to measure them. And what do I use as a means of measurement? Money. Which, as McCluhan points out is a medium. It is an extension of your human nature. It is a natural resource that measures the goods, services and knowledge of any community.

 The end, for now.


LINDSAY G. KING 6 KING'S INN TRAIL, THORNHILL, ON, L3T 1T7 MAY 1, 1997
Email: lgking@idirect.com