Monday, October 27, 2008

Alfred the Great

Yesterday was Alfred’s feast day, and as has been our custom for lo these two years, we’re reading from my beloved G.K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse each night after supper. Tonight we read Book IV: The Woman in the Forest, the part about how Alfred was tending the cakes on the hearth of a poor woman in exchange for a meal. He, musing, pitying her, absent-mindedly let one of the cakes fall into the fire, whereupon the old woman, now knowing who was her guest, picked up the burnt cake and smacked Alfred on the forehead with it. He towered up in his rage, but

Then Alfred laughed out suddenly,
      Like thunder in the spring,
Till shook aloud the lintel-beams,
And the squirrels stirred in dusty dreams,
And the startled birds went up in streams,
      For the laughter of the King.

And the beasts of the earth and the birds looked down,
      In a wild solemnity,
On a stranger sight than a sylph or elf,
On one man laughing at himself
      Under the greenwood tree –

May we all learn that lesson.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Other posts on Alfred the Great:

Alfred the Great post from the 26th of October, 2005; history, prayers, and lots of cool links; don’t miss it!

And three selections from this year’s Poetry Month:
The Way of the Cross
The Great Gaels of Ireland
The King’s Laughter (includes today’s passage plus three more stanzas)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Next money question

We have a collection of Canadian coins that have been given to us over the years as change from MacBurger’s, the Stuff Mart, yard sales, and various other places. Being the honest citizens we are, when we notice we have them we put them away rather than try to use them in hopes no one else will notice getting them any more than we did at the time. Now, I’m not really interested in collecting Canadian money, but the only legitimate way I know of to get rid of them, besides giving them away or selling them to a collector, is to go to Canada and buy something with them. And that’s not going to happen, so I’m stuck with useless Canadian money.

I understand that something similar happens on the international scene — if we buy a million dollars worth of stuff from China, then China has a million US dollars that they have to do something with, and ultimately this money comes back to us in the form of someone somewhere buying American goods or services.

This would make sense if we were dealing with hard currency, but I’m pretty sure it’s virtual money.

Here’s how I imagine it happens: When Stuff Mart buys a shipload of Chinese doodads to put on the shelves in its stores, there isn’t really a guy with $1 million in Federal Reserve Notes handing it over to a guy at the Chinese factory. No, Stuff Mart’s bank debits one million credits, converts it to yen, and then those credits are applied to the factory’s bank account.

So this is a mechanical question — how does this really work?

There’s a philosophical question underlying it, but I’ll get to that later.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Money questions

Yesterday while reading Plutarch’s biography of Poplicola (d. 503 BC), we came across this interesting tidbit:

[T]he use of money was then infrequent amongst the Romans, but their wealth in cattle great; even now pieces of property are called peculia from pecus, cattle; and they had stamped upon thier most ancient money an ox, a sheep, or a hog…

My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (fifth edition, don’t know what year, but the population information in the back is taken from the 1940 census) lists the first definition of the word peculiar as “belonging to an individual; privately owned; not common.” This dictionary also lists the word peculium, saying that it’s a term from Roman law and means “The private property of a wife, child, or slave.” Our word pecuniary, “relating to money,” comes from the same root.

The word capital comes from the Latin caput for “head.” Caput is also the root of the word cattle, from which we get our word chattel, and as Plutarch points out, our ancient ancestors measured their wealth in cattle.

This all makes sense to me. My question is, “How did we get from land and cattle to money?”

I’ve read a few accounts of how it happened, including RC Sproul, Jr’s in his Biblical Economics, all of which posit a kind of evolution from barter to tally sticks to pretty shells to hunks of gold to gold coins minted by a governing body. But none of these accounts offers historical evidence for this narrative so I’m wondering if that’s the way it actually happened.

Yesterday, after looking up the roots of the word peculiar, the kids and I looked up money. We had speculated that it would have something to do with manus, “hand,” meaning it’s wealth you can carry about in your hand. Boy, were we wrong! Money comes from the Latin word Moneta, one of Juno’s names. It was at the temple of Juno Moneta that money was coined, or minted.

This of course raises the question of what the money was for. Why were coins needed such that they were made at the temple of a Roman goddess?

Whatever the answer to that is, Juno’s money wasn’t the first. The temple of Juno Moneta was built in the year 344 BC, but money is first mentioned in the Bible during Abraham’s lifetime, more than 700 years earlier.