Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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A Glorified Piece of Paper

Res Publica

August 2007

by Samuel Ball

It is an object that is worthless yet valuable. An object that is made out of common material yet is surrounded by an essence, which makes it more precious than objects constructed of similar materials. It is an object that has caused the death of many people and caused many people to become criminals in order to become its possessor. It has caused people to formulate elaborate schemes and create products that have been helpful to humanity and worthless to humanity. If it was evaluated by people based upon the beauty of its outward appearance, most people would categorize it as being aesthetically undesirable. Its appearance is not gaudy but is rather drab and dull. What is this object? This object is a glorified piece of paper called money.

As a result of modern computers it has become easier for people to create facsimiles of actual money or counterfeit money. Modern-day counterfeiters do not have to worry about carving or stealing their own set of printing plates similar to those the federal mints use when printing paper currency for distribution. They can simply scan images of actual currency into their computers, and using the right type of paper and combinations of ink, print off money that could pass for actual money printed by the federal government. Any individual, who is sufficiently computer literate, has the desire and the resources, could print money because paper money, in essence, is a chosen piece of paper with a certain arrangement of images printed upon it using a specific scheme of colors. While the federal government has made alterations to paper money since it was brought into common use in order to protect it from counterfeiting, counterfeiters have always been able to crack the money’s new color patterns and particular markings shortly after it has been distributed. All the materials they need to print money are readily obtainable through their contacts, and advances in technology have made it easier to create exact copies of the original item.

The materials used by the counterfeiter and the federal government in the printing of money have no real intrinsic value. Paper is an item that is being manufactured in large quantities, making it readily available. Counterfeiters can produce money simply using a normal computer printer. It is not as finely detailed as the genuine article, but it does have a similar appearance. It only takes slightly more sophisticated equipment in order to copy the ink patterns on federally printed paper money. The paper and ink used in printing money are readily available and fairly inexpensive. The hardest part about creating counterfeit money that is similar to genuine money is obtaining paper with the same consistency and texture as is used by federal mints and being able to replicate the fine detailed ink patterns. The greatest expenditure in printing federal money or counterfeit money is not the materials but the extensive labor involved in creating the markings. The materials are inexpensive and have very little intrinsic value. In essence, money created by counterfeiters and the federal government should have the same value if it is evaluated upon the value of the materials used and the work put into creating each piece of money printed.

The major difference between counterfeit money and money printed by the government is that people trust the government’s word that each piece of money is worth the value printed upon it. For example, if a person uses a piece of government-issued money with a 20 printed on it, a person believes that it is actually worth $20. The same scenario does not hold true for money created by a counterfeiter because there is no authority that is trusted by the people backing up the counterfeit money. Each piece of paper money printed by the federal government is honored with its endorsement, which the people recognize somewhat subconsciously as being a stable foundation for their trust. The person, who accepts money in exchange for a particular good or service, has to trust in the federal government’s word that the money he is receiving has the same value as what he is giving up in exchange for it. If he did not trust the government, then he would not accept money for his product or services because he would be trading it away for something of significantly lesser value. If the federal government were to be overthrown, all paper money printed by the government would be as worthless as the money printed by counterfeiters. This was the case with money that was printed by the Confederacy. While the Confederacy was in existence, its money had value because Confederates had trust in their government’s endorsement of the money. However, when the Confederacy collapsed, all of the money it had issued became worthless because there was no trusted authority backing the money. Only pieces of paper money that are honored with the backing of a trusted governmental authority have any perceivable value to the people.

Enough of these esteemed pieces of paper can buy a person almost anything that has intrinsic value. This chosen group of paper pieces called money is used everywhere to moderate the exchange of intrinsically valuable goods because it provides a common standard upon which the value of goods and services can be based. The more money a person can obtain, the more he is able to buy. It is for this reason that people toil long hours at work in order to earn as much money as they can eke out of their job. It is also the cause of countless murders and thefts, yet it is an object that has been steadily decreasing in value. However, it has become more essential to people’s everyday lives than ever before. In modern society, money is required to do about everything. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that with each dollar a person accepts or spends they are displaying trust in the federal government. The businessman, who works forty hours a week behind a desk for a paycheck, trusts the government. The immigrant, who comes to the country looking for a better paying job, trusts in the government. The criminal, who breaks the law for money, trusts the government. Even the most ardent hater of the government has to subconsciously trust the government if he is involved in any monetary transaction. The paper that makes up a piece of money has no real value, but it is the people’s trust in its governmental endorsement that imbues it with value.

Samuel Ball is a junior from Millersburg, Ohio, majoring in History.

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