What is money? Although it might seem a straight-forward question, ‘what is money’ is a question which will return a wide variety of answers depending on who you ask. For something taken for granted and used by billions of people every day all over the planet, this is perhaps surprising.
Ask a person on the street about money, and they will most likely reply that money is the banknotes and coins in their wallet or pocket. Ask a central banker about money and they will probably mention cash, bank deposits and legal tender, noting that most ‘money’ is held electronically in banks. The central banker, if they are savvy, might also mention that gold is money, but will probably quote this ‘off the record’.
Ask a commercial banker about money, and if they understand the business of fractional-reserve banking, they will say, also ‘off the record‘, that banks create money out of thin air, taking in deposits and then lending these same funds, and more recently lending money into existence that never existed, thereby creating debt.
Ask an economist for their view on the money question, and the answer might revolve around defining the functions of money in an economy (a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account) and a discussion of which forms of money best perform these functions. The economist might also mention the relative merits of different forms of money, such as fiat currency, commodity-backed money (gold and silver), and discuss terms such as hard money, sound money, paper money, and the characteristics of a desirable money.
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