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Old 04-23-2017, 02:25 PM   #22
Join Date: Sep 2011
Default Re: Post Apocalyptic Economics

Originally Posted by malloyd View Post
Which is? I think I'd call it as it's a currency if I don't have any use for it myself, but have confidence I can redeem it for something I do want later.

This requires either such a very trustworthy supplier, or a society that offers enough options you have some confidence somebody will trade you something worthwhile for it even if you wouldn't exactly trust any specific member of it to do so. Neither of which are very compatible with the world is disintegrating after an apocalypse. If there's a functioning currency, things aren't all that desperate anymore. There is enough surplus and stability people will give you stuff in exchange for a future promise.
The difference is that despite their label, they aren’t talking about currencies at all. Historically, there have only been two types of currency, bullion and fiat. In both cases, it’s currency because anyone can trade it for anything, whether they have a current use for it or not.

Fiat, where you accept it because a government says they’ll back its value and thus everyone will accept it, is gone in a post-apocalyptic situation. Fiat currency has the problem that it has little or no value, in and of itself. Once the government backing is gone, a $100 dollar bill is no more valuable than a $1 bill and in terms of intrinsic value, they’re probably on a par with a coupon. If you have ten of them, you can probably get 1 for the lot based on the value of the paper. Coins aren’t necessarily a lot better. If the coins are silver, adulterated with copper, they probably aren’t worth separating out, pure silver coins are still worth whatever the metal in them is worth and the same is true for steel, nickel and copper coins.

Bullion can be minted, where someone who is trusted has converted the bullion into standard units, usually coins, or bulk, where the individuals involved in the transaction have to do their own measuring.

The hallmarks of a good currency are acceptability (anyone will take it [and anyone will give it]), value (it’s worth something in its own right, it’s appealing, it’s imperishable, it’s verifiable), scalability (I can give you half the amount for half the work), portability (I can take it with me), convenience (it’s easy to secure and I can carry a lot of value with me).

With a couple of possible exceptions, the ten currencies listed fail as currencies.

Candles aren’t portable in quantity. Yes, I can probably fit 10 lb. of candles into my backpack, but candles aren’t very dense, so I’ve probably taken up a cubic foot of my pack’s space. I’ve got maybe one or two cubic feet left for everything else. I’m not sure I can tell a good wax candle from a lousy tallow candle just by looking, but I can probably tell by smell and by the way it sputters, if the other person is willing to let me burn some of it in verification before accepting it. Then too, I’m going to want a lot of candles for my labour. There’s no way I’m going to accept less in payment than three squares a day, maintenance of my clothing and close to a full night’s worth of candlelight. [Even if I’m not awake, lighting the fire in the morning may be easier using a candle rather than a match]. Actually, wooden (not paper) matches are probably a better currency than candles.

Shoes take up more room than candles and a lot of that isn’t even leather, it’s empty space. I can’t squeeze them in tighter without risking permanently deforming them so that they’re useless as shoes. Despite what they say, shoes aren’t going to be in great demand. Boots, particularly work boots, yes; running shoes, probably; high-heeled shoes, you’ve got to be kidding me. Not without reasonably paved surfaces. Wooden clogs might work, they’re as good as safety boots according to those who use them in Europe. But shoes and clogs aren’t that durable. A leather shoe or boot is good for about six months to a year in constant daily use. Wooden clogs might last longer. But people only have one pair of feet, so once they’ve got one pair of footwear, there isn’t a huge incentive to have more, especially for growing children. Not to mention that shoes are pretty much optional. People (collectively) have gone barefoot for centuries. Even when shoes are desirable, perfectly serviceable footwear is easy enough to come by. Grass sandals, which will last three or four days can be made in a couple of hours. Scottish highlanders made brogues even more quickly, according to English observers. They’d stand on a small piece of skin, cut around in the rough shape of their foot, poke some holes in it, lace it tight and off they’d go.

Children are a lousy currency, and in some cases, literally so. Aside from possibly bringing you parasites and disease, all children are not created equal. Depending on the age of the child, it may not have many useful skills. It may be perfectly suitable for chasing birds from the fields but if you need a bookkeeper, you’re going to have to train it yourself. Then there’s the supposition that you can afford the upkeep of a child and that the child will live long enough to do a useful amount of labour. A healthy child might be worth forty years less his age in labour. Which means that a child is a big transaction. A healthy ten-year-old child is probably worth a tractor, plow, seeder, reaper, winnower, baler and thresher (assuming fuel is readily available) or maybe several horses or a herd of cattle. Remember a bondmaid in Ireland (who was good for seven years, more or less) was worth seven good milking cows. One might be better off using adults for currency (assuming you can get your adults to stay put) and there is that whole slavery thing (and it is exactly slavery, in the original sense of usage.) And finally, you may be willing to accept my kids as payment but I’m probably not interested in selling them in the first place (and if I’m selling someone else’s kids, that just puts the problem at one remove; he probably didn’t want to sell his kids to me).

Books are almost laughable as currency. Books don’t take as much infrastructure as computers to create and maintain but they’re not infrastructure-free, either. You can probably make your own printing press, and movable type and even woodcut illustrations given woodworking tools and a metal press-screw but you will need paper, ink and something to apply the ink with and something to store the ink in, before you can start producing books. If you have paper, ink and a pen (you could substitute a quill, if you have the know-how to make one, and the knowledge isn’t exactly trivial), then you could consider taking notes and selling the books you have. Otherwise, you’re selling your ability to survive for whatever it is you’re getting. Books can be heavy and large (and a good set of encyclopedias will probably be both) and are neither fire-proof or water-proof. Somebody is going to be upset if there are missing pages or dirt-smudged ones. You might use books of fiction for currency and this all supposes literacy. Books are pretty much impracticable.

Alcohol has possibilities but alcohol that is medically useful will probably require distilling, which may not survive the apocalypse. Fermented alcohol is much more doable, but like candles, it takes up a fair bit of space and requires a lot of it to buy anything. An additional problem, if it’s going to be kept for later is that it’s only as good as its container. Spilt beer isn’t worth anything. And then there’s the problem of drunkenness. You might manage one or two drunks for restitution if they bust up your place and drank four times what you were going to pay them in beer but if you have a half-dozen drunks or more, you may lose far more than they were worth and have no way of enforcing restitution. It’s another poor choice.

Knives are a possibility but again, you don’t need many unless they come in different forms for different functions and then you’re back to talking barter rather than currency. Mind, you can probably get a person to accept more than one knife, say a knife for each hand, one for holdout and I can probably carry a brace of six throwing knives, so you might talk me into taking as many as nine, but after that, I don’t need any more, and if they’re that common, probably no one else handy does either. Then there are questions of durability: is it made of stainless steel, poor steel, good iron, how long before it rusts to uselessness. It just isn’t going to work long term.

Seeds have possibilities, if you can be sure what it is you’re getting and even then, it may not be worth much. Apple seeds from a given tree won’t necessarily produce the same fruit as the parent tree. That’s why you graft MacIntosh apples to other apple trees rather planting MacIntosh seeds in your orchard. Then too, you need to be able to store the seeds until planting time without them rotting or being eaten by pests (or getting ground and baked as last night’s loaf of bread, by accident).

Last edited by Curmudgeon; 04-23-2017 at 09:39 PM. Reason: the spelling errors just kept growing
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