Worthless Things That We Call Valuable

We attach meaning to the weirdest things – we take things that have very little intrinsic worth and we tell each other that they’re worth more than things that are actually worth something.

Don’t believe me? Wondering what I’m going on about?

I’m sure all of you recognize the image to your left.


No matter where you go in the world, each country has currency. We have managed to convince everyone that a piece of paper with a number value attached to it is worth more than the goods and services we can provide.

Think about that for a second.

Imagine if there was some sort of worldwide catastrophe. I’m willing to bet money (see what I did there…lame right?) that people would be trying to take things that matter, such as food, clothing and life-saving medicine, rather than rescue the paper we currently purchase such things with. Hell, I don’t even use the paper much anymore. I simply have a number in my account that represents the paper, and make my purchases using a plastic card.

We used to trade one valuable thing for another. You might be a carpenter and you’d trade your skills for some furs to clothe yourself. Now we hand someone a piece of paper or plastic, and they hand us a good or service.

Humans are crazy!


Gold_BarsA soft piece of metal that happens to be shiny and yellow, but that’s pretty much useless for building anything is valued higher than metals that we use to build the structures that surround us.

Totally makes sense, right?

At least gold is fairly rare, unlike paper money, but it’s still relatively useless unless you’re using it as a conductor of electricity, which we don’t normally do because copper is less expensive. Instead, we fashion trinkets out of it and tell people that those trinkets are worth more than the food and clothing they could provide.

Fun fact: Pure gold is so soft it can be molded with your hands.


You can’t eat diamonds. Wearing them doesn’t do much in the warmth department unless you’re reflecting light like the sun. Yet they’re one of the most valuable substances on Earth.

They are useful for some things, such as abrasives because they’re extremely hard.

However, we often put them on top of a gold band and wear them on our finger. In that setting, they’re about as valuable as any other rock you could find on the ground. That ring is never going to jump off your hand and scrub your toilet. It’s never going feed your kids or change their diaper, yet a few chunks of diamond would make you an extremely wealthy person in today’s society.

That’s the story we tell ourselves anyways.



      • years ago in the days when Yankee Magazine was way better, they published (with illustrations) a government advisory on how to protect yourself in the event of a nuclear explosion. very close in reality to the old “newspaper on your head will save you” thinking of the 50s. One of the things they strongly advised was to be sure to bring your credit cards with you because paper money and banks will no longer exist.
        [We are pretty close now to a cashless society anyway; if you get a check from your employer, you deposit it in the bank, and withdraw it using checks, credit or debit cards. ]

  1. Have you listened to the Mahabharata? Krishna tells Arjuna in one of the scenes he should learn to look at a mound of gold as he would a mound of sand and to make no distinction between them.

    Lycurgus, the great lawgiver of the Spartans made gold useless, owning luxurious stuff wasn’t desirable. There was no one to impress. I don’t know whether there is anyone alive today who could come even half as close to him.

  2. Okay, I’ll play Devil’s Advocate – after all, according to a certain Mr. Fry I am his offspring. 😉

    In days of Yore, which was even before Days Of Our Lives, when barter was the means to obtain goods, most people lived in smallish communities and didn’t travel much.
    So everyone knew their neighbours and if you wanted eggs from Farmer Giles you traded him a side of beef or some skins or a pouch of tobacco.

    When we began to stretch out a bit and encountered New People, we initially bartered with them too.
    ”Yo… Higher Wother. Me from across um bigum water and me give you um plenty beads and mirrors and I bonk your women and take that piece of land over there. What you call um big land?”

    ”Er … Alaska.”

    Anyhow, you get the picture? It was easier to carry (initially) gold as a medium than haul stuff all over the place.
    Then it was easier to make paper because when the Natives realised how much places like Alaska were really worth they weren’t going to fall for the old beads and bonk um women trick again and you could never carry enough gold on your back pocket.

    And that is a brief history of how the economy works. Amen Thank you for listening.

  3. But it is not the actual shiny gold, or pretty diamonds, or bits of paper that is valued, it is their Trade-ability. The problem in bartering is, if I need someone to build my house for me, but I don’t have any furs to give him, or anything that he wants, what do I do? Whether it is gold or simple paper doesn’t matter, it is our agreement that it is worth a certain amount that can be used to trade ANYTHING, that is a huge advantage over bartering.

    So, ok, people then put their rich diamonds onto a rich gold band and wear it on their finger, they don’t trade it. That is all about status. They are saying, ‘I am so rich I don’t need to use this as money, I can flash it in your face and tell you that I am richer – therefore ‘better’ – than you poor sod.

  4. Yep. The gold standard is a joke. Of course, it is good that the important things aren’t ridiculously expensive. We have enough income inequality in the world as it is. We can’t put a higher price on food and clean water than we already do.

  5. Another well-written post. I like your way of thinking. 😀

    When I read ‘worldwide catastrophe’, I immediately think of the Zombie Apocalypse. Make you think right? Money is going to be worthless then, so would gold and diamonds. Unless you can hit a Zombie on the head with a gold bar. The ones with the lots of money can at least use it to wipe their behinds. 😛

    I think money spoiled everyone and it would have been great if we still had the ‘trade’ options. I am grateful though that love, health and happiness still have more importance in my life than money would ever have. 😀

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