Rix: The real history of money

Published 8:07 am Saturday, October 10, 2020

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My friend Judy asks, “If money doesn’t grow on trees, then why do banks have branches?”

This is such a good question, I consulted two experts: a friend who owes his bank money, and another guy whose desk faces an ATM machine. Here’s what they told me.

Before there were banks, somebody had to invent money. But before there was money, there was a barter system.

Let’s say we live on farms, and my neighbor wants to trade several chickens for my two excellent goats. We meet somewhere and swap animals.

But let’s say he wants to buy my house. He offers me several chickens for it, but I decline because chickens don’t have garages, they’re not air-conditioned and they’re dumber than eggplants.

So, then he offers me cash money. It doesn’t look like much, but it represents something of great value, like 20,000 chickens. Do you follow me so far?

In ancient times – before Socrates went to middle school – clay tokens substituted for actual merchandise. That was probably the first money. But rich people got hernias from carrying heavy clay in their pockets.

So, they chose to exchange various metals – or even lighter paper money – which led to the invention of designer purses. Then they could dress up fancy, fill their purses with paper money, and deposit it in a big bank, which could be a long drive.

Branch banking made banks more convenient for customers. At many branch banks, you can make deposits and withdrawals, rent deposit boxes and receive financial advice.

No, money still doesn’t grow on trees, but branch banks can help you deposit the fruit of your labors, and help your savings ripen with great interest.

But if someone brings his chickens to a branch bank, they might ask him to leaf.

Rix Quinn is a syndicated columnist and author of the column, Flake Fables. He doesn’t want your chickens, but he might appreciate it if you contact him at rix@rixquinn.com.