My favorite Onion article of all time (from 2010) is U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion. It starts off with some Bernanke brilliance.
“Though raising interest rates is unlikely at the moment, the Fed will of course act appropriately if we…if we…” said Bernanke, who then paused for a moment, looked down at his prepared statement, and shook his head in utter disbelief. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. None of this—this so-called ‘money’—really matters at all.”
“It’s just an illusion,” a wide-eyed Bernanke added as he removed bills from his wallet and slowly spread them out before him. “Just look at it: Meaningless pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. Worthless.”
This is not a new idea. From William Gibson’s book Neuromancer, one of the most important sci-fi books ever which established the idea of
“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
Back to the Onion article.
“Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally shouted out, “Oh my God, he’s right. It’s all a mirage. All of it—the money, our whole economy—it’s all a lie!”
Now, ponder Bitcoin.
“I’ve spent 25 years in this room yelling ‘Buy, buy! Sell, sell!’ and for what?” longtime trader Michael Palermo said. “All I’ve done is move arbitrary designations of wealth from one column to another, wasting my life chasing this unattainable hallucination of wealth. What a cruel cosmic joke,” he added. “I’m going home to hug my daughter.”
“A few U.S. banks have remained open, though most teller windows are unmanned due to a lack of interest in transactions involving mere scraps of paper or, worse, decimal points and computer data signifying mere scraps of paper.”
I just read Kenneth Rogoff’s The Curse of Cash: How Large-Denomination Bills Aid Crime and Tax Evasion and Constrain Monetary Policy. I literally have zero cash in my wallet. On a daily basis, I’m dealing with very large sums of money across multiple companies, but it has completely become a functional abstraction to me.
As I did a fairly sophisticated transaction on my computer yesterday that moved cash into a cybercurrency, I had the phrase “money is a consensual hallucination” echoing in my head. Math and computers are helping reinforce this. And the government is watching.