Nature’s first gold is grain

(That’s a Robert Frost allusion, in case you didn’t catch it.)

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On Saturday, January 14, I taught a private English class in which we used an article about the history and different forms of money — barter, commodity money, representative money, and fiat money.

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On Monday, January 16, I checked my brother Luther’s rarely-updated blog and found a new-to-me post (actually posted on January 9) called “On Money.” It also traces a conceptual history of money, from barter through commodity money and representative money to fiat money. Instead of talking about the gold standard, he uses the imaginary example of a “wheat standard.”

We’ll get to gold or paper money shortly, but lets start with something of more obvious practical value: food. . . . So let’s create a wheat bank. It’s got huge granaries capable of storing all the wheat all the farmers could ever produce; skilled engravers who make easily recognized, unforgeable wheat promissory notes; and builds a reputation for honoring its notes faithfully.

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On Monday, January 23, I read several pages from David Marsh’s English translation of Vico’s New Science. The following is from paragraph 544 (on pages 230-31).

The early peoples called ears of grain ‘golden apples’. This was in fact the world’s first gold: for the metal gold was still unmined . . . It was only later that the metal was called gold, because its colour and value resembled that of their staple grain. This is why Plautus has to specify ‘a treasure of gold’, thesaurum auri, to distinguish a hoard of metal from a granary.

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