I’ve always been fascinated with the subjective theory of value, which is the premise that an object’s value isn’t inherent or intrinsic, rather it is determined by different people based on how scarce or useful the item is to those people. Money is a perfect example. You can buy anything in this world with money. But apparently you can also buy it with other things. Here’s just a sample of some of the bizarre things people use as money.
According to NPR, hundreds of years ago explorers from the island of Yap found limestone deposits on an island hundreds of miles away. Carving the deposits into discs, they brought them back to their island. No one’s really sure when someone caught on to the idea, but these stones suddenly became really valuable, being offered as a dowry or for a crop of food.
The thing is, some of these discs are gigantic, weighing close to 2 tons. That means that even though the stones are being used as currency, they’re not always changing hands. In the beginning, one group bringing a disc to the island went through a storm and the disc ended up at the bottom of the ocean. When they reached the island, everyone discussed the situation and decided it was still good. So some dude owns a piece “stone money” that no one has even seen in over 100 years.
2. Bat Poop
Or more correctly termed, guano. In the Inca civilization, it was used as a commodity to trade for goods and services. Because it’s so rich in nutrients for use in agriculture, access to it was highly restricted and it was considered a prized possession. During the mid-19th century, Peru began exporting it to Europe (in exchange for real money) and were so successful at it that the time period was referred to as the Guano Era. They used the revenues to settle several international debts. Today it’s still a highly prized fertilizer.
Anyone want to see Scrooge McDuck jump into a pile of bat feces?
As you could guess, prisons are some pretty crazy places. Because of that, drug screening is a regular occurrence. Unfortunately, prisons aren’t generally the best place to find the most honest people, so urine has become quite the commodity. Clean samples of urine are traded in condoms and stored in a place where they will remain at body temperature. Please, don’t try to think too hard about where that might be.
Using cattle as money dates all the way back to 9000 B.C., being used for several things, among which includes securing a marriage. The practice isn’t very prevalent anymore, although the custom is still strong in South Africa. Although, with a growing middle class, cash payments are starting to be substituted for transfers of livestock. And if you think about it, you also get free milk! Although I’m sure it would make you think twice about killing and eating your money…
Going back to jail, the Wall Street Journal wrote that there’s been a “mackerel economy” in federal prisons since 2004. According to the article, the fish showed up when smokes started disappearing from the scene. A man could get a haircut with two “macks.” In the beginning, they’d go for cans of the fish. But more recently, there’s been a crackdown since the cans can be made into makeshift knives, so the inmates settle for fillets wrapped up in plastic or foil. As if prison isn’t bad enough, I can’t imagine doing it with a pocketful of reasty fish.
Do you know of any other weird things people use as money?