Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Review: The Invention of Money

Ira Glass and crew tackle money. We are obviously giddy like little schoolchildren for this. Read More

By / January 12, 2011

The Invention of Money is Family Plot meets Wall Street. It can be subtitled from the mouth of Michael Douglas: “Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.” And just as our times necessitated a remake of Gecko’s take on greed, so too must the experts dissect even the most fundamental quandries. Picture Ira and crew congregating around the hookah in Pillowland contemplating the current state of affairs, asking what Ira dubs their most stoner question in the midst of the financial debacle, “Where did all that money go?” Furthermore, how much money to create? Where does the money come from? Does the created money add to the deficit? Simple answers end up being the pipe dream, as the hour is dedicated to two fun-filled acts ushered in by the Mensa-elite on the Planet Money team.

Goldstein and Glass inquire as to where the cheese is at in twenty-eleven by way of studying rare limestone currency on the pre-industrial island of Yap. Not representing gold anymore, what then does money stand in for? Conclusion: money is fiction. Already in the prologue, things are getting strange in Iraland. And as we’ve learned from HST, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Act 1: The minute you get paid the clock is ticking on your money.

Chana Joffe-Walt reports on the dire need for pros in the political and economic climates of Brazil following five decades of inflation and a presidency that literally took all the money in its system and ushered in a much appreciated impeachment. “When a government does that, you lose people’s respect.” As the men behind the curtain looked for reformation in Brazil’s entirely overinflated fat man of an economy, the country’s best intellectuals were escorted in to perform financial liposuction.

And in the midst of changes, some Latin American Magical Realism was served up, complete with citizen dreams of money walking off on its own from dressers. Basing their math on faith, Brazil worked through five decades of inflation to become the world’s eighth largest economy. “People had to be tricked that money had value when all signs told them that was absolutely untrue.” This propaganda machine established URVs as legit currency

This was a rare case in which a system actually changed itself and the very reality of its economy to benefit its individuals, the equivalent of the rare wet wall accompanying a WET PAINT sign.

Act 2: The joystick presumes a very precise control, which is exactly what they don’t have.

Speaking of out of control inflation, the team turns to the surprising example of our own Fed. The goliath sugardaddy clicking cash into banks warrants more questions of what is real. The Fed’s Houdini tricks mirror those in Brazil in that legitimacy of the system depends on the public’s embrace, an interesting nod at Nietzschean speculation that complaisant sheep fuel the flourishing of a system.

Kestenbaum and Blumberg focus in on the magic hat that is the Fed with the specific lens of post financial crisis evolutions of policy in emergency mode, toxic assets and mortgage backed securities becoming the gold standard of our time.

Best of all are the talking heads that make waves in this act, including a nostalgic snippet of Kramer losing his shit on Mad Money over Bernanke, and a word from Ron Paul (who wishes death to the Fed and is also the homicidal parent leading House oversight on the previously unchecked piggy bank).

Theoretically, shifts in the Fed’s spending should revert to more conventional forms of collateral and spending after the war on debt is controlled. However, another unanswerable is posed: “Once you go crazy how do you go back to being boring?” Expecting such a thing would be like trusting Illinois at its word in converting moneymaking tollways into freeways after the budget goals for which they were originally built were met. Best keep your trust with the dollar where it belongs, for your own sake.