Forms of Value
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t do it as an individual, and there’s no reason we have to do so as a society, either. It doesn’t have to be black-and-white, “Either we have a monetary system or a barter economy—period.” Not only can money and bartering run alongside one another—it’s better that they do.
There are many different assets that you can utilize: real estate (i.e. land and shelter), precious metals, weapons, livestock, medical supplies, water, food, fiat currency (e.g. the US Dollar), crypto-currencies (i.e. currencies protected by encryption: these are mostly digital currencies like Bitcoin), social goodwill, objects of practical value (e.g. tools, furniture, appliances), objects of artistic value (e.g. paintings, pieces of music, sculptures), virtual real estate (i.e. domain names/websites), businesses (i.e. privately-owned businesses and shares of a public company), knowledge, labor, and skills. This is not an exhaustive list: there are things in the financial world I’m unaware of, and I’m uncertain whether whole life insurance belongs here. Similarly, while slaves are a valid asset, they are not an ethical one: as such, I did not list them.
Multiple forms of value means that there are multiple ways of exchanging value with other people. Employees exchange some combination of knowledge, labor, and skills for fiat currency (i.e. money), and occasionally for shares of a company, too. In an apprenticeship, the apprentice exchanges his labor for the master’s knowledge and skills. Depending on the situation, the master may also provide shelter, food, and/or money, in addition to his knowledge and skills.
As just one of many forms of value, money is awfully over-hyped. For one thing, some of the most valuable things in the world cannot be obtained with money. You think you can name a price for the Mona Lisa? Nice try, bud. Who is going to give up the most famous painting in the history of mankind for a pile of paper? Certainly not the museum that currently holds it, anyway.
Similarly, some people regard money as basically irrelevant, once they pass a certain income level. They can’t be wooed by any sum of money, because it’s not that big of a deal to them. It’s not going to make a big difference in their lives whether they get that money. As such, why should they give you what you want from them if they don’t want what you’re offering them in return? Their time (and perhaps their sanity, dignity, etc.) is more valuable than any amount of money you could fork over.
The situation isn’t all lost, however. You can’t win with money, but you might stand a chance with another form of value.
Let’s say you want my knowledge, and let’s say that I have enough money that I’m not going to give up the goods for a pile of paper, no matter how big. In other words, you’re not going to get what you want from me by using money. So, what else could you try?
A good strategy would be to do some digging on me, and find out what I want. If you were to find out, for instance, that I’m looking to start a mango farm, you could then use that piece of information to your advantage. You could either scout out a plot of land for me to buy, or at least help me to do so. If you find just the right spot, I will tell you whatever it is you wanted to know (provided it’s not top secret information). Even if I decide against buying the land you suggested, as long as your effort was honest and you weren’t purposely trying to get me to buy crappy land, I may give you what you want anyway.
In this situation, you would be exchanging your labor and knowledge (i.e. finding land) for my knowledge. There is no exchange of money nor physical objects: rather than bartering, we could say that this is a favor-based exchange. It’s just as valid as any other type of exchange, because it results in tangible value for both of us.
An exchange is valid as long as the exchange results in tangible value for both parties. “Tangible value” means that there is an observable and/or measurable change in the lives of both people. This means that the realness of value does not lie in its form, but rather in the result it produces.
The knowledge I share with you is intangible, but the effects of that knowledge can and should be tangible. Depending on what the knowledge is, those effects may include you becoming happier, wealthier, and/or healthier somehow. Because those results- effects of the knowledge- are tangible and therefore valuable, it makes sense to provide some form of value to me in return (depending on what I want/demand).
Diversity Prevents Failure
A social exchange system that uses multiple forms of value (i.e. assets) is failsafe. If one form of value becomes inaccessible, it’s not a big deal because you still have and can make use of other forms.
If your health fails you can no longer make use of labor to exchange value, but you still have access to money, precious metals, and any possessions you own.
If you lose all your money, your knowledge, skills, and potential for labor don’t get lost with it.
If your house gets destroyed, you can use a combination of money and your own skills and labor to fix it.
If the U.S. dollar crashes, we can still use Bitcoin. If you have no Internet connection (and therefore can’t use Bitcoin), you can still use the dollar. If both the dollar and crypto-currencies go down, we can use labor and useful objects (i.e. equipment) to create a new currency. We could also use our brains to fix the financial system (and wrest it back from you know who).
Social goodwill is seriously underrated. Social goodwill is simply the value that one person holds for another, as a person. Social goodwill exists both independently of and alongside all other exchanges of value.
Every time you provide some form of value to another person, you create social goodwill. For example, if you help a stranger whose car broke down on the side of the road, your status in that person’s mind is elevated, and he is that much more likely to help you in return somehow—if not now, then in the future.
Certain people stand out in my mind simply because they’ve helped me. Even if we’ve spoken only a few times, or we’ve had conflicts, I still feel closer to these people for this reason. It seems that a lot of conflicts end with an eternal silence and an irremovable distrust; but, if that could be transcended without being naïve, I would still be more likely to help the other person because they previously helped me. I’m saying this without any sense of obligation: I think comradery yields a natural desire to provide value to others, and comradery often comes about from some exchange of value. In other words, if you help me, I’m more likely to help you eventually—not because I think I should, but because I want to.
A humorous example of social goodwill is from the movie Billy Madison. At one point in the movie, Billy (i.e. Adam Sandler, if you care) calls a man who he bullied in high school and apologizes, and the man genuinely accepts his apology. At the end of the movie, Billy is in an auditorium with the movie’s antagonist, who gets angry and pulls out a gun. Before the antagonist can hurt anyone, he gets shot by someone else. Who did it? The man Billy called. I’m glad I called that guy! So, Billy provided the man with peace of mind, and in exchange he received protection. If he had not made that simple phone call, he and other people in the auditorium might have ended up dead.
Similarly, if you lose your home, social goodwill can save you faster than anything else. It will take you some time to find, travel to, and set yourself up in a hotel or alternative shelter while you sort out your situation—and you’ll have to pay, too. On the other hand, it only takes minutes for a neighbor to walk up to you or a friend to call you and ask, “Need a place to stay?”
If you know 30 people who would be happy to host you for one day each, you’ve got a month of free housing right there—all thanks to social goodwill.
I’ve experienced social goodwill, too. Some of the value I’ve received in exchange for what I’ve written has come in the form of dollars, but not all of it. In the last two years I’ve received gifts and various forms of help that I would not have gotten without leaving some kind of mark on people with my writing, however small that mark may be. Social goodwill can make things worth doing even if you don’t make much money from them: after all, social goodwill is just as valid a form of value as money.
Social goodwill exists independently of other value exchanges, too: it does so in the form of love. You don’t expect a crying baby to pay you back somehow for holding and feeding it: you just do it, and your actions are a gesture of love.
Love is inextricable from social goodwill. Any genuine act of helping another is an act of love, even if you don’t have ooey-gooey feelings about it.
When life feels hard, the problem often includes a lack of creating social goodwill. Of course, I shouldn’t need to mention that it’s important to stay true to yourself while doing so: otherwise, if you try to be everything to everyone and give in ways you’d rather not, you’ll burn yourself out, your true potential will be missed, and you’ll possibly get tied up with people you’re better off avoiding (those kinds of people have a way of showing themselves when you’re on the wrong path). Finding the sweet spot between what you personally find valuable and what others find valuable can be difficult, but it’s a worthy challenge if you’re willing to give it everything you’ve got.
The Currency Problem
Currency is valuable only because everyone uses it. There are a lot of problems with current forms of currency, largely because they are controlled by people who are using them as a massive scam (it comes down to two concepts: central banks and interest).While using this currency is obviously not ideal, it’s damn near impossible not to. Even though you could potentially go without money, living this way is more trouble than it’s worth. This is one reason for investing in a wide variety of assets: you can use the current-though-doomed system for the sake of convenience, while simultaneously building up other assets that have more solid, lasting value.
And this takes us to the next point.
Prioritizing Your Investments
The differences between different forms of value are not to be overlooked.
Some forms of value are more practical than others. Some forms of value are valued by a larger number of people. Some forms of value last longer than others. Some forms of value are valued more by certain people, perhaps including you.
While it makes sense to invest some amount of time into all the forms of value you can, it doesn’t make sense to invest an equal amount of time into each. Your time is limited, and you are a unique person with a unique set of knowledge, interests, resources, and preferences. Depending on what you want, know about, and are capable of, certain forms of value are worth cultivating more than others.
For instance, it wouldn’t make sense for me to buy farmland right now, because I lack the resources and know-how needed to acquire it and make use of it. However, down the line this situation will change, and it will become both tenable and valuable for me to invest attention in land.
You have to start in the overlap between what you’re currently capable of and what is most important to you in life—and that’s generally where you should stay, too. If your health is on the rocks, you should start there, because if you don’t have health you don’t have anything (including the ability to create value). If you don’t know what to do with your life, you should start there, because if you’re directionless you have no solid basis on which to create value for yourself nor for others. If you don’t have knowledge, you should start there, because if you don’t know what you’re doing then, well, what are you doing?
I strive to start from abstract concepts like truth, personal empowerment, contribution, and conscious growth, and then go down the line from there. To a large extent, what is most valuable is also what lasts the longest, and abstract concepts like principles are timeless. As such, I value knowledge, skills, and social goodwill over other forms of value like money. Likewise, I regard land as being more valuable than money because land contains and creates the things money buys; incidentally, land has been around as long as the Earth has, while money has existed for only a few thousand years. Compared to a few billion years, a few thousand years is peanuts. I also value my body over money, because my body is needed to both earn and use money; incidentally, any piece of money can stay with me for only years at best, whereas my body is with me for my entire life. Human bodies in general have been around for much longer than money has, too (Hell, money needs us to exist at all).
You want to invest your most basic asset- time- into the things that matter most. Use most of your resources to acquire what is most real: decide what you want in life, build your skills, expand your knowledge, communicate with other people, and make use of land that you can use to shelter and feed yourself. Don’t try to buy your way out of everything: odds are that you can’t anyway, and you don’t have to. There are other, more solid forms of value that you can build up and exchange.
Invest in more ephemeral things like precious metals and crypto-currencies, but let these be a low priority. You don’t have as much control over these things as you do your own skills and labor, and if their value falls and they’re all you have, you’re tanked.
Embrace diversity and embrace all life hands to you, but be
ever-vigilant about what matters. The more you cultivate of what matters most,
the less you will lack—both now and in the future.