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Money, Money, Money

On Wednesday, the limit on cashless transactions rises from £30 to £45. Curiously some retailers seem to have been allowing much higher values for some time when an electronic card, embedded in my Google App on my phone, is used rather than the "real" thing.

Either way, it is part of a quite sudden change for money.

It has long been the case that the value of transactions conducted using what we call cash (this paper stuff or coins ain't cash - I'll come back to that) is far outweighed by electronic money moved around from computer to computer.

The total face-value of Scotland's banknotes, cherishing them as we do, is less than 100th of the daily transaction amount in our economy. Probably; certainly the ratio is quite large.

But now touch-and-go has become the "cash-du-jour" for most transactions in just a couple of years. For my part, I now average less than one traditional cash transaction per month.

The number of transactions using banknotes or coins has dropped dramatically. We need to respect and support those still dependent on "cash".

I feel a bit guilty about that because for some time, any coins I had in my pocket, I passed to homeless guys and gals I passed on my way to Parliament. Now that I don't have any such, it has become an occasional furtive passing of a tightly folded fiver to a few "favourites" with whom I have regular conversations.

Either way, my action is hardly going to transform their lives. But we appear to be becoming more communitarian as we face the common enemy which is the COVID-19, or Coronavirus, bug.

And in my seeing that, I see a chance that around the world, we realise - Trump and other authoritarians notwithstanding - the value of shared community action and values. The days of "the deil taks the hin maist" might soon be over.

My daily walk, yesterday about 5 miles, continues. And with it a marked improvement in my fitness and a modest decline in my weight. Always as well to remember that fat weighs less than muscle. Converting some of my blubber back into muscle may not be reflected in my daily weigh-in.

Being in the country at this time of year, and being able to walk in it each day, is a blessing beyond price.

Yesterday I tweeted a photo of daffodils on the verge of the country road along which I was walking. It lead to as large a burst of social media response as I have seen for some time. A joyous, delighted response.

In our area it is said, quite a few people have made this point to me so there must be something in it, that local competitive daffodil growers, of whom there are many, would discard bulbs they adjudged not to be up to snuff, by planting them on our road verges.

The many thousands we see there at this time of year certainly could not have got there by accident or natural processes.

But something more substantial, if less immediately satisfying to the senses, is happening in the fields beyond the verges.

On my walks, I see our farmers out from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, to make sure we eat well, and eat local, in the year to come. The miasma of well-rotted dung hangs in the air. For once, a brisk wind is welcome as a means of distributing what would otherwise be high local concentrations of the aroma of farming activity.

Such arable farming is surprisingly recent. And is, by most accounts, why we have money at all.

For much of humankind's existence, we fed ourselves by hunting and foraging—a precarious way of living that inevitably led to significant fluctuations in population numbers. A few bad years might have wiped out our entire race and prevented our pre-eminence today.

The first transition was to a herdsman culture. And with that came the first relatively widespread creation of people with wealth. That wealth was visible in the number of animals owned by an individual or clan. Their animals were among the first things which could be exchanged for something held by another which we desired to own.

The next transition was to arable farming—an agrarian revolution which most think took place in Samaria about ten thousand years ago. A blink of the eye ago in the timeline of the human story.

If you were lucky, you had three harvests a year. And for less effort than being a herder. Much less effort than being a hunter and forager. Uncertainty had been reduced. Life became a wee bit easier.

But your wealth needed to be stored between harvests and drawn down as consumption between them.

A system of communal grain stores became established. And with it (probably) the first system of recording wealth. When a farmer put a sack of grain, of a uniform size of course, the first measurements were now being made, into the store, a bit of string on the store's wall had a knot tied in it for each sack. Each farmer's bit of string was their ledger and each knot represented their wealth. And when they came back to retrieve a sack, not necessarily a sack they had put in, the knot was undone.

So money became an arbitrary mechanism for measuring value while having little or no intrinsic value in itself. What's a piece of paper worth?

But even that (probably) first type of money had a familiar snag. Depreciation; loss of value of "money in the bank". In the communal grain store, rats would eat away at the grain, reducing the value of the community's asset.

So they had to develop a way of sharing that loss. The dawn of book-keeping approached. And of book-keepers. And of bankers. And of central bankers, paid to act in the community's interest. (Disclosure: I worked for a bank for 30 years and occasionally, twice?, found myself sitting at the boardroom table of the Bank of England discussing crises.)

Their solution to the problem of depreciation? Cats to kill the rats. Is this why cats became gods for the Ancient Egyptians? Why we worship cats at home?

Dogs were an aid in the hunting world and came into our lives earlier than cats. But cats protected our wealth.



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