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LONG READ: Coronavirus – The Day The Money Stopped Circulating

EONS, ago…shortly after humans stopped frequenting caves and being professional hunter-gathers, the first town was created.

In this original town, all trades and interests were represented at an inaugural meeting by the Baker (who represented all the trades people), the Farmer (clearly the farmers), the Trader, the Miner and two newcomers – Tom and Joe.

They discussed at length the difficulties they were having with the bartering system they had been running, and the problems they were experiencing in trying to barter an item, say for instance wheat for shoes, when the shoemakers did not need wheat at that moment in time. It was during these debates, and at the point when the meeting has been interrupted by Baker trying to swop a large fish with Miner for a lump of copper ore – completely unsuccessfully – when Tom and Joe, spoke up for the first time.

All those gathered there had almost forgotten that these two strangers were present, as they had been so still whilst carefully listening to the conversation.

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Tom proposed that he be in charge of what he called a Bank and would issue rare shells to all who wished to trade, which would form a currency for all business activities.

Without boring the reader with the time it took to get those present to fully understand the concept, he eventually managed to get all in attendance to understand and accept the idea.

Joe, his close friend, also had an idea, which he too successfully sold them, and that was that he would become the Governor and would safeguard all public assets and interests. He also got everyone to agree that Tom would be able to use those things in the town that were owned by everyone, should he need them to run the Bank.

The economy

The town tried out this new way of doing business and all who lived and worked there liked the new system of trade, government and what they all called the economy.

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The system worked well, and by applying various mechanisms, each industry was allocated sea shells in accordance with the value that all the townspeople gave to a particular product or commodity at a particular time. It did not take long to realise that food was far more important than wood from a Woods Trader during a famine and therefore should be more expensive, whereas during a time of plenty, the number of shells food represented decreased.

The townspeople, also did not complain when:

they had to give a proportion of the shells they earned to Joe the Governor, as a tax, so that he could keep the roads in a good state, employ guards to secure the town; and care for the widows and orphans ;or have to pay the Banker extra shells to borrow additional shells from Tom.

The shells flowed like a river, circulating from one person to another as they did business with each other, including Joe, who also used tax shells, for their benefit in making sure the town could run properly.

The system worked well, although from time to time, there was discomfort at the fact that Tom, the Banker seemed to do so well simply by looking after shells, and didn’t have to hew wood, carry water or spend hours knitting and putting clothes together like they did; that some people began to accumulate many more shells than others, and that some ran out of all their shells. Fortunately Joe was there to help.

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All in all, everyone was happy, as now with shells, and some hard work you could buy whatever you needed.

The red blight

On a certain windy day, deep in late Autumn, the town had its first case of the red blight. This was an illness which caused blotchy patches on the face, which was similar, but not quite the same as blue blight which many people got every year in the depths of Winter. This caused panic as the red was new and different, which then soon became outright fear, when 2 people then died of the red blight, even though every year some 5 or 6 people died of the blue blight and another 50 of cancer.

The Governor however came to the rescue and locked the town down.

The people were very happy as now fewer could catch and then die of the red blight, although a few did worry that they may not be able to buy food, as they only had a few shells left and weren’t working.

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The shells started circulating slowly

On the day that Joe, the Governor locked everything down, the shells started to circulate slower. People who wished to buy anything used their last shells, and then tried to barter, which had limited success as for example the Baker may not have needed to exchange bread for iron ore, or shoes, or a fish, but needed shells to buy more flour from Farmer or Trader.

After a few days, and under the terrible worry that the presence of the red blight created, the Governor heard the cried for help and went to Banker his friend.

They spoke and then agreed that Banker would give everyone as many shells as they needed. 

Everyone was happy, as they had lots of shells, and they all patiently waited at home. Unfortunately, like the blue blight every year, some people still got sick and some even died of the red blight. Joe kept the lockdown in place, and everyone felt secure.

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After quite some time, people began to notice that they needed more shells which Tom gave them, but as no-one was working, there were less and less things to buy. This was puzzling as Joe had said that everything would be fine, but at the same time this was understandable, as no-one was fishing, mining, baking, trading, making things or even farming.

It was a Tuesday – when the shells stopped circulating all together

It was Tuesday, when the shells eventually stopped circulating, as there was nothing to buy, and the shells became to be used as game pieces in made up table games, play items for children or in many cases  just a nuisance to look at and thrown into the back of cupboards. 

People were hungry and becoming frustrated – why did Joe’s care feel so restrictive all of a sudden. They felt guilty at feeling this way.

It was that same Tuesday, but in the afternoon, when Farmer left his house and starting to dig the weeds out of his field. Joe, saw this and angrily came down to the field with his guards to scold the hard working man. He implored Farmer to go back inside, and pointed out that he, as Governor was keeping everyone safe in their houses. He also pointed to all the families that had lost loved ones, and outlined their loss and pain.

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Farmer straightened up and looked directly at Joe, and agreed with him that it was tragic to lose loved ones, whether to the blue or red blight, but that as death was part of life, no-one could ever afford to stop living. 

He explained that he was grateful for Joe’s efforts, and agreed that the red blight was easily spread, but that at the end of the day, the red was like the blue in many ways, and certainly was far less dangerous than cancer, heart attacks and the dementia related deaths that stalked the town.

He finished off by pointing Joe in the direction of the town hall and asked him politely to get back to his work in safeguarding the town, as he always had, and not to let the red blight scare him any further.

The Farmer then returned to work, weeding and hoeing, noticing the quiet sounds of Baker, Trader and Miner leaving their homes and returning to work.

They all from that fateful day became a little less trusting of the shells, Banker and Joe their governor, and wondering whether there was not a better way of representing themselves, their hard sweat and work, than placing their lives in Joe’s hands, and their trust in these shells which at the end of the day, were the thin remnants of sea animals living far from the town.

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People tried to get Farmer to lead them, but he declined, and rather moved forward through his hard work and logical ways, grateful for what Joe and Tom had done, but never again prepared to hand his future to them.



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