Money is just a commodity…

Slashdot reports on the gaining popularity of a virtual money in China:

It’s the QQ coin — online play money created by marketers to sell such things as virtual flowers for instant-message buddies, cellphone ringtones and magical swords for online games. In recent weeks, the QQ coin’s real-world value has risen as much as 70%. It’s the most extreme case of a so-called virtual currency blurring the boundaries between the online and real worlds — and challenging legal limits.

Someone comments:

Currency is just an agreement on a medium to symbolize value.

Common misconception, but one which governments are happy to foster. Actually, currency is a commodity in exactly the same way as coffee, bread, oil, gold, pork bellies.You see if currency were really a medium which symbolised value, it wouldn’t change much. Bread, coffee, gold etc would pretty much always cost the same, they would always have the same value throughout time. Instead what happens is that over time, everything becomes more expensive, inflation. What’s happening is that the currency is losing it’s value. It does that because there’s more of it; supply and demand. When the government(‘s bankers) print money, all the existing money in circulation decreases in value because there is more of it around.

So, no, there’s no fundamental difference between real and virtual money, just as there’s no fundamental difference between real money and a kg of coffee.

Except one thing: we imagine the government is able, through controlling the money supply, to smooth short-run business cycles. If the government doesn’t control the money supply, it can’t do this. So so-called virtual currencies undermine the power of monetary policy.

Labor contracts in the U.S., for example, are usually cover a year, or more, and they’re denominated in dollars. Some people believe the government’s monetary power comes from the fact people write long-term contracts, like wage contracts, in the government controlled currency. So the government shouldn’t start sweating about “virtual” currencies until it starts seeing long-term contracts written in currencies it doesn’t control (…like stock options…).

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