THE LIMIT OF MONEY
- the true value of money and the simple things we are missing..
Money was introduced as a language for communicating economic activities. In economics, we talk about money as a means of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account: — these are all communication challenges which money can simplify ..
Unfortunately, over time, we have forgotten exactly what we are trying to communicate, money is now seen as an asset. When separated from real things, it is nothing, can do nothing, will move nothing. For money to matter, it must always convey entitlements (what it can buy is what it is).
Why is this important now? Well, when you hear that the US government is intervening with $3 trillion to assist economy recovery, some might wonder where it is coming from. That is 6 times the total economic activities in Nigeria in 2019. And why are we not doing same?
Money, when issued by the US government, is believed to represent goods & services of same (or some) value. Nobody has ever tested this and if everyone holding the dollar were to try, the promise won’t stand. The US cannot possibly give value for all the paper dollars it has in circulation.
Yet it can issue it as a promise. And for as long as people believe they are good for it, it will continue to issue same paper and receive real goods and services in return. And so China has supplied more than $1 trillion worth of goods to the US in exchange for paper. Nigeria supplies millions of barrels of crude and get paper in return.
And so, for as long as the papers continue to ease exchange, continue to enable accounting, and most importantly, is deemed to be a store of value (more accurately a claim to value), the issuer is wealthy beyond our imagination. America is what happens when you get people to trust your paper (promise). If they stop trusting her, the dance will end abruptly.
So where am I going with all this? Well, we must STILL produce the things we want money to express. We cannot exchange NOTHING so money can’t enable exchange without production. We cannot account for nothing. But most importantly, value has to be created before it can be represented by money.
And what is value? A house for sure, a car, the roads we drive on. Things people need, things we want, things we desire. And the more of these we produce collectively, the more paper we can issue with people still believing it represents value. Without value, you don’t need a means of exchange, of account or a store.
Simply put, what are we producing? Farms? Factories? Fields? And how are we producing them? hoes? Oxen? Harvesters? Tying it to the size of the intervention, a government that superintendent the production of valuable goods can issue better paper than one that does not. Planned activities create value. Once goods are produced, the money will grease the commerce.
And the famous question of foreign exchange: what is your Naira worth? Well, it is as valuable as the goods and services produced by those who live in NairaLand. That’s why when your oil is valued at $100 per barrel, your Naira is worth more than when it is $20.
Or put differently, the value of our money is the difference between the goods we produce locally, some of which we export and the goods consume, and how much of it we. import. If we import / export nothing, our Naira won’t even need an exchange rate.
What happens if we import a lot and export nothing? Our money will be worthless outside our borders. Why would anyone want your paper if they won’t exchange it for something of value you have? This is how Zimbabwes happen, it is why you can’t borrow your way out of a recession unless you have (can) enable production.
And if we only export goods but import nothing? Well, why would we work hard to produce goods for others when there is nothing we want in return? The value of our money will be infinite, we won’t give it up for useless foreign paper. This extreme highlights how currencies appreciate, people are unwilling to part with the local paper because they have little use for foreign.
So let’s move away from the over simplification. Imagine that all we need as a country can be produce locally, from food to ventilators, pen to servers, what would stop the government from implementing a US sized intervention? For as long as we are able to produce what people want, the government can safely intervene to generate demand and kick stick the economy.
We are faced with weak demand, which, if addressed will return the economy to health, create jobs and eventually generate tax revenue that will be used to repay the borrowing. Our limit would not be money. But of what use is demand if it cannot be met locally? Demand that will not get people back to work cannot be sustained.
Think about it — if we were each given N1m today as COVID-19 palliative, what will we buy? Clearly we don’t produce enough goods for that amount to be spent locally so we will end up bidding up prices for goods and for foreign currencies. why enable demand that will merely worsen your balance of trade & exhaust your reserves?
That’s the cap we must acknowledge & deal with — our money is a unit of exchange for their goods, and that’s why are economy remains an appendage to their economy. We are communicating their products, their progress, their value & by implication, their values.
And we are unwittingly comparing our options to theirs, measuring our interventions against theirs, judging our economy using their money. I think purchasing power parity is underrated, I know GDP is inadequate, even misleading.
We must begin to look beyond money, a mere representation of value created by combining our ingenuity (entrepreneurship), our resources, our human capital with a dash of capital (no, not paper money but economic assets like hoes & softwares). We must see value. Feel it. Deliver it.
To make things in Nigeria is no less important that the fight for independence, to buy things made in Nigeria is a fight to be free. The most important job of any government in an economic crisis is to enable job creations by empowering employers of labour. There are far too many roadblocks, obstacles, regulators, toll gates and people who are paid to take. Too many desk jobs in government offices, too few field officers.
Our role (you & I) in this economic downturn is to create demand for local goods and services, to substitute, where possible, all things foreign with things local. If we don’t do so willingly, it will be imposed on us by $20 oil, by declining reserves, by devaluation. If we do, our economy will grow, our production will expand, unemployment will fall.
I have been asked if it is that simple. Yes, continue to consume what you can’t produce and failing to produce something to exchange for it is inevitable ruin. Beginning to produce what you need is common sense, a process assisted by buying local.
Paper is nothing, production is everything. And productivity, the outcome of the quality of labour, use of capital (technology) and a government that assist rather than frustrate the entrepreneurship is the king of everything.
Let’s not consume our way to penury or regulate our nation to poverty. Instead, let us educate our workforce, let us equip our entrepreneurs, let us convince our bureaucrats that they are better off building rather than holding us back.
Let us start from the beginning, some things can’t be skipped.