This Funny Thing Called Money

gold standard

This Funny Thing Called Money

Imagine that the official length of a meter changed day to day – 80 centimeters today, for example, and 115 centimeters tomorrow. And that every country had its own measure of length – say the meter in India and the yard in the US – and the conversion rate between the yard and the meter again varied from day to day. This confusing jumble is what we have been living with for the past 38 years with one of the most important facets of our lives – money.

Being in a global business where more than 90% of our revenues come from outside India, the company that I run bore the brunt of these vagaries last year. We were suddenly poorer by more than $25 million dollars (almost 10% of our revenues), just because the pound sterling eroded in value against the US dollar. While our revenue in the UK grew in pound sterling (something our UK teams were proud of), it declined significantly in dollar terms (which made our CFO quite unhappy).

Our modern currency and exchange rate system was agreed upon by 44 countries in 1944. All currencies pegged their values against the US dollar, and the US government agreed to exchange dollars for gold at a standard rate of US $35 per ounce. In 1971, President Nixon took the US off the gold standard, leaving every currency literally floating – with no inherent value.

Money, our measure of value, was left with neither constancy nor consistency. Instead of being worth something real – a certain amount of gold – the world’s dollars, pounds, pesos, rupees and other national currencies were worth only was someone was willing to pay for them in another currency.

That all happens today on the international foreign currency exchange, a vast market that operates around the clock around the world and produces trillions in profits for banks and their traders. Under the guise of providing liquidity and price discovery, banks and other financial institutions set arbitrary values on the different currencies – and then profit by buying and selling currencies as the prices shift up or down.

Why should a loaf of bread or a textbook cost more in one country that another? The International Monetary Fund uses an index indicating Purchasing Power Parity, which compares the value of world currencies in the real world. The PPP shows how some currencies are undervalued against others – not because they are really worth less, but because bankers and traders say they are.

A key premise we want to debate is whether we, as humanity, are valuing the truly valuable. The question now is whether the way we measure value has any basis? What would the world be like if currencies were actually valued according to their Purchasing Power Parity?

Will the world be a better place if we had a single global currency – similar to the gold standard of the past or the Euro of recent times? These are but a few questions that we will dialog on this site.

This Funny Thing Called Money

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