Wherever you are, it’s safe to assume that within a few miles, salary negotiations are taking place between workers and management. Contracts are always expiring and being renewed. Sometimes, when the negotiators are representatives of the Big Three automakers, and the United Auto Workers, as in September of 2003, the negotiations warrant mention in the newspapers and on the evening news.
It’s safe to say, however, whether the negotiations involve billions or mere thousands, that some things are taken for granted. For example, no one at the bargaining table is going to interrupt proceedings to ascertain what, precisely, is meant by "hour." The discussions will not hang on what is meant by "week," or "year." Common sense dictates you don’t quibble over words that have a universally understood meaning. Sadly, that also seems to include the word "dollar," although no one sitting around the negotiating table could define it.
It’s not that the negotiations exclude precision. It will be set forth quite clearly what is expected from the workers. It’s not enough, obviously, that they simply show up and remain on the premises for a full shift. Their duties will be specified. But should the workers’ representative dare suggest that a similar specificity be applied to what the worker will receive, as opposed to provide, he will be laughed to scorn. "Why, dollars, of course!"
Ah, yes, but what does that mean? Will the "dollar" be a dollar of bank credit, transferred by check? Probably. But even a cursory investigation will yield the information that there is no particular value attached to the "dollar" of credit. It’s worth what you can get for it, which changes — for the worse — with each passing month. Thus, an income of five thousand dollars per month will be more valuable in January, than in December of the same year. Yet it’s considered the same income in both months.
The same can be said for the paper currency. There’s no more paper in a HUNDRED than in a ONE, so the "value" of such devices is impossible to stipulate. Like the checkbook money, it’s worth what it’ll buy. (And what it’ll buy is worth the paper that will buy it!)
There are coins, of course, and here we see the entrance of something tangible into the monetary system. But what?
The "dollar" coins available today present a confusing mishmash. One might occasionally see one of the old dollars of silver, 90% pure, weighing 412.5 grains, on average. These were the last examples of constitutional money widely used by Americans. There are also tokens marked "dollar" both silver colored, and gold colored, although the "golden dollar" contains no gold, but only about 1% more copper than the silvery dollar. Both are "legal tender" United States coins; neither contains gold or silver. The same can be said of the "Eisenhower dollar," minted from 1971 to 1978; also a legal tender.
But so are coins of platinum, gold, and silver, currently being produced at the U.S. Mint. A coin of pure platinum, stamped "100 Dollars" weighs an ounce. This $100 coin costs $1390. A one-ounce coin of gold, stamped "50 Dollars" costs $720, while the lowly one ounce silver coin, stamped "One Dollar" will set you back $19.95. So what’s a dollar? Is it unreasonable, or silly, to ask? Is a dollar different amounts of different materials, costing much more than a dollar per dollar? In that case, the dollar of silver (19.95) is more "valuable" than the dollar of platinum (13.90). That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? If every "quart" of milk in the diary case were a slightly different size, wouldn’t you think that peculiar, at the very least?
What is unreasonable, or silly, about knowing exactly and precisely what you are to receive, in return for doing exactly and precisely what you are hired to do? Simple logic would make it absolutely proper for a worker to inquire about the nature of the payment he is to receive.
And simple curiosity would prompt one to ask why this inability to define one of the most basic units in society should exist. Why cannot "dollar" be defined with as much precision as "quart" or "pound?" The only conceivable answer, I think, is that "quart" and "pound" measure something. No one goes to the store to buy a quart, or a pound, but only a quart of milk, or a pound of potatoes. But "dollar?" Of what is the dollar a unit? In general, of course, the answer is money. And what is that? Once, it was silver, and for a while, gold. Today it is nothing.
The advantages of imaginary money, to government and banker, are obvious. If money were a commodity, bankers could only earn interest by lending that commodity, and there might not be enough of it at any given time to satisfy the demand for loans. Imaginary money, on the other hand, is never in short supply, so bankers can earn interest on "funds" that do not exist except as account entries in the bank’s books; and those entries were created by the bank itself.
A big borrower, of course, is Uncle Sam. With unlimited "amounts" of modern money available to him, he has little need to control his impulses to expand and enlarge his spheres of influence. No program is too expensive. Why, he can fly to the moon. In fact, he has! He can station his soldiers in virtually every country in the world, to make sure everyone can enjoy the benefits of democracy and freedom. He can educate children, provide medical care to the sick, house the homeless, and feed the hungry.
The only drawback is that productive citizens see the buying power of their paychecks diminish from month to month, businesses move abroad, retirement funds shrink in value, and foreigners devise new currencies with, hopefully (in their eyes) better staying-power than the dollar. In other words, economic catastrophe, inch by inch.
And all of it possible because nobody knows, or seems to care, that the "dollar" is the great unknown!