What is Money?



Money is any item or verifiable record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a particular country or socio-economic context, or is easily converted to such a form. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, sometimes, a standard of deferred payment. Any item or verifiable record that fulfills these functions can be considered money.

Money is historically an emergent market phenomenon establishing a commodity money, but nearly all contemporary money systems are based on fiat currency. Fiat currency, like any check or note of debt, is without intrinsic use value as a physical commodity. It derives its value by being declared by a government to be legal tender; that is, it must be accepted as a form of payment within the boundaries of the country, for “all debts, public and private”. Such laws in practice cause fiat currency to acquire the value of any of the goods and services that it may be traded for within the nation that issues it.

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The value of currency is determined by how much (or how little) of it is in circulation. But who makes that decision, and how does their choice affect the economy at large? Doug Levinson takes a trip into the United States Federal Reserve, examining how the people who work there aim to balance the value of the dollar to prevent inflation or deflation.

Lesson by Doug Levinson, animation by Qa’ed Mai.