Money is pretty strange, especially the more you really think about it. What makes people willing to hand over things like DVDs, steaks, and churros in exchange for a piece of paper with ridiculous little pictures and numbers all over it? Why would anyone trade a delicious arrachera taco, say, for a grubby little piece of metal with an eagle stamped into it? Why do sane people accept these transactions as reasonable, let alone desirable? Well, there are of course a lot of reasons behind these kinds of decisions, including everything from the political power of states to a kind of trust that exists within a community of users. One question that always gets me thinking is this: what exactly upholds the value of money? State power? Trust? The symbolic meanings that people attach to money? Habit? A big global conspiracy? All of the above!?!*
I have been working in Mexico off and on since around 2007, and during that time I have had a few interesting run-ins with this thing we call money. Many of these experiences point to one particularly intriguing fact: the value of money is anything but stable. Of course, we all know that. Markets shift, currencies rise and fall. Inflation happens. The value of money changes all the time, right? Yes, it does. But what I am talking about is how money that is supposedly stable at larger levels can change value depending on specific social situations. So values shift in the macro sense, but also in micro, very quotidian senses as well. And the reasons for those micro fluctuations of value are many. In short, when it comes to the actual value of money, social context matters. A few examples:
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