OPINION | Money wasn’t meant to be owned

What do these addresses have in common? 1530 Grove, and 1206A, 1250B and 1250C in Safeway Plaza. The answer is, they are among a number of nice commercial sites in Marysville that should be occupied and humming with business.

There are reasons they remain vacant. The economy is slow. Manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, eroding consumer buying-power. The federal budget battle is cutting assistance to every sector. Big boxes have captured a huge portion of retail business. And lending agencies are wary in the wake of the popped housing bubble.

The economy is crippled when shop keepers and small manufacturers can’t borrow money. That’s especially bad because fully 60 percent of new jobs generated are created by small business. To survive the ups and downs, small businesses need to be able to access loans or lines of credit. They must have access to money supplies.

The money shortage is caused in large part by a perverted notion of what money is. Money was invented, not to be owned, but to help people trade things. Money is a medium of exchange. A pile of money shouldn’t be thought of as wealth any more than a heap of basketballs assures a winning season.

Money is not the substance of wealth. Money held in cash accounts is put there to take care of business, not to be stored away. Sensible retirement plans build on investments, not cash. Yet big corporations and high net-worth investors have hoarded enough cash to finance an explosion of hiring and manufacturing — if turned loose.

Money is meant to move like a productive hot potato. If I want a bicycle you own, we agree to its worth in dollars, then exchange that amount of dollars for the bicycle. You use the money to buy pizza, get a haircut and have the lawnmower fixed. The pizza cook, barber and mower technician each make a profit before passing their shares on to grocers, dentists and clothiers. At each move, the original dollars generate profits that increase the value of the original payment. The total amount of value generated keeps increasing in what economists call the Multiplier Effect. But cut the amount of money in circulation and you accomplish the opposite. Money is grease for the economy. No grease, no growth.

As a medium of exchange, money is the catalyst that allows economic events to happen. Without money, business is like the game of basketball without a ball. Tie up the supply of balls and no one scores, which is exactly what the money shortage is doing to our economy.

The nation’s ample supply of money has been high jacked and is being held for ransom with the stock market acting like as ransom-negotiator. Say the market offers 10 percent moderate-risk investments to lure cash back into circulation. But the greedy hostage-takers don’t take the bait. Little investors with more modest ambitions snap up those offers while the high-net-worth titans sit back to skim better yields.

Scorpio Partnership reports that $10 trillion is sitting idle with private investors. Fareed Zakaria claims that America’s top 500 non-financial companies are hoarding $1.8 trillion in cash though the Bureau of Economic Analysis pegs that number at $1.6 trillion. Apple, alone, is guarding a cash balance of over $40 billion. The cash reserves of corporate and private investors are higher now than they’ve been at any time in the past forty years.

What we’re experiencing is akin to the basketball analogy. The league’s management has hoarded all the balls so that at game time there’s nothing to play with. Or if a ball is on the court, players hug it like NFL running backs. The result? No game.

Corporations and high net-worth investors are doing just that. In hoarding cash they show that the function of money isn’t so different from that of basketballs. Even Jesus said a few words in Matthew’s Gospel about the wrong-headedness of taking money out of play.

Aside from stashes to take care of business in the short term, money was never meant to be the substance of wealth. Assets reflect wealth. As a medium of exchange, money is simply a tool for trading. Yet we’ve come to believe that whoever holds the most cash is the wealthiest. He is also the biggest economic saboteur and the worst enemy of research and development, factory tooling, hiring and business start-ups. Withholding money from the economy is as improper as withholding food from children.

Basketball figured out what to do. Closely-guarded players earn whistles when they hold the ball for over five seconds and lose the ball to the other side. Just so, think of how it would spur economic recovery if we had a “use it or lose it” rule to rein in the hoarding habit of big-time money handlers.

Though that will never happen, I do wish that economic players would come to acknowledge a money-ethic that frowns on hoarding cash. We can’t experience widespread recovery until they turn the money loose again.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@frontier.com.

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