Decatur Daily Review/December 29, 1933
IN regard to the statement of Prof. Irving Fisher, of Yale, that very few people in this world understand the real meaning of money, I will say that this is one of my own little faults but that it never has interfered with my enjoyment of such money as I have been able to acquire. I find my primitive understanding of money satisfactory up to this time but a real scientific appreciation might dispel a very pretty illusion and ruin my enjoyment of one of the few genuine pleasures in life.
Up to now, a ten-dollar bill has a very definite and pleasant meaning to me which might be changed to something rather depressing if I were taught to look upon the ten-dollar bill as a mere token. I think I have been reminded from time to time in my efforts to read various explanations in a nut-shell of the subject of inflation and credit that the ten-dollar bill, of itself, is no more than a scrap of paper which would be worthless but for certain factors behind it such as credit and car-loadings and the unfilled tonnage of the U. S. Steel Corporation. But the ten-dollar bill, of itself, is so pretty that I am not permanently impressed by these nut-shell explanations and I go on liking it for itself alone.
Economists probably do not get much fun out of money. They would seem to be rather like certain doctors who, on taking a high-ball, instinctively remind themselves that alcohol exerts certain harmful effects on the human interior and that the sensation of lift and pleasure which comes after the second or third one merely signifies that something very scientific is taking place in the brain. I have had this explained in a nut-shell, too, but fortunately as in the case of the ten-dollar bill, the explanation does not obtrude itself and my enjoyment is never clouded by the thought that my singing of Sweet Adeline represents a slight, passing mental disorder.
At that, I believe my sand-lot conception of the meaning of money has been better than that of many financiers who prospered during the boom. One sunny morning in Miami Beach I was on my way to the ocean with a self- made man who was gambling steadily in the market and stopped for a moment at his suggestion in a broker’s office where he was known. The illuminated tape was running across the board and clients in bathing suits sat in big chairs, chafing particles of sand off their hairy legs with big, knobby toes. My friend gave some sort of order and we resumed our walk, returning about two hours later, at which time he gave another order. As we left the brokerage this time he said he had picked up a thousand dollars as easily as that.
I met and listened to many financiers in those days, some of whom rode in yachts and flying pullmans of their own, who were operating in millions. All of them have gone broke since, confirming a suspicion which I had all the time that for every dollar that is won in any gambling game somewhere a dollar must be lost. But my suspicion weakened for a while when it looked as though someone had made up a new rule whereby everybody could go on winning always. It had always worked out in my early schooling in gambling games that 1 couldn’t win a marble unless somebody lost it.
It is interesting to find on Professor Fisher’s list of 18 men who understand the real meaning of money the names of nine professors, members of a class which has always been pictured as poor. But then some of the greatest bartenders are total abstainers and I suppose a man needn’t love money to learn all there is to know about it. Possibly the professors just study from samples out of some museum.
I RECEIVED one very helpful thought on the subject of money from the late E. Phocian Howard, a gambler who used to say whenever he lost an important bet that it was only money anyway and added, “your life don’t go with it.” Mr. Howard believed that money was made for spending purposes only and often scolded the notion, so popular during the Coolidge administration, that thrift was something of a virtue. He predicted a great economic disaster not because the gamblers were gambling but because the people were saving, for it was his claim that money needs circulation and fresh air and will rot like apples in a barrel if kept inactive too long. Mr. Howard hoped his money and his life would come out just even and they almost did, but he lived long enough to console and assist numerous acquaintances who had tried saving theirs and then, after the crash, discovered that their money had spoiled on them.
Professor Fisher forgot to add one important thing when he said that the people as a mass don’t know what money really means. He might have said also that quite a few citizens don’t even remember what it looks like.
(Source: Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/84794290/?terms=Westbrook%2BPegler)