US currency may say “In God We Trust” but in order for the bills to mean anything, we place our trust in the US government. US currency is a type of fiat currency (as opposed to a commodity money) that has the backing of the US government. In order for something to be considered money, it must serve three general properties: store of value, a unit of account, and a medium of exchange. Each can be seen in the clip above. A lemonade seller won’t accept just anything, they want money (medium of exchange). We know the price of the lemonade because we use dollars as a measure of its worth (unit of account) and we expect those dollars to be worth the same amount over a certain period time (store of value).
In this animated short from the Walt Disney Company, Uncle Scrooge discusses the history or money and the importance of money in the overall economy. There are A LOT of great teaching opportunities in this clip and would make a great summary of a money supply lesson or a required video to be watched before the lesson.
Opening to 7:15
History of Money
Huey, Dewie, and Louie visit Scrooge McDuck and request that he help them save the money they had earned. Scrooge goes through the history of money and discusses the role of salt as the original salary that Roman soldiers received. He then goes on to describe money from other societies and why money was important following original barter economies. The characters even discuss the role of money as a medium of exchange!
7:15 to 9:59
After learning of the importance of money in the economy, the brothers question why central banks don’t just print more money if everyone wants it. Uncle Scrooge discusses the role of fiat money and why it’s important for the money to be backed by something or someone who can promise to pay the notes that are printed.
10:00 to 13:20
Financial Planning and Taxes
Uncle Scrooge teaches the brothers about the importance of budgeting. People need to make sure that they allocate a portion of their income toward rent, food, and other necessities. He also teaches them about the role of taxes and how important it is for governments to have a budget and make sure that they collect taxes to pay debt.
13:20 to End
Velocity of Money & Investment
The boys are curious why Scrooge keeps so much money in his vault if he tells them that it’s important to put money “to work.” He teaches them that the money in his vault is just his petty cash and then goes on to discuss the importance of money circulating through the economy. The ending portion discusses the role of corporations issuing stocks and shareholders collecting dividends. At the end, he signs the boys up to manage their funds, but charges them a fee. The boys aren’t happy, but he laments that “nothing is ever free.”
In this Super Bowl ad, a bar patron tries to pay for a round of drinks with a lawn mower, but this has apparently been an issue before as the bar has a sign that lawn mowers aren’t accepted. This clip is a good, quick introduction to the role of money in an economy and why bartering would be hard to accomplish.
Thanks to Brittany Pifer for the video
Vox takes a deeper look into the use of ramen as currency inside America’s prison system. Ramen serves a unique function as money since actual cash isn’t allowed in prisons. In order to serve as currency, an item needs to be durable, portable, and standardized, which ramen is. Ramen is the largest item purchased in prison commissaries and once inmates stockpile ramen, they can inflate/distort prices for other goods and services in the prison. The use of Ramen in prison economies is also mentioned in Brooklyn 99.
In Lucy and the Great Bank Robbery, Lucy and Viv rent their room people trying to visit the New York World’s Fair. Unbeknown to Lucy, she rents the room to two bank robbers who have decided to rob Mooney’s bank at night. After the heist, the bank robbers discuss whether they should stay in town and actually visit the World’s Fair or if they should leave. One of the robbers dutifully notes that money is only good for two things: stealing and spending. While your economics instructor would probably advise against the first part, we typically focus on the role of money as being only used for spending or saving. The two then go on to discuss how they’ll store their money since they can’t put the stolen money back into the bank. Saving money at home (in mattresses or in the ground) are common ways that money leaks from the money supply.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Big Mac, McDonalds is releasing a special coin that allows the holder to purchase a Big Mac in any country around this world. This “food-backed currency” allows the holder to avoid exchange rates between countries and references The Economist’s Big Mac Index as Big Mac’s ability to be essentially identical across the world. Economists may soon be able to teach a whole survey course using tv and movie scenes referencing McDonalds (1, 2, 3).
Thanks to Kim Holder for the clip suggestion:
This TedEd video looks at how money supply impacts the value of bills in the economy. As an animated illustrated, it does a great job working through the idea of fiat money and how inflation/deflation is controlled through the money supply.
Jakes owes everyone on the squad a lot of money and he starts by paying back Terry. Initially, Jake tries to buy something from a vending machine by giving it a $2.50 coupon because he believes that’s worth what’s printed on the money. When he tries to borrow money from Terry, the Sergeant decides to cut him off because he’s borrowed too much money. Based on the interactions of the squad and Jake, he has a fairly high leverage ratio. When Jake decides to start pay back Terry, he starts by emptying his bank account since that’s the most liquid of his assets.
When introducing money we usually start with a historical lesson on money. Barter economics is always discussed. Here is a funny news item that talks about a man who tried to barter but got arrested. You can also use it to talk about unit of account because they talk about bail being set at 4 alligators.
Thanks to James Tierney for the clip and description.
Colorful stickers have become de facto currency on the playground. TJ can’t buy things because he doesn’t have any stickers even though his friends have them. Because of the increase in demand, the local shop owner doesn’t even have any stickers left.
TJ decides to start working in order to earn more stickers to buy things. When he gets tired of doing labor for stickers, he turns into a managerial role and begins delegating tasks to other kids who needs stickers. When TJ collects nearly all of the Monstickers on the playground, the kids aren’t able to actually purchase anythings. Eventually, Monstickers become obsolete and the playground converts to Lick ‘n’ Stick Alien Stamps and the Monstickers become useless.