A nearly worthless currency ignites imaginations

Sofia Comper-Cavanna

Sofia Comper-Cavanna, from Burgess Hill Girls School, is a runner-up of the second Bank of England/Financial Times schools blog competition. The competition invited students across the UK to address the question “What is the future of money?”

The Venezuelan bolívar is practically worthless. When money has become so far devalued that the quantity of paper notes used to purchase toilet rolls is more than the quantity of paper you buy, is there any way for society to find a purpose for money again?

Venezuela is in disarray. Complete economic and political dysfunction has led to dramatic hyperinflation reaching incredible heights — 1.62m per cent. With 1kg of rice costing 2.5m bolívars before the most recent devaluation, how can Venezuelans find a useful future for their worthless currency? For some, money has ignited imaginations. Craftsmen have turned to resourcefulness, creating useful items from money. Instead of buying goods with stacks of notes, they’re making them from fewer notes than it would take to make a purchase.

Money is designed to be durable and hard wearing. It naturally makes an excellent textile material, a substitute for otherwise costly resources. A key characteristic of money is also to hold value over time; as the value of the bolívar plummets, many in the Venezuelan community have developed innovative methods to retain the currency’s value, making purses and various fashion accessories, that hold their value over time as goods, rather than currency. The sale of money-made goods puts food on the table. Ignited imaginations are giving people a new source of income. For Venezuela, money could be gaining a new function in society.

Currently, money’s function is as a unit of account, a medium of exchange, and as a store of value. It is designed to help society, to prevent us being forced back into the barter economy of the past, the haggling we love a taste of on holiday which, long term, would exhaust the easy internet-shopping generation of today. Money benefits society. However, what if there was a new function allowing it to benefit a modernised society — art?

“The Craftsmen Series” honours industrious US working-class labourers with a saw, hammer and screwdrivers. Crafted from dimes, quarters and penny coins, American artist Stacey Lee Webber uses money to produce art. She gives money a new value in society.

Ms Webber is conveying what she describes as “the continued decreasing value of hand labour in the United States”. The artwork not only holds value as a creative piece, but could be seen as giving power to the working-class people this collection represents. The art raises an awareness of society’s growing disregard for primary sector jobs, as quaternary sectors grow rapidly.

Money ignites imaginations. Artistic pieces are not only creatively enriching society, but giving money a new ability to store value, regardless of a currency’s worth.

The future may not necessarily be free of cash payments. Or the future may be entirely plastic cards, PayPal passwords and contactless mobile payment. Money may leave financial circulation altogether. Either way, money could always have a place in society as an inspiration for artists, a resource for Venezuelan people, and new art imaginations have yet to create. Money will ignite imaginations.