Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How people became currency

A meditation on the guy who traded up from a red paper clip to a house.
So if the world of the red paper clip is neither a typical goods nor a typical labor market, then what is it? Perhaps it's the world of another Alice, the world through the looking glass. On one side of the mirror, the side where most of us live, we each make our way in the marketplace based on our own unique bundles of ability and work experience. The object of our quest--money--is just the opposite. It is utterly interchangeable; a dollar is a dollar, and we don't know or care about where it's been or what it's done.

On the other side of the looking glass, the world of one red paper clip, things operate in reverse. Here it is individuals who become interchangeable and their past experience irrelevant. Content is content, and anyone can fill the bill for a recording contract or film role. The objects of the quest, by contrast, are unique or idiosyncratic--fish pens and doorknobs come across in Mr. MacDonald's book as having more personality than their owners--and are valued precisely for where they've been and what they've "done." Why else would Rhawnie and Corinna hang onto the paper clip? It's because, as Mr. MacDonald says, it has "a great story."
OpinionJournal - Leisure & Arts

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