"All things financial are ultimately promises.
Promises, however, matter. Ultimately they matter because promises are how we coordinate people to make stuff that is bigger and better than any one person could make alone. If we couldn’t make promises to each other we could never build factories, homes, cars, etc. In truth specialization would all but collapse and the modern economy would cease to function.
Many economists like to pretend that the economy functions on the basis of trade. The baker makes bread and trades with brewer who makes beer. But, this isn’t how the real world works is it? The real world is full of promises.
When the baker wants beer he give the brewer a promise. When brewer wants bread he gives the baker a promise. If they don’t trust each other very much they trade in government promises, that’s called legal tender or money. When they trust each other a lot they trade in private promises, that’s called credit.
I have occasionally received gifts in appreciation for my lectures but mostly I receive a big chunk of promises at the end of every month. I use those promises to meet other promises that I have made. And, with the promises I have left over I can get other things that I might want for the month. I keep some of my promises stored away, as a promise to myself.
In the old days when even trust in the government was low promises took the form of metal. For most people the metal had little value but they knew someone else might want it so it was good enough. Today, trust is high. Our legal system is strong and most promises are just bits in a computer system, a little electronic maker that says society promises resources to John Doe. Promises are the foundation of our economy. That’s why when promises go bad, as they did in the sub-prime crisis, the whole economy goes bad. That’s why some of [us] think the government needs to make some new promises. We are running short."