This is a story I often tell to being to discuss what money is and what it could be. It is derived from a German tale.
One day a Mama Songa, a woman selling vegetables, is packing up her unsold tomatoes and finds that someone has placed a 300 Bob (Bob is the short form for ‘Shillings’ in Kenya) note. She has never seen such a note, but it looks legit. (There are only paper notes in denominations of 50,100,200,500,1000 in Kenya).
She decides to take it to her child’s schools where she is late on fees. The headmaster looks at the 300 Bob note and is shocked but finally accepts it as he trusts that he could return it for tomatoes later. He doesn’t need tomatoes through, and instead uses it to purchase some flour for the school lunch.
The flour shop owner then realizes he needs tomatoes for dinner the next day and visits Mama Songa to buy 300 Bob of tomatoes. Mama Songa is pleased to see the 300 Bob return to her and decides she should save some money in the bank.
The banker takes one look at the money and rips in half and throws it in the dust bin.
Mama Songa is shocked, “But that 300 Bob bought school fees, flour and tomatoes! It enabled 900 Bob of trade”.
“That is not official money” the banker says in disgust.
Mama Songa shakes her head and realizes that in the end she was at least able to pay for school fees and only lost some tomatoes that were going bad.
I generally flavor this story with the various goods and services of the community I am working in and finally introduce the idea of a circulating voucher and ask the following questions?
What if Mama Songa could create a voucher for her tomatoes that could also be accepted for school fees and flour? What would the rules need to be for printing and distributing such vouchers? How much trade could be unlocked with these in circulation?
I often bring up the joke of the construction worker who didn’t finish his job and gives the excuse that he ran out of centimeters. If money, in the case of a circulating voucher, is just a record of who owes whom how much, then why should we ever have to run out? Perhaps the paper is expensive to print – enter digital vouchers and blockchain security.
Finally, I revisit the story’s banker;
Once Mama Songa leaves, the Banker grabs the two halves of the 300 Bob and uses some clear tape to stick them back together and walks over to go buy some flour.
Where exactly do our shillings come from? What is money? What is official money?
What is wrong with our society if people don't send their kids to school or eat an evening meal because they are missing pieces of paper?