There’s more to money than a little pocket change

Friday, April 3, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 14
By Terri Schlichenmeyer

A nice fat surprise came in the mail for you the other day.

It was a check that you were expecting, but the amount was still a boost for the day and the bank account. That doesn’t often happen, but it’s always good when it does, and in the new book “Coined” by Kabir Sehgal, you’ll see how that money affects more than just your checkbook.

Do you ever have enough money?

The answer to that is probably negative. “We are all after the same thing,” says Sehgal, whether that’s dollars, yen, pesos, rupees, shillings, or Euros. What we do with it is another matter because money means different things in different cultures and different circumstances.

At its basic level, money “stimulates the brain,” but we also crave it for evolutionary reasons: humans need exchange in order to survive, and money facilitates that. Sehgal says that economists have long thought barter to be “the precursor to money” and that debt – a social obligation as much as a financial one - was “the forerunner of money.” This assumes, of course, that we could agree on the worth assigned to money itself, a setting process that’s also complicated and ancient.

But is money “hard or soft”? Sehgal says it can be both, because our brains say it’s so. We may long to return to hard money days of the “gold standard,” but we’re also willing to keep symbolic (soft money) pieces of paper in our wallets. Our brains, by the way, also make financial decisions “of which we aren’t fully aware,” they cause us to become loss averse, and they allow us to be manipulated much too easily.

Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us

by Kabir Sehgal

c.2015, Grand Central Publishing


319 pages

In this book, you’ll learn how money’s tied to religion (and vice versa). You’ll read about the complicated social rules that affect the Japanese, and why many don’t brag if they travel abroad. You’ll see what Warren Buffet thinks about gold and how Franklin Roosevelt adjusted the gold price during the Depression.

And the future of money? It should come as no shock that it’ll probably be just as complicated in ten or a hundred years as it is today.

There’s no doubt about it: “Coined” ain’t your run-of-the-mill economics book.

Rather than citing what some may perceive as stodgy facts, author Kabir Sehgal uses brain science, ancient history, archaeology, sociology, religion, personal anecdotes, and numismatics to explain money in ways not found in textbooks.

To learn about finances in such a lively way is fun… mostly. I found passages in this book that were wildly fascinating and others that were interesting but that seemed to have a tenuous connection to subjects at hand. There were pages I couldn’t stop thinking about and others that bounced around too much and lost my interest.

And so, ultimately, I think that if you’re looking strictly for a finances-and-economics book, you’d be better-served looking elsewhere because this isn’t it. But if you want a fresh, different look at the green stuff in your pocket, “Coined” is a nice surprise.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.