Money: Is It Worth The Paper It’s Printed On?

This one hit me while watching an old episode of CSI a couple days ago and the subject may require a little groundbreaking thought, so bear with me. The episode in question concerned forged paintings. There was this rich guy who had some “masterpieces” that he paid $50+ thousand for and his son stole them and replaced them with forgeries. Dad didn’t notice. (Not really a spoiler. It’s from season one.)

This, to me, brought up a good point about value. I suspect that many, if not most, people couldn’t tell the difference between an original piece of artwork and a forgery. Art galleries across the world are known to take original pieces of art and hide them away, putting ‘official forgeries’ on display. No one knows the difference. Why would they? HOW would they?

So, if you had an expert forgery of a painting, and most people can’t tell the difference without an expert, shouldn’t you be able to sell it for the same amount of money? Not that I’m suggesting you do such a thing, I’m just saying. The experts know. They’re experts. They’re supposed to. But regular people like you and me, would we know?

I suspect not.

Then I expanded the idea. How about diamonds and ‘so-called’ exotic jewels. There are a lot of people who don’t know the difference between diamonds, cubic zirconia and plain-old glass. I don’t. Frankly, I’ve seen what I’m told are real diamonds and glass looks prettier and is more fragile. Diamonds are the “hardest substance on earth” but who really uses a diamond ring to cut glass, Catwoman notwithstanding? (She’s not real, by the way.)

It’s not the prettiness of the gems, glass and plastic can recreate that, and, in some cases, surpass it. It’s the scarcity. But if something is scarce, does that necessarily mean it’s valuable? Let’s look at something that I know better than jewels or paintings, baseball cards. And I’ll make this easy to follow.

Several years ago, baseball card companies started making special ‘parallel’ cards of their sets. Basically they have an extra foiling, but they are more scarce than regular cards. Some of these sets are so scarce there is only one set printed. That means that somewhere, out there, is a card of eight-time all-star, three-time MVP and former Rookie of the Year Mike Trout that is numbered One-of-One. It is unique in the world.

Conversely, there is also a one-of-one card of Sandy Alcantara. I know there are baseball fans who just said “who?” He’s a player for the Miami Marlins. Yes, that is a Major League Baseball team. He’s not as good as Mike Trout, but his card is just as scarce. Is it worth just as much? No, of course not. Which brings us to the answer to the question.

It’s all based on perception. Alcantara doesn’t match Trout’s stature, therefore his card isn’t worth as much despite the scarcity. Rembrandt’s paintings, because of his name, is worth more than Geovani Silencio, a painter from the same time period who is just as good but doesn’t have the recognition. A diamond is worth more because people believe it’s scarce, despite it being made of nothing but carbon, one of the most plentiful elements on the planet. So is anything really that valuable other than the one non-replaceable thing on the planet?
What is that, you ask? That one non-replaceable thing is: you. You are valuable. Money? It’s an exchange note for a very small amount of gold. Is the gold valuable? Not really. Some people just think it’s pretty. You are the most valuable thing on the planet. There is only one of you. Don’t let anyone, regardless of their relationship to you, ever tell you otherwise. You are VALUABLE!

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