When I was a young child, like millions of kids before me, marbles enveloped my life. They were “The in thing”, desirable, a medium of exchange or barter, yet close to completely worthless in terms of intrinsic value.
I remember the various shapes, sizes and colours. The little glass balls with swirls through them were plentiful and not highly valued. Like Zimbabwean dollars, nobody wanted them much. Far too many of them…why bother?
Toy shops sold these bags of marbles, with aproximately 80% of the bag containing the boring marbles mentioned above. The balance consisted of some pretty little coloured ones, and then an even smaller percentage of large coloured ones. It didn’t take us kids long to associate the larger marbles with a higher “price” or value tag.
There was no teacher dictating to us what the “price” for any of the marbles should be, yet we figured it out all by ourselves. Deals were feverishly struck on the playground to obtain the most valuable marbles. Occasionally someone would strike a good deal and trade maybe 3 small marbles for one large one, when the “market” was paying 5 small ones, and vice versa.
My experience on the school playground, which I am CERTAIN was not unique, is proof enough for most casual observers that free markets function!
Krugman and Bennie must have had disturbed childhoods, likely spending break times in the school library reading stories about unicorns, rainbows, and aliens – definitely aliens – instead of playing marbles on the school field! My guess is that there was likely never much competition/demand for unicorn books, and so an understanding of supply and demand, which most snotty-nose brats figured out in the 5th grade, escaped them. Oh, the price we now all pay!
Now, in regards to my own early school years on the playground I was fortunate enough to have started out with only a small quantity of little glass ball marbles. This forced me to try and figure out ways to trade what I had for what I wanted, which was of course more and better marbles for my hoard. The “status” one gained by having the best and the most marbles was incentive enough. I would become one of the “cool” kids. That’s the way it seems to work…and not just for kids.
Case in point… Flick on the idiot box and witness (if you can stomach it) the intellectually-challenged Kardashians, or any number of the barely literate Neanderthals who have become “cool” via reality TV. They have more “marbles” than most of the other kids as far as I can tell, but certainly not much else. I discussed this crazy yet common phenomenon of herd behaviour in a post called Finding your Sneetch.
I want to share with you a funny thing that happened to me in my marbling days. I found a large ball bearing at a local auto repair shop. THIS was, as far as my little brain could tell, one seriously cool marble! Not only was it bigger than anyone else’s marble, it was shiny, heavy and definitely unique. Equally important was that it could, and did, smash those puny little glass ball marbles when pitted against them.
After taking it to the school yard, proudly in my possession, a wonderful revelation was made. My new “marble” was instantly valuable, since it was unique and limited in supply, which is two sides of the same coin really. Even the rich kids Mommy’s had not been able to supply them with such a unique marble. Sheer coincidence and luck had rocketed me to fame! I owned THE crown jewel of marbles…for a few days at least.
I’m sure you know what happened next. My fame and fortune was temporary, as another damn kid happened to have a dad who, you guessed it, was a freaking mechanic! It wasn’t long before a flood of large, shiny ball bearings hit my little market. As quickly as it began, my crown jewel of stainless steel was swiftly rendered “commonplace” and it’s (and my “cool”) value shrunk.
Not a long time later something else caught the attention of myself and my classmates. It may have been Yo-Yos, or some other fad, I can’t fully recall. Marbles were suddenly worthless, even the rare ones. With more experience and maturity under my belt, it is now obvious that something else would replace those silly little glass balls with scant intrinsic value, quickly enough.
At the height of the mania phase, which you can certainly still observe on playgrounds today with whatever the child “currency” of the moment is, I’ll bet that not one single kid is able to envision a world where whatever they are “trading” in would not be valuable and important. They simply MUST have the marbles, Yo-Yos, Pokemon cards, POGs or whatever.
Every child (person) thinks the same way, yet just as night follows day, marbles, Yo-Yos, POGs, dollars, yen and euros ALWAYS get replaced.
There is however one “currency” that has survived over 6,000 years of use as a medium of exchange. I can’t help but think there is a lesson in here somewhere. I’m curious, what “marbles” are you buying?
“So if we could get something that could cause the government to say, ‘Oh, never mind those budget things; let’s just spend and do a bunch of stuff.’ So my fake threat from space aliens is the other route… I’ve been proposing that.” – Paul Krugman