How Much Money is There on Earth?
Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.
On Earth the average piece of currency changes hands about 55 times a year.
That’s about once a week. With that kind of turnover,
it’s safe to say that statistically in the United States out of every 100
pieces of currency one was most likely touched in the last year by someone who within the next year will
commit murder. But how much cash, how much physical currency is there on earth? First things first, how much cash is inside of bank?
Well, according to the FBI, the average successful bank robbery
involves 10,000 dollars. But that’s usually just currency from the tellers tills. In their vaults, the average bank
might have anywhere from 10,000 dollars to a 100,000 dollars with some
larger banks at times carrying as much as a few million in cash. But what about in our homes?
How much loose change do we all have scattered on dressers or lost under cushions?
Well, it’s tough to accurately figure out the exact number
and many of the estimates vary. Last year, Lloyds TSB announced that in the UK the average person has about £14.15 just lying around. A recent survey by VISA
looked at a bunch of countries and included cash left at home, the office, and in the car.
Their figures are a tad higher, but agree with the US Treasury’s
estimate of few years ago that the typical US household has ninety to a hundred dollars just laying around, which means that if just everyone in
America scrounged up all of their loose change and put in one place, they would have 15 billion dollars.
That’s enough to fund 357 more seasons of Arrested Development. But we are asking about how much cash there is on the entire planet.
Well, that amount has a special name. It is called M0. It’s an aggregate of all coins and banknotes. DollarDays.org’s most recent estimate values this total amount, considering all
currencies in countries, at just slightly over the equivalent of 5 trillion US dollars.
That number, the value of all of the currency on Earth, M0, is huge.
But believe it or not, it represents less than 10 percent of all of the money we humans have available to spend right away.
To explain, we should look at how money is born.
In pretty much every country on Earth, one of the ways new money can be born involves a central bank. Now, let’s say that in our
country the bank is run by Jake from Vsauce3.
He’s really smart and he pays close attention to our economy.
If he feels that an increase of the
money supply would help us, well, he can just make more money. It’s that easy.
It doesn’t need to be printed as currency to be born.
The next step involves the commercial banks, like the Bank of Vsauce.
These are the banks that you and I use. All the central bank needs to do is buy
some things from these banks using the money it just made and now the commercial banks have more
money. There’s another way money can be born. It involves commercial banks and gets to
the heart of our question. If I go to the bank and deposit 5 pounds, the bank says fantastic,
we will hold on to this money for you and at anytime you want,
you can withdraw or spend these 5 pounds.
The thing is, legally, banks only need to reserve a fraction of the money that they are given.
It is known as fractional reserve banking and it pretty much happens in every country.
It means that if someone else comes along,
like, say, Kevin from Vsauce2 and he wants to borrow some money,
say, 3 pounds, the bank can lend him 3 pounds.
And now, whenever he wants he can spend these 3 pounds.
But here’s the thing: Kevin can spend 3 pounds and I can spend 5 for a total of 8, despite the fact that
there are only 5 pounds in the bank.
New money has been born. And if we want to count all of the
spendable money on Earth, we’re going to need to include
this type of money, the kind that fractional reserve banking creates.
If we include that kind of money, we are now talking about a number much larger than M0. Economists call this figure M1.
M1 includes all physical currencies, as well as money
that people can access quickly, like money in checking accounts.
Globally, across all countries and all currencies, M1 is estimated to be the equivalent of 25 trillion US dollars. M2 is an even broader definition of money and it includes things that you can’t
necessarily spend right away. For instance, savings accounts or CDs under a hundred thousand dollars.
M2, globally, is currently estimated to be the
equivalent of 60 trillion US dollars.
This is a broad definition of money that includes all currencies, banknotes and coins,
checking accounts, savings accounts, small CDs and really
big, long time deposits. In the American economy, the Federal
Reserve doesn’t even report this figure anymore, but as a measure of eventually
spendable wealth it’s real and if we consider M3 the global money supply that gives us a figure that is equivalent to 75 trillion US dollars.
Of all that money, how much of it is yours?
Well, last week over Twitter, Mark Boadey introduced me to
Global Rich List dot com.
Enter your salary and figure out how you stack up against everyone else on Earth. By the way, you can act just like a central bank and control the money supply yourself. It is illegal, but you can technically
increase the money supply by counterfeiting and you can decrease
the money supply by subtracting money.
For instance, burning it.
If you burn your own money, you become poorer, but because you’ve
decrease the money supply, the power of everyone else’s money goes up
and they become a tiny tiny bit richer.
Of course, given the amount of money on Earth and the amount that you could
probably get your hands on and burn, your effect will be quite imperceptible. One the largest amounts of cash ever
burned was done by KLF, who in the nineties for reasons no one’s still quite sure of, burned a million pounds worth of cash.
It took them about 2 hours to burn all of that cash and
they recorded the act on video.
You can also destroy money by eating it, like the rapper Tyga did.
But you probably shouldn’t do that either
because money is dirty. A study published in Applied
and Environmental Microbiology reported that the flu virus can survive on cash for 1 hour to 2 days. And other studies have found that about
7 percent of cash carries viable strains of dangerous bacteria, like those the cause pneumonia or those
that come from feces.
That is a lot of germs and those germs might be high. Studies have found that 92 percent of banknotes are contaminated with traces of illegal drugs, typically cocaine.
In London that number has been as high as 99 percent. All it takes is for a few exposed bank notes to circulate normally for all of the cash to become contaminated.
Locked within the fibres of a banknote, there’s an average of 28 micrograms of cocaine, which means that in 5,000 banknotes, there’s enough cocaine for an entire line. These drug traces are nearly
impossible to remove from bank notes, so there’s little risk of the drugs
transferring to your skin. However, they can be detected by drug sniffing dogs and, on more than one occasion, courts
have forced police to return confiscated cash, because even though drug dogs detected
drugs on the cash, that’s just how cash is. As if that wasn’t enough, cash is also not nutritious.
Termites can eat cash, but to us humans,
the ones who love this stuff so much, cash as we know it today and, for that matter, money doesn’t really have any intrinsic value. In a post-apocalyptic world, where nothing was stable and survival was a challenge, food, clean, water, AMO, weapons, antibiotics, machines, fuel, the trade and exchange and gifting of those types of things would be our economy. When what you use as money has an
intrinsic value, it’s useful in and of itself, it is known as commodity money. It can also include precious metals, like gold, whose rarity makes it likely to be
accepted by other people for goods and services. Now, when you can
safely store all of your commodities in one place and you don’t need a defend them
or lug them around everywhere, representative money often makes more sense. Store your valuables in a trusted place like a bank and get some slips of paper from them, saying “yeah, I own that stuff.” Now you can walk around
with some easy to carry slips of paper and use those to buy the things that you want. We are now closer to what we call money today. I say closer, because almost all money
that we know of today doesn’t represent any actual useful commodity anywhere on Earth. This note doesn’t
represent how much food or water or gold or spices or video games I have stocked up in a bank, it just is money. It’s called fiat money.
Fiat is Latin for “let it be done.”
And that kind of authoritative command is exactly what gives fiat money its value.
The people who make it have decreed that it is valuable. Why? Just let it be done.
Because of this, the value a fiat money depends on
everyone believing that the people who make it will
continue to exist and have the authority that they already do.
This means that the value of fiat money, unlike other commodities, can be erased by force. Let’s imagine that you live in
America and have a lot of dollars. Great job.
Well, technically, Canada could invade and declare that the US
dollar will no longer be accepted at all.
You now have a bunch of paper, which at best is a incomplete deck of famous American flashcards.
The important distinction here is that invading Canadians could technically erase the value of fiat money. But nothing they said or did could make a commodity, like gold, less valuable.
Other countries would still be glad to take your gold and in return give you their own, still valuable, currencies.
No amount of force or authority or laws or rules can make a
commodity like potable water any less important to drink or gold any less rare.
On the other hand, the value of fiat money depends on our beliefs, what we think.
So long as we all believe that fiat money is valuable, it is. This happens all the time.
What we believe, what we think we know, can actually
cause those things to become true.
Actual people, real objects, the way the universe works and deities, like Zeus, can exist all by themselves,
whether we know about them or believe in them.
But some concepts require us to believe in them
for them to be real. And if no one believes in them, they literally aren’t true.
It’s called the Tinkerbell effect, and the value of fiat money is an
often-cited example. But what’s really cool is the fact that
there are situations where our convictions can actually destroye the very thing we believe in.
It’s called the reverse Tinkerbell effect
and it describes the situation, whereas more people believe something that thing actually becomes less and less true.
For example, the idea that driving a car is safe.
As more and more people believe this, more people will go out driving and they
are likely to drive less cautiously, ironically making driving less safe.
Another example would be the idea that in an election your vote matters.
As more and more people believe this, more people will go out and vote and the individual weight of each vote will go down. It took hard work and tools to build civilization and find cures
and explore our solar system, but we should keep in mind that without
doing anything at all we are still capable of creation. By merely believing in something we can make it actually truly real. Other things can actually be destroyed, if we merely believe in them. Can you believe that? And as always, thanks for watching.