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tFly
11-19-2010, 09:28 PM
Me neither, I still found this pretty interesting though.
The periodic table lists 118 different chemical elements. And yet, for thousands of years, humans have really, really liked one of them in particular: gold. Gold has been used as money for millennia, and its price has been going through the roof.
Why gold? Why not osmium, lithium, or ruthenium?
We went to an expert to find out: Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer at Columbia University. We asked him to take the periodic table, and start eliminating anything that wouldn't work as money.
The periodic table looks kind of like a bingo card. Each square has a different element in it -- one for carbon, another for gold, and so on.
Sanat starts with the far-right column of the table. The elements there have a really appealing characteristic: They're not going to change. They're chemically stable.
But there's also a big drawback: They're gases. You could put all your gaseous money in a jar, but if you opened the jar, you'd be broke. So Sanat crosses out the right-hand column.
Then he swings over to the far left-hand column, and points to one of the elements there: Lithium
"If you expose lithium to air, it will cause a huge fire that can burn through concrete walls," he says.
Money that spontaneously bursts into flames is clearly a bad idea. In fact, you don't want your money undergoing any kind of spontaneous chemical reactions. And it turns out that a lot of the elements in the periodic table are pretty reactive.
Not all of them burst into flames. But sometimes they corrode, start to fall apart.
So Sanat crosses out another 38 elements, because they're too reactive.
Then we ask him about those two weird rows at the bottom of the table. They're always broken out separately from the main table, and they have some great names -- promethium, einsteinium.
But it turns out they’re radioactive -- put some einsteinium in your pocket, and a year later, you’ll be dead.
So we’re down from 118 elements to 30, and we’ve come up with a list of three key requirements:
Not a gas.
Doesn’t corrode or burst into flames
Doesn’t kill you.
Now Sanat adds a new requirement: You want the thing you pick to be rare. This lets him cross off a lot of the boxes near the top of the table, because the elements clustered there tend to be more abundant.
At the same time, you don’t want to pick an element that’s too rare. So osmium -- which apparently comes to earth via meteorites -- gets the axe.
That leaves us with just five elements: rhodium, palladium, silver, platinum and gold. And all of them, as it happens, are considered precious metals.
But even here we can cross things out. Silver has been widely used as money, of course. But its reactive -- it tarnishes. So Sanat says it’s not the best choice.
Early civilizations couldn’t have used rhodium or palladium, because they weren’t discovered until the early 1800s.
That leaves platinum and gold, both of which can be found in rivers and streams.
But if you were in the ancient world and wanted to make platinum coins, you would have needed some sort of magic furnace from the future. The melting point for platinum is over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gold happens to melt at a much lower temperature, which made it much easier for pre-industrial people to work with.
So we ask Sanat: If we could run the clock back and start history again, could things go a different way, or would gold emerge again as the element of choice?
"For the earth, with every parameter we have, gold is the sweet spot," he says. "It would come out no other way."
Today of course, we don't use gold as money; we use paper. It doesn't kill you, but it can be found in abundance and has an annoying tendency to burn when it comes into contact with a flame.
In a future story, we’ll explain how we came to use paper money instead of gold.
For more:
This story is the second in a series. The first installment is here: "We Bought Gold!" [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]




heckler
11-19-2010, 10:10 PM
here's some irony about a ship laden with gold coins that crashed on the west coast of Africa - found in a beach full of diamonds!

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/10/shipwreck/smith-text

History rarely unfolds like a fable. But consider this: A 16th-century Portuguese trading vessel, carrying a fortune in gold and ivory and bound for a famed spice port on the coast of India, is blown far off course by a fierce storm while trying to round the southern tip of Africa. Days later, battered and broken, the ship founders on a mysterious, fogbound coast sprinkled with more than a hundred million carats of diamonds, a cruel mockery of the sailors' dreams of riches. None of the castaways ever return home...

So, why are diamonds not considered in your article? Just because they're not an element?

tFly
11-19-2010, 10:27 PM
I'd say because they're not elements, but also because they are exceedingly rare and difficult to manipulate (turn into coins etc).

KenN
11-19-2010, 10:29 PM
So, why are diamonds not considered in your article? Just because they're not an element?

Diamond=carbon=element.

Kn.

Grimace
11-19-2010, 10:32 PM
I'd say because they're not elements, but also because they are exceedingly rare.

Diamonds are not rare, De Beers makes them rare

tFly
11-19-2010, 10:33 PM
Diamond=carbon=element.

Kn.

^ that too. Guess my response was pretty poorly worded.

chupacabra
11-19-2010, 10:47 PM
Diamonds are not rare, De Beers makes them rare

Yup. And they own all the land the ship full of gold landed on. The rich always get richer.

KenN
11-19-2010, 11:08 PM
Diamond=carbon=element.

Kn.

^ that too. Guess my response was pretty poorly worded.

In either case, I suspect diamonds were never a currency because they could never be controlled by way of markings. Gold can be stamped and identified with a mark of the "realm" (bust of Caesar or whatever) so can be identified as the property of Rome (or Egypt, or Babylon) and thus the realm can justify demanding the return of their property (render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's) through taxation or whatever means.

Total guess, but I bet not far off the mark.

Kn.

nouseforaname
11-20-2010, 12:39 AM
Fungible.

tFly
11-20-2010, 05:47 AM
Many Asian countries also used compressed tea leaves for a time.

switch
11-20-2010, 10:54 AM
Diamonds burn.

Broken Fusion!
11-27-2010, 04:16 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U71-KsDArFM&feature=player_embedded

ChunkyMonkey
11-27-2010, 07:29 AM
^ I just watched the original doc (The Money Masters) a couple of nights ago. He really needs to keep his hands in his pockets :lol:


Interesting to say the least. Tally Sticks ftw!

Zedbra
11-27-2010, 03:49 PM
Diamonds burn.

burn baby burn

switch
11-27-2010, 04:33 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U71-KsDArFM&feature=player_embedded

I don't understand his point. Can someone please explain?

And the Oz metaphor makes sense....if you did too much drugs during the 60s.

Freestyler
11-27-2010, 08:19 PM
In either case, I suspect diamonds were never a currency because they could never be controlled by way of markings. Gold can be stamped and identified with a mark of the "realm" (bust of Caesar or whatever) so can be identified as the property of Rome (or Egypt, or Babylon) and thus the realm can justify demanding the return of their property (render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's) through taxation or whatever means.

Total guess, but I bet not far off the mark.

Kn.


You might like this. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/02/have-you-ever-tried-to-sell-a-diamond/4575/) It's a fantastic and rather accurate (at least from a mining industry perspective) write-up on Diamonds and why they are what they are today.