The title of this post intrigued me “Financial lessons from Yoga, Homer Simpson…” and it is a fairly quick read. I’m not necessarily endorsing everything it says but I liked the idea that simple pleasures in life can be just as fulfilling (and fun) as other more expensive ones. The blog also reminds the reader of other obvious but often ignored truths; such as the fact that we are most likely to succeed at what we are good at and have a passion for – the hard part may be in finding that calling we were made for.

Meanwhile, the New Scientist reported the other day (“Virtual money gets real” 04 June 2011) that there is a new virtual currency, the bitcoin, that is becoming popular with some. In an age where money is increasingly so much digital information and decreasingly cash in our pocket, this is a currency which is entirely on-line (there are others linked to particular games or networks like Facebook). Like any other currency, its strength depends very much on the confidence of the people who use it. National currencies used to be mostly backed by precious metals such as gold, or a basket of other currencies. These days they are backed largely by the tax-raising powers of the relevant government. For the time being most of us are likely to have more confidence in the government’s ability to raise tax than in a currency which is little more than an idea.

That set me wondering what the future of money might look like as trade and taxes become more globilised, as commodities become less predictable as a means of backing a currency and if electronic currency does not inspire us with confidence. One possibility might be to make a currency out of a carbon credit. Much of what we buy will have involved the emission of CO2 and an individual annual allocation is one way of managing the CO2 we put into the atmosphere. That would limit the amount of goods and services that could be produced and give value to the “Carbon Credit”. However, this currency would not necessarily take directly into account the rarity or abundance of raw materials or the amount of human skill involved. It would push the market to those things which are more CO2 efficient.

Perhaps another currency might be energy. It could cover all forms of energy, not just electricity generation, and there would be more profit in the more efficient means of making things. It would also encourage consumers to favour the things that require less energy in their production and use. The downside to this one is that it might create an incentive to make more energy and produce more CO2. The advantage of both of these is that they could be universal although I think in practice both would be unworkable as a currency even if we end up with some kind of CO2 and energy rationing in future. As it is essential to all life, water could be considered. OK, so this would only work in a desert or on the moon, but we do need to come to terms with the fact that it is a finite, and therefore precious, resource – more precious I dare say than gold. I don’t know what the currency of the future will look like but I suspect that it will relate to the rationing of finite but essential resources.

Whatever currency we use, I guess that sooner or later there will be some who have rather more of it than others – no matter how egalitarian it starts out. The fact is, some people will save more than others and that will leave them with more than the person who has not. And some truths about money and wealth remain the same: you can’t take it with you (as both the apostle Paul and Job might have said). Money (whatever form it takes) may bring us power and influence but it can’t buy us happiness.  An authentic life (a life of godliness) lived contentedly may enrich us more than common currency – and in that respect Homer may well be rich after all.