birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Faith & Money

In the Revolutionary War, the rebel colonists issued currency to cover the costs of their fight for independence — a currency that would have been valueless if the imagined United States had never come into being. I love that sense of money as an act of faith, a shared belief in an idea, although I first encountered it in a more sinister sense in the expression, “Save your confederate money, boys, the South’s gonna rise again.” Inky green, strangely sized confederate dollars, now curiosities, also embody a shared idea and a complicated set of relationships among people. They’re no different than U.S. dollars, except that the idea behind them never gave rise to an entity that could create confidence around the use of its paper for transactions between people.

I traveled in Argentina after the crash of the Argentine peso in the early 2000s and marveled at the many currencies in circulation there — the government was paying its employees in a currency it invented, provinces within the country were doing the same, businesses would have lists of odd abbreviations at the register to communicate what currencies they were and were not taking. It reminded me of what I’d heard about mining companies issuing their own scrip, accepted as legal tender only at their own company store, and paying their employees with it instead of “real,” or more widely circulatable cash. While the scrip story usually illustrates worker exploitation, the strange variety of money in Argentina at that moment also seemed to take that idea of “cold, hard cash” and make it fluid — anything enough people agree to can be currency, any crazy idea can become real merely by pretending that it is so.

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