Tag Archives: bartering

The Value of Turnips

A friend of mine came back from a London seminar this week, with some startling facts and figures.

Apparently, the UK was happy to borrow and borrow in the years leading up to the recession, racking up debts to the tune of 1.5 trillion pounds in 2009.

Dennis Turner, Chief Economist for HSBC, told his audience that the real issue was the spending and borrowing before the recession. Well, yes, this would make sense. If we’d not borrowed, we wouldn’t owe would we?

It would seem we are good to lend to as we pay back our debts and are deemed to be a ‘safe’ country. We don’t riot – much, we queue, we are patient, we take our medicine like the stoic race we are.

Meanwhile, according to Mr Turner, The Government spends 720 billion a year, of which, 250 billion goes on benefits and 95 billion on pensions.

My friend’s notes did not say anything about banker’s bonuses or the outrageous amounts paid to footballers, but it does make one think.

Finally, Mr. Turner was keen to let us know that the economy is healing, growth is forecast and by the end of 2014, we should be back on track. It continues to be challenging but we are over the worst, according to him.

Well, that’s good to know isn’t it? There is, at last, a light at the end of the tunnel. When I read my friend’s notes, it set me wondering though—what does 1.5 or indeed 1 Trillion pounds, mean to Joe Bloggs in the street? Where did this ridiculous preoccupation with money come from?

Well, we all know that money was only meant to replace donkeys and turnips wasn’t it? A donkey doesn’t fit into the wallet easily and neither does a turnip come to that. Gold was much easier to transport and when that became too heavy, with inflation, then a paper currency equivalent was introduced.

Picture then, young *Abi-Eshu of the “wheel’ fame as he bartered with his four turnips for a flagon of local ale. Could he have ever envisaged a trillion turnips? He certainly would have needed a big cart to carry them. More to the point, would we have ever been so stupid as to borrow a trillion turnips? I think not. Our cupboards simply would not hold them.

The whole issue of money has become too easy. We can carry a wallet full of notes or rely on a card with which we can pay thousands of pounds at a time if we wish. We don’t see money as the simple bartering tool it was meant to be, these days.

Abi-Eshu, however, had no such issues to worry him. The first coins may have been pressed but Abi, in his backwater, relied purely on barter. So, the day his father sent him out to procure a new milk cow, he threw a sack of turnips into the cart and trundled off into town. The market was busy and the cows were hot and smelly. Abi-Eshu parked his cart, complete with its new wheels, and wandered over to the cow pen.

“I would like to buy one milk cow, please,” he told the farmer. The farmer looked him up and down disparagingly,

“What are you paying with boy?” he asked.

“I have a sackful of turnips,” replied Abi, standing tall.

The farmer laughed.

“Just one sackful? – do you hear that everyone? The boy has a sackful of turnips and wants to purchase a milk cow,”

“Abi waited politely as the men laughed at him,”

At length, the farmer stopped laughing and looked him in the eye,

“So, the cheapest milk cow I have, is worth at least three sackfuls of turnips,” he said.

Abi frowned. He had only one sackful – where could he get two more?

“Come back when you have enough,” the farmer advised.

Abi knew he must not go home without the milk cow. What could he do?

Bowing politely to the farmer, he went back to his cart and drew out two empty sacks. He tipped out the sack of turnips and divided their number into three. He then placed a third of the turnips in each sack and tied the tops.

“Excuse me, Sir,” Abi said respectfully,

The farmer turned in surprise at his quick return,

“Yes boy? What now?” he asked.

Abi indicated his cart.

“I now have three bags of turnips, Sir,” he said.

The farmer looked across at the cart and frowned. Indeed, the boy did have three bags of turnips in his cart.

“Did you borrow the rest?” he asked suspiciously, for he did not believe in borrowing, it only led to bad feeling amongst neighbours.

“No, sir, I found I had three sacks in my cart after all,” Abi said, truthfully.

The farmer led out a beautiful brown and white milk cow and tied it to the cart. Abi hauled down the three sacks of turnips and handed them over.

“Father,” called Abi, as he drew within sight of his father’s house, “See the fine cow I have bought with my three sacks of turnips!”

Abi-Eshu’s father emerged from the house and cried out in delight when he saw the beautiful cow his son had purchased.

“But Abi, you had only one sack of turnips this morning he said with a frown, “Did you borrow more?”

Abi-Eshu smiled and explained,

“No father, I re-distributed my wealth just as you have taught me and one sack was divided into three. I didn’t need to borrow even one turnip!”

Abi-Eshu’s father was very proud of his son and many years later when Abi-eshu was an old man, he recounted the tale to his grandchildren.

“Never borrow, just look at what you have and re-distribute it,” he told them.

Alas, Abi’s advice was lost in the mists of time and turnips were replaced by gold coins. Governments borrowed vast sums of money and would continue to sink vast sums into bottomless pits before they ever thought of redistributing what they already had.

Abi-Eshu knew the value of turnips. Do we?

*Abi-Eshu probably lived in Ancient Mesopotamia, circa 3500BC

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