What comes after Marbles?

Capitalist Exploits's picture

Originally posted at http://capitalistexploits.at/

By: Chris Tell

When I was a young child, like millions of kids before me, marbles enveloped my life. They were “The in thing”, desirable, a medium of exchange or barter, yet close to completely worthless in terms of intrinsic value.

precariously balanced - Not unlike the monetary system Precariously balanced - Not unlike our monetary system

I remember the various shapes, sizes and colours. The little glass balls with swirls through them were plentiful and not highly valued. Like Zimbabwean dollars, nobody wanted them much. Far too many of them...why bother?

Toy shops sold these bags of marbles, with aproximately 80% of the bag containing the boring marbles mentioned above. The balance consisted of some pretty little coloured ones, and then an even smaller percentage of large coloured ones. It didn't take us kids long to associate the larger marbles with a higher “price” or value tag.

There was no teacher dictating to us what the "price" for any of the marbles should be, yet we figured it out all by ourselves. Deals were feverishly struck on the playground to obtain the most valuable marbles. Occasionally someone would strike a good deal and trade maybe 3 small marbles for one large one, when the "market" was paying 5 small ones, and vice versa.

My experience on the school playground, which I am CERTAIN was not unique, is proof enough for most casual observers that free markets function!

Krugman and Bennie must have had disturbed childhoods, likely spending break times in the school library reading stories about unicorns, rainbows, and aliens - definitely aliens - instead of playing marbles on the school field! My guess is that there was likely never much competition/demand for unicorn books, and so an understanding of supply and demand, which most snotty-nose brats figured out in the 5th grade, escaped them. Oh, the price we now all pay!

Now, in regards to my own early school years on the playground I was fortunate enough to have started out with only a small quantity of little glass ball marbles. This forced me to try and figure out ways to trade what I had for what I wanted, which was of course more and better marbles for my hoard. The "status" one gained by having the best and the most marbles was incentive enough. I would become one of the "cool" kids. That's the way it seems to work...and not just for kids.

Case in point... Flick on the idiot box and witness (if you can stomach it) the intellectually-challenged Kardashians, or any number of the barely literate Neanderthals who have become “cool” via reality TV. They have more "marbles" than most of the other kids as far as I can tell, but certainly not much else. I discussed this crazy yet common phenomenon of herd behaviour in a post called Finding your Sneetch.

I want to share with you a funny thing that happened to me in my marbling days. I found a large ball bearing at a local auto repair shop. THIS was, as far as my little brain could tell, one seriously cool marble! Not only was it bigger than anyone else's marble, it was shiny, heavy and definitely unique. Equally important was that it could, and did, smash those puny little glass ball marbles when pitted against them.

After taking it to the school yard, proudly in my possession, a wonderful revelation was made. My new “marble” was instantly valuable, since it was unique and limited in supply, which is two sides of the same coin really. Even the rich kids Mommy's had not been able to supply them with such a unique marble. Sheer coincidence and luck had rocketed me to fame! I owned THE crown jewel of marbles...for a few days at least.

I'm sure you know what happened next. My fame and fortune was temporary, as another damn kid happened to have a dad who, you guessed it, was a freaking mechanic! It wasn't long before a flood of large, shiny ball bearings hit my little market. As quickly as it began, my crown jewel of stainless steel was swiftly rendered "commonplace" and it's (and my "cool") value shrunk.

Not a long time later something else caught the attention of myself and my classmates. It may have been Yo-Yos, or some other fad, I can't fully recall. Marbles were suddenly worthless, even the rare ones. With more experience and maturity under my belt, it is now obvious that something else would replace those silly little glass balls with scant intrinsic value, quickly enough.

At the height of the mania phase, which you can certainly still observe on playgrounds today with whatever the child "currency" of the moment is, I'll bet that not one single kid is able to envision a world where whatever they are "trading" in would not be valuable and important. They simply MUST have the marbles, Yo-Yos, Pokemon cards, POGs or whatever.

Every child (person) thinks the same way, yet just as night follows day, marbles, Yo-Yos, POGs, dollars, yen and euros ALWAYS get replaced.

That's a lot of Marbles

There is however one "currency" that has survived over 6,000 years of use as a medium of exchange. I can't help but think there is a lesson in here somewhere. I'm curious, what "marbles" are you buying?

- Chris

"So if we could get something that could cause the government to say, ‘Oh, never mind those budget things; let’s just spend and do a bunch of stuff.' So my fake threat from space aliens is the other route... I’ve been proposing that.” - Paul Krugman

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
themisanthrope's picture

Great story, good lesson. But I'm still not buying (into) gold.

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

And further, we'd bet on which marbles we'd put in the pot to be won from various arbitrary challenges of knocking this marble that way with that other marble.

Hard to believe the best things we ever learned about markets we learned with marbles as children but there it is.

The x-box / wii generation can not even contemplate it. Maybe some will grow into HFT coders but they will not understand speculation, risk, challenge & accumulation whatsoever. They know only high-speed coding arbitrage. The machine does the work, their brains do not.

Winston Smith 2009's picture

"Krugman and Bennie must have had disturbed childhoods"

Bennie makes marbles out of thin air and "redistributes" those new marbles along with existing marbles already in the possession of others to his wealthy buddies while Krugman serves as his cheerleader.


Thanks for the memories, Chris.

Spent countless hours on the school yard playing for 'keepsies'



tango's picture

Once again, I am captured by the days before every single thought, action and object was politicized.  The innocence of those days and not having to worry if this toy offended someone or this song was a ground for lawsuit or a toy gun would harm someone --- all that has sadly passed.    We are so restricted, so unconsciously restrained by the repeated media memes - don't do this, don't eat this, don't buy this, don't turn on water or flush twice, that is bad / could be bad / might be seen by someone at some time as being bad - it's sad.  

Even on ZH (or especially on ZH) every action and word is parsed through a political filter.  If one agrees, fine.  Else, you're suddenly an evil trator unworthy of discussion much less respect.  Ironically, some of the most politicized thinking is found among folks who criticize the idea of political thinking for the obvious reason that it's the only way they know how to view life. This is the best indication yet of the power of propaganda in unwittingly causing us to adopt the attitudes of those we denounce.  

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

Too bad that kid who got "charged" and "arrested" for his NRA t-shirt didn't think of this:

a t-shirt of a jet plane dropping bombs on children, but the jet plane is IDF with the star of david.

"Still think you can stop have me arrested, teacher? How about I start blogging that you're an anti-Semite. Still wanna play this game?"

ebworthen's picture

I have to flush twice sometimes if I had a big meal the day before, thanks to those Congress mandated 1.6 gallon toilets.

I sometimes flush my Gold and Silver shiny coins when I'm fondling them sitting on the pot; I just can't force myself to reach in to retrieve them.

I figure by flushing them I make Gold and Silver more valuable for everyone else, kind of like burning rolls of $100 Bills - but they can print those with a Ctrl-P keystroke nowadays so that has much less effect than it used to.

lordbyroniv's picture

I liked this post. story, analogy.


I collect comic books !!!



Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Boris recommend is not store in footlocker, especially if roof is leaking.

lasvegaspersona's picture

I am not sure your marbles were really worthless. They actually did have intrinsic value, they were not fungible.

The decrease in value came as their utility faded.

I do not hink this makes a good gold analogy...if that is what you are going for here.

Fiat can be without intrinsic value because it is only meant to be a medium of exchange. Just do not confuse it with a store of value and you will be fine.

Capitalist Exploits's picture

Thanks, I was recalling the experience and what was interesting for me was the psychological phenomenon involved. I was likening marbles to fiat not marbles to gold.

tom a taxpayer's picture

I always wanted a puree but... 

Imminent Crucible's picture

I had purees, including a perfect ruby red puree that was also a peewee. I had agates and steelies, too. I was the schoolyard hustler.

I'd forgotten all that until I read this article.  So, thanks Chris. As for Krugman--what a total cretin. He proposes that we get the economy to "escape velocity" by throwing away trillions of dollars on a "war against space aliens". Think what you're saying, Paul. You're the only space alien most people will ever see.

RockyRacoon's picture

I played marbles as well on our schoolyard.  We drew a big circle and each player salted the pot with a number of marbles.   Shooting was an acquired skill.  You keep the ones you knock out, and get another shot.  Big marble pots were great!   We also had yo-yos.  Duncan, of course, was the king of yo-yos, as I suppose they still are.   Both hobbies were concurrent, not one replacing the other.   I guess that illustrates how parallel "markets" can exist.   Actually, both hobbies involved a degree of skill to achieve success, either in trading or in dexterity.

BeetleBailey's picture

Me too Rock.....

The gold analogy kind of works here.....ZHers get it.....but to limit the scope to Bullshit Ben and Pud-puller Paul is leaving out the Bilderboogers, the elitist trillionaires.....(fucking paging shit-eating Rothchild's to the fucking Satan-phone)....

They're ALL donkey ass-licking motherfuckers....

Pardon my French....sorta

Boris Alatovkrap's picture

Boris is grow up in Minsk, but is to same experience of free market, even in Soviet orphanage. Marble is not common, but at end of toilet paper usage, is cardboard tube. Boris is king of tube collection...

until leaky roof is fill footlocker where Boris store tubes.