Money and Social Conventions on the Island of Yap

The economy of Yap, a small island in the Pacific, once had a type of money that was something between commodity and fiat money. The traditional medium of exchange in Yap was fei, stone wheels up to 12 feet in diameter. These stones had holes in the center so that they could be carried on poles and used for exchange. Large stone wheels are not a convenient form of money. The stones were heavy, so it took substantial effort for a new owner to take his fei home after completing a transaction. Although the monetary system facilitated exchange, it did so at great cost. Eventually, it became common practice for the new owner of the fei not to bother to take physical possession of the stone. Instead, the new owner accepted a claim to the fei without moving it. In future bargains, he traded this claim for goods that he wanted. Having physical possession of the stone became less important than having legal claim to it.

This practice was put to a test when a valuable stone was lost at sea during a storm. Because the owner lost his money by accident rather than through negligence, everyone agreed that his claim to the fei remained valid. Even generations later, when no one alive had ever seen this stone, the claim to this fei was still valued in exchange.

– Angell, Norman (1929) ‘The Story of Money’, In: Mankiw, N.G. (2009) ‘Macroeconomics’ (7th ed.)

One Response to “Money and Social Conventions on the Island of Yap”

  1. Joanne says:

    This story is charming. Apparently stones are in short supply in Yap. Is there now a bank in Yap where the stones are kept in vaults? Perhaps the bank is built from these stones?

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