Imagine one day you are snatched off the streets by a group of men, who throw you into a van and take you to some hideaway. They blindfold you and refuse to tell you why they have snatched you off the streets. At some point you’re drugged and you wake up in a mysterious coastal village. Everything about the village seems normal, except for the fact you are there, a place you have never been. Everyone seems to know you, as if you belong there. Naturally, you are completely disoriented.
Of course, you try to find a way out of the village. After several escape attempts which are thwarted by a giant balloon-like automaton. You realize that the village is not really a village, but a form of prison. It is bounded by the mountains and sea, in addition to various surveillance devices. In between your escape attempts, you are interrogated by the person that seems to be in charge of the place. He keeps asking your questions about your old life, but you cannot figure out what it is he wants.
After a while, the interrogations become conversations and then friendly conversations as you become habituated to your new life. In fact, you have grown to like the talks you have with the man in charge. The villagers are nice, but rather simple and incurious and they are oblivious to their situation. Number One, on the other hand, is fully aware of your situation and quite open about it. It becomes clear that you were not really kidnapped, but recruited in an unusual way to an unusual life.
In time, the man in charge offers you a position in the power structure of the village, as you are feeling quite at home. The village does not use normal money, but instead uses jelly beans. The different colored jelly beans have different values in relation to one another and are used like currency. The villagers carry them around in a sack like gold coin in the old days. The basic unit is the black bean, while the highest denomination is the white bean, which is five-thirds the black bean.
The arrangement works well enough, as the villagers with jobs are paid in jelly beans and those on the dole are paid with jelly beans. Everyone has some source of income, so everyone can use beans for transactions. In fact, it works so well that no one thinks it odd in the least. Even you have grown used to carrying around a sack of jelly beans to make your purchases. Now that you are working for Number One, you too get a fresh sack of beans every payday.
There are some problems. One is people occasionally eat their jelly beans, thus removing them from the economy. Because they are small, they can also be lost if someone drops them. Then there is the fact that they are a bit fragile and can be destroyed if not handled carefully. The result is there is a declining number of beans in the system. It also means certain villagers, who are more prudent, increase their stock of beans relative to everyone else in the village.
Your job with Number One is to figure out how to maintain the stock of beans in the village and keep anyone from hoarding the beans. Then there is the fact that new people show up in the village from time to time, just as you did, and they have to be stocked up with beans. Of course, people do try to run off from time to time and the giant balloon-like automaton will take them out. Your job as Head Keeper of Beans is to figure out how to manage the bean supply in the village.
You got the job because you have a head for numbers, so you first try to count the beans in the village on a regular basis. This proves to be impossible, as the villagers appreciate why you are doing it, but they can’t be bothered. The count is unreliable and you can’t trust it to make decisions about adding or subtracting beans. You then come up with a way to take a sample count and estimate the total from it, but you find that your estimates are lagging indicators. You’re always behind the curve.
After careful consideration, you land upon an idea. You realize that as any bean becomes scarcer, it will become more precious, so villagers will be less inclined to part with their stock of them. It means these beans will move around the village at a slower rate. If you can measure the bean flow on a regular basis, this will be a good measure the total number of beans and the balance of beans. More important, you’ll know in real time if there is a bean imbalance.
You also notice that the people who hoard beans are never the people who eat their beans as a snack. They value their beans more than anyone else in the village, so they are always looking to increase their stash as a good in itself. You figure out that like other types of loss, this is a constant. The solution is to add the hoarding rate to your other measures in order to increase the bean supply. In effect, the number of beans must always increase over the base line bean total.
It has taken a while, but you now have a set of measures you can use to manage the bean supply. Once you see bean flow drop in some area, you put more beans there to stimulate the movement of beans. If you see beans accumulating in one area, you change the mix of beans or add beans in a different part of the village to balance the bean total in the village. You even figure out how to maintain the mix of beans in the system, as the various colors have symbolic value beyond their face value.
Number One is so happy with your work as the head of the bean supply, he slowly increases your portfolio to manage other things related to beans. In fact, you started life in the village as Number Six, but have slowly ascended to the position of Number Two, but both you and Number One realize you’re partners now. He may control the giant balloon-like automaton and other weapons, but your control of the now highly complex bean system makes you an indispensable man.
What really keeps you up at night is not the fact that Number One still controls the giant balloon-like automaton or that you could be transported back to your old life. Sure, there is some possibility he will use his monopoly of force to undermine or even eliminate your position. What haunts you is the thought of the villagers suddenly realizing that their economy is based in candy. What if one day they all wake up and realize their economy is based on a made-up system of fake money?
This is the life of the central banker.
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