Money – Is it real, or imaginary?

Recently, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of money, and the way we place values on inanimate objects such as a dime. a quarter, a hundred dollar bill, or a bottle of water.

To my current meandering mind, money no longer has the same meaning as it had when I was in my late teens and early adulthood. Money is no longer something real, it is just a concept, based on hope and promises. Our economy is based on a whole bunch of IOU promises being bounced around as numbers in worldwide computer systems. Our account balances are simply numbers in a digital ledger somewhere. It's pretty much an imaginary construct with no real physical underpinning - an illusion.

There was a time - way back yonder in my teen years when there were no credit cards in general use. I know my parents did not have credit cards while I was still living at home, but they did later begin to use them. Back then credit cards were rare except perhaps among rich folks who had a Carte Blanche, or Diners Club or American Express. Bank of America did not start offering them until 1958. Even through the 1960's few people had a bank card, but more and more people were using 'credit cards' from retailers like Sears and Macy's. Even in 1970 only about 15% of families in the USA had a bank card like Visa or Mastercard.

The average family had cash or a checking account for purchases and paying bills. Now, almost all purchases and payments are done using 'plastic', which implies it's all digital notations being passed around, not cash or checks. In Feb 2023, Forbes reported that only 9% of purchases were made with cash or check. I was surprised to learn that debit cards were used more than credit cards.

I'm interested in hearing your opinions about money - Is it real or just smoke and mirrors?