We may have already discovered a way to buy and sell on earth as it is in heaven with PayPal. And we could be taking PayPal with us across the galaxies. But how would PayPal be received by alien civilizations?
Fox News reports that PayPal has unveiled a program called PayPal Galactic. We all know that PayPal is a form of e-commerce that facilitates worldwide money transfers in order to expedite sales and purchases.
PayPal Galactic will allow astronauts to keep current on their bills from space, make withdrawals, or conduct other monetary transactions. Meanwhile Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have been advancing the means for bringing space travel to the public. The intent of the PayPal project is to create the technology to establish Earth’s form of currency as the universal measure of value. PayPal has partnered with the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) and other groups to craft the technology to do this.
Earthlings would appreciate being able to take their money with them when they go. But money on Earth has had a variable if not checkered history.
Legal tender began to replace barter as a way of conducting business as early as 6000 B.C. in the country of Lidia, in what is now part of western Turkey (www.adest.com).
Bartering was inconvenient because of the unwieldiness of transporting goods. Originally money took the form of beads, cocoa beans, salt, seashells, tobacco, copper, silver and gold. The Chinese utilized miniature bronze tools for marketing in 1108 B.C. They switched to coins and then paper money about 600 A.D.
The development of money was linked with transportation. Cash exchanges were facilitated in the late Bronze Age (1300 – 700 B.C.) by treaties establishing safe passage through the Eastern Mediterranean. The Roman coin, bearing the image or the divine emperor, gradually became the coin of the realm as the Romans constructed their stone viae about 500 B.C. But Roman currency brought about inflation over the centuries.
Egyptians used receipts as a representation for stores of grain for 1500 years, from 3000 to 1500 B.C. As paths gave way to roads in the Middle Ages, bartering was replaced with letters of credit, by which banks promised to pay in accordance with customers’ needs. This method was necessitated by the scarcity of gold, silver and copper. Even mining and conquest could not cough up enough dough. The term “banks” is actually derived from the Old English word for “benches” on which money changers laid out their coins. (Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages.)
Marco Polo encountered trade by lucre in 13th century China, although Europe did not wholly embrace cash for commerce until the 19th century, only to be supplanted by e-commerce two centuries later.
How valuable would PayPal be in extragalactic travel?
Early on, the metal used for coins had a cultural significance. Gold coins mattered the most for the funding of state activities, including military campaigns. Silver applied to the payment of taxes and trade union dues. Copper coins were relegated to the peasantry. Counterfeiters were always afoot, but coins could be tested by the Archimedes principle (an object in water is buoyed by a force equal to the fluid it displaces). The counterfeiters of yesterday are the hackers of today.
When money started being used to collect taxes, there were riots and revolutions, from rebellion in 13th century England to the American and French revolutions. During monetary crises such as hyperinflation, civilizations tended to return to barter. Money never caught on in the Incan civilization.
PayPal could keep buying and selling alive with objects forged by 3-D printing. But humans on long trips through space might not feel honor-bound to respect fiscal obligations, which would be obviated anyway by differences in time measurement through operation of relativity laws.
In addition, PayPal’s reliance on electromagnetic transmission might make it inexpedient because of faster-than-light travel.
More significantly, alien cultures may not even have a concept of money, trade or exchange, making them resistant to a “Pay Pal.” Even the English, the French and Americans weren’t crazy about some of the ways money got used.
So, however much PayPal, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX or SETI might love the idea of making money, by electronic transfer, the standard for commerce and value, the realities of space travel, alien encounters and life on the final frontier may trample all of their dreams.
By: Tom Ukinski