Convenience and Trust
By Dr. Derek Carlsen
Jeremy Powel was an enterprising tween, beginning his second year of Middle School in a small country town. His father owned a small printing shop in the town and Jeremy was allowed to do projects in the shop on Sunday afternoons when he wanted.
“Yes!” Jeremy shouted out loud to himself. He was laying on his bed wrestling with an idea that had just fallen into place. He leaped up and paced around his room with great excitement before setting out to find his father.
“May I do some projects tomorrow afternoon at the shop?”
“Sure, that will work.”
“Thanks,” Jeremy said, struggling to act casual.
Church and Sunday lunch passed at a snail’s pace. Finally, Jeremy could set out, so, grabbing the shop key off the hook, he shouted, “Goodbye,” hopped onto his bicycle, and sped off down the road.
Entering the shop, he opened the software design program on the computer and began to work. An hour later he was satisfied with his creation which he downloaded onto a thumb drive and took it over to the printing machine. Once the printing was completed, Jeremy carried the large pile of printed paper to the guillotine where he painstakingly cut them into smaller pieces measuring 4 inches by 2 inches. Each of these smaller pieces had fancy patterns printed in three different colors on both sides along with the wording “J-Token” and a numerical denomination. There were six different J-Token denominations—1/4, 1, 5, 10, 20, and 100. Jeremy had created a currency, the J-Token, or J-Ts as they would be called later.
The next day at school Jeremy spoke to two of his friends, Jake and Ron, saying, “How much stuff do you guys have at home that you are bored with and no longer use?”
“Way too much,” Jake admitted, and Ron agreed.
“Well,” Jeremy continued, “how would you like to join a secret club that would enable you to get rid of the stuff you don’t want and possibly get the stuff you do want?” Jake and Ron looked at each other and then back at Jeremy saying together, “You have our attention.”
“Okay, the key to success is secrecy, so the club only grows by club members inviting someone they know can keep a secret.” Jake and Ron nodded in agreement. Jeremy continued, “There is a membership fee, just a one-time fee, but now, wait for it,” he paused and fished some J-Tokens out of his pocket and showed them to his friends.
“Wow, these are amazing,” Jake said. Both boys studied the different notes, then Ron said, “I don’t get it, Jer.” Jeremy smiled, enjoying their impatience.
“Here’s the way it will work. I will be the banker who issues the J-Tokens, and this is the cool part where club members can increase their ability to earn J-Tokens,” Jeremy continued, delighted that his friends were hanging onto his every word. “The foundation of this will be popsicles.” Jake and Ron looked at each other with confused expressions. “Not just any popsicles,” Jeremy said, “they have to be the ‘Sqweeze’ electrolyte pops. You can get ten for ten dollars at Food-Mart. Parents are much more likely to buy these since they are good for their children.”
“They don’t taste that good to me,” Ron said.
“Me neither,” agreed Jake.
“Ahaa!” Jeremy responded, “that’s the beauty of the plan.” Jake and Ron looked even more confused. Jeremy was enjoying dragging this out.
“Come on, Jer, explain yourself,” Ron pleaded.
“Okay, okay,” Jeremy said with a big grin, “I’m the banker who issues J-Tokens to club members, one token per popsicle, or four-quarter tokens if you like. I keep the popsicles safe and at any time you can redeem a popsicle with one J-Token. The convenience of tokens is that they simplify buying and selling so that you can get rid of stuff you don’t want and buy things you do want. Moreover, if you are allowed to have more healthy popsicles,” Jeremy paused, then continued, “maybe now and then you have one left at the end of the day, which could be turned into a J-Token. Just saying.” Jeremy ended with a wink.
Jake and Ron both had their mouths open and were gazing in awe at Jeremy.
“Brilliant, simply brilliant,” Jake finally said, shaking his head.
“You’re a genius, Jer,” Ron added.
“We’ll call it the J-T Club and I take it that you both want in?”
“You bet!” Jake and Ron chorused.
“Right, then, the J-T Club has officially launched, and once you’ve paid your membership fee of five non-refundable popsicles each, you can start trading for J-Ts.”
“I’m going to start talking about electrolyte popsicles tonight,” Jake said with a wink.
“Me too,” Ron chirped with a broad grin.
Three weeks after the launch of the club Jake grabbed Jeremy during the school lunch break barely able to control his excitement. “Jer, you will never believe what just happened,” he said.
“Tell me,” Jeremy answered with twinkling eyes.
“I just got Mario Kart 8 Delux for thirty-five J-Ts, incredible, isn’t it? Yea, that Dillard kid got into some trouble at home and was banned from playing video games for a year, so he’s selling.”
“I told you it would be a gold mine…I told you.”
“You’re the genius, Jer.”
“No, you’re the wizard trader, Jake, the credit is yours.”
One of the pieces of information floating around in Jeremy’s mind on that Saturday afternoon when his great plan was hatched, was a conversation he had had with a high school senior some weeks before. When attending a high school football match, he noticed a boy selling popsicles to the people in the parking lot and to those standing in the lines waiting to enter the stadium. Approaching the senior, he courageously said, “Could you give me some tips about being an entrepreneur.”
“What, you trying to undercut my business,” the older boy snarled?
“Uh, no, not at all,” Jeremy stammered, “I…I…um just want to learn…for the future, that’s all. I’m too young to do something like this now.”
“Sorry,” the older boy said, “I’m trying to earn money for college, and I felt threatened by your question.”
“Tell you what, if you give me some tips and I decide to do what you are doing, I will wait until you are at college,” Jeremy said with an engaging grin.
“Deal,” the older boy said. “My name is Scott.”
Scott then gave him some tips and explained that he bought his popsicles from Food-Mart and that he sold to mainly older customers, who preferred the electrolyte pops. He bought them at a dollar each and sold them for a dollar twenty.
The club continued to grow extremely fast and by the fourth week after its launch, Food-Mart ran out of Sqweeze popsicles. With a football game scheduled for the coming Saturday Jeremy went hunting for Scott, eventually finding him at the high school tennis courts.
“Yea. How are you doing?”
“Pretty good, except I’m out of Sqweeze pops already and my Saturday will be a complete washout; there are no more in town.”
“That’s why I am here.”
“What do you mean?”
“How many pops do you usually sell on a Saturday?”
“Between five and six hundred.”
“I could get you six hundred for six hundred dollars.”
Scott stared at Jeremy, unable to say anything for a while before stuttering, “Yo…you…you serious?”
“I sure am,” Jeremy responded with a huge grin, “but it has to remain just between you and me.”
“Deal,” Scott said way too loudly then caught himself and, in a whisper, asked, “so what’s the next step?”
“If you come to my house tomorrow evening at 7:30 with the cash, I’ll be waiting for you and load you up and then you must leave as quickly as you came.” Scott was beaming. “One more thing,” Jeremy added, “when the shortage is sorted out, I’m prepared to keep selling you pops at nine dollars for ten which will increase your profit from twenty cents to thirty cents per pop. So, before you buy from Food-Mart, check with me and see what I might have available, but remember nobody but you and I know about this, okay?”
“You bet, it’s a deal. You don’t know how much this means to me. Thanks, Jeremy.”
Every week the club grew and the more J-Ts that came into circulation the more trading flourished. Jeremy was also purchasing many things with J-T’s that he freely issued to himself, unbeknownst to the other club members. Also, Jeremy’s popsicle business with Scott was booming.
As the school year began to wind down a shift took place in the demand for electrolyte popsicles, which happened after a nutrition class. Club members started consuming more popsicles which meant that for the first time, they started trading with each other for and with popsicles. This increase in demand created a new scarcity which drove up their price from one J-T to one and a half J-Ts.
It didn’t take long for Jake and Ron to realize that they could, according to the club rules, redeem any popsicles that they had deposited with Jeremy for one J-T, which they could then sell for one and a half J-Ts to other club members. Even before the boys approached Jeremy on that Friday after school to request an exchange, he knew there was a problem because he had not received any popsicles that entire week. On the previous Friday, he had sold everything he had to Scott. Jeremy didn’t even have one popsicle in his possession.
Jake and Ron innocently explained their plan to Jeremy, who forced a smile, though panic had gripped his heart. Then, struggling to control his shaking voice asked, “How many do you each want?”
“I’d like thirty,” Jake said.
Jeremy’s sharp mind instantly saw an escape hatch for the short term. “So, you both have thirty J-Ts on you now to redeem thirty popsicles?”
“Right,” the two boys echoed.
“Which means that once you have finished trading your thirty popsicles you will have forty-five J-Ts, correct?”
“Yes,” Jake answered.
“Unfortunately, this week has been bad for me,” Jeremy continued, “but that’s not your fault, it’s mine for not being prepared, so let me tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to give you fifty J-Ts each right now. Will that compensate for my lack of preparedness?”
“You bet, you’re the best, Jer,” Ron beamed.
You’re the man, Jer,” Jake said, then they all fist-bumped.
All of Saturday and Sunday Jeremy was in a constant cold sweat, having no idea what he could do. There appeared to be no escape and there was still one week left in the school year. “How can I stall and buy some time, how, how?” he audibly asked himself.
By the time Sunday evening arrived Jeremy had resigned himself to his fate, whatever that was going to be. He was quiet and sullen. “Hey, son,” Mr. Powel said, stepping into Jeremy’s room.
“Hi, Dad, what’s up?”
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m going on a trip tomorrow to Chicago where I have a business-type interview. I’ll be gone for the week. I’m leaving very early in the morning, so I won’t see you again until Friday sometime. I’ll be staying with my brother, Uncle Frank, and his family.”
Jeremy stared at his father, though he was looking through him focusing on something else, then he flung his arms around his father’s neck hugging him tightly, surprising Mr. Powel who said, “I’ll only be away for a week.”
Jeremy caught himself, “Yea, I know, but be safe, Dad.”
“I will, Jer. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you more.”
As Mr. Powel left the room Jeremy felt like he had been placed into a weightless chamber and if he didn’t hold onto his bed he would float up to the ceiling.
On Monday morning, a cheerful, relaxed Jeremy bounded up to Jake, “Hi, how was your weekend?”
“Great, how about yours?”
“Superb,” Jeremy said, brandishing a broad grin.
“Did you remember to bring some popsicles,” Jake asked?
“There’s another little snag,” Jeremy said, sounding apologetic.
“Well, the popsicle storage place is the massive chest freezer in the garage, which has a padlock on it.”
“And,” Jake quizzed?
“And…the key for the padlock is on my dad’s keyring and he left very early this morning on a business trip to Chicago. He only gets back on Friday.”
“Oh, no, Jer,” Jake groaned. “Ron and I had plans to make a boatload of J-Ts this last week before summer vacation. We are going to feel greatly let down by you, Jeremy. We planned to trade one hundred popsicles each today.”
“How many could you realistically trade in a day, Jake,” Jeremy asked?
“We estimated that one hundred each is doable.”
“Which would earn each of you one hundred and fifty J-Ts a day.”
“That’s what we figured.”
“Okay…it’s my bad again, so here is what I will offer to makeup, I will give both you and Ron, right now, at the beginning of the week the lump sum of what you’re trying to make by Friday. I will give each of you seven hundred and fifty J-Ts if you will not tell anyone about it or share your ideas about redeeming popsicles. What do you say?”
“That’s fair, Jer.”
Jeremy began counting out Jake’s J-Ts saying, “Tell Ron to come and find me for his J-Ts.”
“Sure will, cheers, Jer.”
By Wednesday only five other club members had entertained the idea of redeeming their popsicles, but Jeremy managed to keep things quiet by paying them off with J-Ts as well.
Friday dragged to a close and Jeremy passed on the message that he would be in touch about vacation trading. The dread had returned and was weighing heavily upon him. Jeremy had fallen asleep long before his father got home after midnight.
Saturday morning around 10 AM Mr. Powel asked if he could talk to Jeremy. “Sure, Dad. How was your trip?”
Mr. Powel looked nervous and there was a very long silence while he rubbed his hands together and stared at the floor. Jeremy began to get nervous.
“I don’t know how to say this, Jer.”
“Oh, no, I’m busted,” Jeremy thought, then said, “Dad….”
Mr. Powel cut him off, “Shh son, let me talk.” Another long silence proceeded before Mr. Powel said, “While I was in Chicago, I received some news…” Jeremy’s heart began beating so hard and fast that he was sure his father could hear it. All he could manage was a breathless, “Yea?”
“Son, this is very hard for me, but I was offered a managerial job in Chicago and I would like us to move there. We’d be close to Uncle Frank and your cousin Ben.” Mr. Powel lifted his eyes slowly from the carpet up to Jeremy’s face. When he saw Jeremy’s jaw drop open and his eyes vacant, Mr. Powel dropped his gaze back onto the carpet
What happened next Mr. Powel would never have predicted. His son pounced upon him and as he began preparing to physically defend himself, he realized that Jeremy was giving him the biggest bear hug of his life, completely crushing his neck. “Does this mean you’re on board with the plan, Jer?”
“Oh yes, Daddy, but please, I beg of you just one thing.”
Mr. Powel, being so relieved at this unexpected response, said, “Anything, my Son.” Mr. Powel had been in turmoil at the thought of having Jeremy change schools in the last year of middle school and Jeremy’s compliance was exhilarating.
“Daddy, you know how I hate goodbyes?”
“Please could you fly me to Chicago right away, then you and mom can do the farewell parties and wrap things up this end. I could stay with Uncle Frank and Ben and we could get to know each other again and I could also learn a little about my new neighborhood. Please, Daddy, please?”
“Jer, let me call Uncle Frank and see what the options are,” Mr. Powel said, all the while knowing that his brother would be totally on board. Three days later Jeremy was on a plane to Chicago.
A week after Jeremy had left, Jake and Ron, having heard nothing from him, decided to visit his home. Their knock was answered by Mrs. Powel. “Hey Jake and Ron, good to see you. How’s your summer going?”
“Fine Mrs. Powel. We were wondering if Jeremy was around?”
“Oh,” Mrs. Powel said, looking uncomfortable, “Unfortunately, Jeremy is in Chicago, staying with his cousin.”
“When will he get back,” Ron asked anxiously?
Mrs. Powel, looking quite sad, said, “Sorry, boys, he won’t be coming back. My husband has been offered a job there and we will be moving shortly.”
The two boys stared at her in unbelief and then looked at each other. “Never coming back,” was all that Jake could mutter?
Ron was the first to recover and asked, “Did Jeremy say anything about popsicles?”
“Popsicles?” Mrs. Powel replied, looking confused.
“Jeremy stored popsicles in the big chest freezer in the garage,” Ron continued.
“We can take a look,” Mrs. Powel said, trying to make sense of what was going on.
She led them into the garage and on a hook behind the freezer, she retrieved a key and unlocked the padlock. The lid was lifted and the boys stared with horror into a practically empty freezer with no popsicles.
Ron, still honoring the club secrecy pact said, “Sorry for wasting your time, Mrs. Powel. Please pass on our greetings to Jeremy when you speak to him. We need to be going.”
“Bye, boys,” Mrs. Powel said, unable to make sense of the encounter.
Jake walked into his house sometime later and flopped onto the couch next to his father.
Glancing up, his father said, “Oh my, looks like you misplaced your winning lottery ticket.”
Jake stared at his father then said, “Something like that.”
“What’s happened, Son?”
Jake proceeded to unpack the whole saga. Afterward, his father remained quiet for a long time before saying, “Let’s talk about ‘Red Flags’ because these are important.”
“Red Flag number one: your friend created and issued a currency according to his whim. He sold this currency to you based on ‘convenience’ right?”
“Yes, Dad. It became much easier to earn currency and trade for things you wanted.”
“Red Flag number two: your desire for convenience stopped you from evaluating the legitimacy and stability of the currency. You trusted it because it got you what you wanted—in the short term, that is.”
“You are right, Dad,” Jake confessed.
“Red Flag number three: your trust made you overlook the requirement of transparency.
Without transparency, any currency is a ‘fiat’ currency. ‘Fiat’ has no real substance or value other than what some ‘sovereign’ imputes to it. Remember, Jake, ‘fiat’ anything, whether laws, ethics, or currencies, are always promoted by self-serving individuals or entities. Jeremy was a very clever boy, but his ideas were sinister, and you didn’t discern that because of your desire for convenience and your trust in him; a trust, I might add, that had no substance in tangible accountability—it was a blind trust, in other words. Blind trust is always one step away from being scammed and tyrannized. There is much you can learn from your experience, Jake because there is nothing new under the sun. Jeremy’s ideas were not novel, they are everywhere. Open your eyes and be discerning!”