Writing Contest: First Place
Jewels in the Land of Eldorado
In the novel Candide, written by Voltaire, the main character, named Candide, is traveling through Europe in search of a means for paying the ransom of his recently captured girlfriend, Cunégonde. Candide has fallen in love with Cunégonde and needs something of value to bribe the captor, Don Fernando, for her release. He eventually makes his way to a village and encounters children at recess playing with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds. Candide knows that these marvelous jewels would be an excellent way of paying the ransom, so he stops to watch the children. Soon a teacher comes out of the nearby school and calls the children in for the remainder of the school day. Candide notices that, upon leaving the playground, the children left the jewels behind. When he tries to return the jewels, the teacher simply throws them back to the ground in apathy.
When venturing further into the new land, called Eldorado, Candide quickly discovers that gold and other fine jewels cover the streets and buildings. The city is lined with dazzling gems. Candide is later invited into a palace to share in an extravagant meal, and he tries to pay for it with two large gold pieces that he had picked up off the ground earlier. The host laughs at Candide for trying to give him what he refers to as “pebbles.”
After a month of living in the land of Eldorado, Candide decides that he will gather as many “pebbles” as he can in order to provide Don Fernando with a ransom for releasing Cunégonde. Even though jewels are not valuable in Eldorado, they bear a significant amount of value in the land in which Don Fernando and Cunégonde reside. The citizens of Eldorado do not mind giving away countless gold pieces and precious stones to Candide, because their society has not placed any value on its plentiful supply of these items. When Candide asks the king of Eldorado if he would be allowed to take a wagon full of various jewels, the king laughs at him and finds him foolish. Nevertheless, Candide is granted permission and leaves the land overjoyed.
Candide’s situation helps explain the economic concept of monetary value. For an economist, money is anything that serves as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value. A medium of exchange is anything that is used to determine value during the exchange of goods and services. Candide could not pay for his grand meal in the palace with the gold pieces he found on the ground. Gold could not be used as a medium of exchange in Eldorado, signifying that the gold is not of any monetary value in the land. However, when Candide went to the location of his girlfriend, Cunégonde, he could use the gold as a medium of exchange for her release. Therefore, in that land, the gold did have monetary value. Don Fernando could decide how many gold pieces would equate to the release of Cunégonde, whereas the host in the palace could not decide how much gold would equate to the meal.
Money also serves as both a unit of account and a store of value. It can be used as a means for comparing the values of goods and services, and it keeps its value when it is not spent. If Candide wanted to buy something different with his gold pieces, such as shirts and pants, he would be able to compare the prices of several different items before making his decision. Similarly, had Candide decided not to pay Don Fernando for Cunégonde, the gold and jewels would still have retained their value. He could still have used the jewels for purchasing, even after holding on to them for several weeks.
There are many characteristics that economists use to judge how well an item serves as currency. Two of the most important characteristics are a limited supply and acceptability. In the land of Eldorado, gold was not in a limited supply. Anyone could simply scoop up a handful of gold at will, because it was all over the streets and the buildings of the town. Therefore, the gold was not useful as currency, and the government in Eldorado was wise to not accept it as such. In addition, the citizens in Eldorado did not accept the gold pieces when Candide offered them as a medium of exchange, because the gold could not be spent to buy something that the citizens need or want. When Candide gave the gold to Don Fernando, however, the Don was able to spend it for something else if he chose. In the land outside of Eldorado, gold was scarce and therefore acceptable as money.
In conclusion, Candide discovered the economic concept of monetary value when he visited the land of Eldorado. He realized that although the people of Eldorado did not use gold as currency due to its unlimited supply and lack of acceptability, it could be used as payment for the release of his girlfriend in a different land. Outside of Eldorado, the gold could be used as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value.
- O’Sullivan, Arthur, and Steven Sheffrin. Economics: Principles in Action. 1st ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005.
- Voltaire Candide, or Optimism. New York: Yale University Press, 2002.