Illustration by MK

Assets are things you own or possess that have value. They can be ‘tangible’ – like a house, a car, or money or stocks. Or intangible – like your good looks!

Can You Own A Smile?

People sometimes say things like “intelligence and good looks are your biggest asset.” But that’s strange, because you can’t really ‘own’ a smile, or intelligence. Or can you?

The concept of assets came about because of trade (buying and selling). Early humans had possessions like cows and sheep and simple houses, but didn’t really think of them as more than just cows and sheep and simple houses.

That changed when someone first said: “How about selling me half your herd of sheep… but we can keep them all together and you can manage them. And I’ll sell you half my herd of cows, but keep managing them. That way, if demand goes up for cows but not sheep, we both win… and same if demand goes up for sheep but not cows.”

Whoa, complicated! Suddenly, herds of cows and sheep became ‘assets,’ which could have partial (and absentee) owners.

And then shortly thereafter, accountants and lawyers were needed to keep track of it all. The accountants made ledgers showing ‘assets’ and ‘liabilities’ (what you owe… the opposite of what you own).

And eventually, some entrepreneur figured out that maybe ‘intangible’ things (which don’t physically exist) could be assets too. Like the rights to a song, or a brand name, or a digital picture of Marilyn Monroe smiling.

Today there are tons of kinds of assets, and ways to own or trade them… for both businesses and individuals.

There’s also a lot of debate about whether that’s right or not. Have we made our financial world too complicated? What are the ethics of owning things (like shares in a polluting company) that might have bad consequences for other people or the planet? Should people be allowed to own things anonymously (without anyone knowing it’s them)?

But for better or worse, assets are everywhere, and more complex than ever.

So take good care of yours – especially your intelligence and good looks.

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