Quin is right, of course — the very idea of removing or downgrading Hamilton from his place on the $10 bill is an abomination. As Ben Domenech writes at the Federalist, “the callow men who are demoting him on our currency today are not fit to lick his boots.”
But the problem is larger than this. Even if Hamilton keeps his rightful symbolic place in the financial system he invented, the $10 bill could end up looking like play money. Have you seen the latest iteration of the $100 bill? It retains Franklin, which is something, but an image online doesn’t convey how tawdry and kitschy it looks up close. As The New Republic noted, the new bill is “less dignified than Monopoly money”:
This isn’t merely a question of one person’s aesthetic preference. Paper money is worthless in itself — it’s no longer even backed by gold, which at least gave an illusion of solidity. Its only value of fiat money is in the confidence of users in the government that issues it. At a time when our national government is demonstrating its incompetence and unreliability in almost every area — from cybersecurity to foreign affairs to health care to immigration — is it really a good idea to play games with our currency?
The concerns over counterfeiting are real, as technology becomes both more sophisticated and more widely available. But in deciding how much to change the appearance of currency to accommodate anti-counterfeiting measures, the security argument has been taken too far. After all, have we really gained anything by measures that make the currency, say, 10 percent more secure if those very changes undermine the public’s long-term confidence in even real currency?
An erosion of public confidence in our increasingly Mickey Mouse paper money may not lead to inflation, since only about 10 percent of the money supply takes the form of paper bills and coins. But public confidence in our institutions is declining, not just government but also banks, churches, schools, the news media, etc. Our frivolous currency isn’t going to lead tomorrow to the Goths scattering Augustus’s ashes in the Tiber, but it’s one more way our feckless and irresponsible rulers are undermining their own legitimacy.
You know who else has joke money? Zimbabwe:
That’s worth about 40 cents (though collectors pay a lot more on eBay).