Politics & Policy

The Color of Money

The new Mickey Mouse money is typical of our bureaucrats.

The stock market had a rough week; A lot of investors lost a lot of money. The Fed continues to pump out cash, which has helped prop the market up. Some economists worry — out loud — that the market’s recent growth represents a burstable bubble. But I’ll leave that discussion to the econophiles in NRO’s writer cadre. I want to talk about a much more serious monetary problem: Our new paper money is too colorful and looks stupid.

Sharp-eyed money-users have noticed that the colors of our new colorful money match their Monopoly counterparts: 5s are pink, 10s are yellow, 20s are green, and 50s are blue. And the problem goes beyond color — the bills are so slathered with watermarks that you can imagine them being assembled by a high-school freshman in his graphic-design elective. The website newmoney.gov insists that “the redesigned bills still have a very ‘American’ look and feel.” To look American, they believe, is to have Old Glory flapping in a bill’s background, or the words “We the People” hovering beside Alexander Hamilton’s head. The bills are silly, they’re ugly, and they’re vulgar. They’re supposed to stop counterfeiters; of course, the old ones were, too. How much will the new bills save? How much did they cost? And what’s the emotional cost of using Mickey Mouse money?

Decorous cash is important because our money has no inherent value — it depends on a nationwide wink-and-nod that a bill is worth what’s written on it. Of course, colorful money isn’t going to cause a run on the dollar; that’s not really what worries me about the Treasury’s new pastel pastiche. What worries me is that important decisions — decisions more important than the color of money — are being made by government bureaucrats with no sense and no taste.

In his magnum opus, The Law, Frédéric Bastiat wonders about the nature of the bureaucrats responsible for onerous regulation: “If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do the legislators and their appointed agents not also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?”

It would seem they do. So stout is the fraternity of government employees that there is nearly nothing that can cause a member to lose his job. How many intelligence officers were fired after September 11? How many after the Cole was bombed, or Ambassador Stevens killed? Has anyone been fired for “Fast and Furious”? Was anyone fired over Iraq’s dearth of WMD? How many IRS agents were fired after IRS management said publicly that they had harassed their bosses’ political opponents? Or after their behavior was condemned by the president? Secret Service director Julia Pierson was pushed out of her job this week; will any of the rank-and-file get sacked? The agents, for instance, who didn’t notice the deranged man running into the White House?

If lurid scandals and public failures can’t put your job in jeopardy, what can? How much of an American’s life is run by people with no incentive to do their jobs well — people surrounded by carrots, with no stick in sight?

And how many of those people have the same good sense that brought us the pink five-dollar bill? As we drag ourselves toward November, remember: The only way to lose a job in Washington is to lose an election.

— Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard.


Josh GelernterJosh Gelernter is a former columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.


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