The Corner

Currency Conservatism

As Rick points out, Safire’s attack on the penny is part of a broader rationalist assault on the currency, including the recent redesigns of paper money and attempts to abolish the $1 bill by providing dollar coins that no one wants. I’m told there was fierce debate within the Treasury Department when the redesign of paper money was being considered, with the enforcement people prevailing in their desire for wholesale changes to the look of the bills (new pictures of Franklin and Lincoln, for instance, moving the portraits off-center, changing the back of the $10 bill, adding color to the $20 bill, etc.) in an attempt to stay ahead of counterfeiters. The other side — the “conservative” argument — was, and is, that the value of currency derives almost exclusively from the impression of stability and predictability that people get from it, and that radical changes in the appearance of paper money (or frequent changes to the coinage in order to satisfy collectors) undermines the public’s confidence in the otherwise-worthless tokens we call currency.

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