Jefferson M Fish Ph.D.

Looking in the Cultural Mirror

Redesigning the Dollar

Suggestions for updating our currency.

Posted Nov 10, 2015

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The recent discussion on putting a woman on the $10 bill to replace Alexander Hamilton (though others have suggested replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 instead) has made this an opportune moment to consider making more extensive changes in our currency. Here are two suggestions:

Different colors for different denominations.

Many countries follow this practice, since it cuts down on the number of errors. No one likes to overpay or be shortchanged because of a mix-up; and most Americans traveling abroad rapidly learn to use color cues to distinguish among the different denominations of foreign currencies.

Some people may want to keep our green backs for historical reasons, but the fronts are already multicolored. A $10 bill in my wallet has black, red, and gold on the front--the serial number and seal are the only traces of green. (Unlike using different colors, increasing the size of the bills as their value increases--which some countries have done—is not a good idea, because it creates storage problems for wallets and cash registers.)

Create a New Dollar (= 10 current dollars)

It is time to come to grips with inflation. A 1950 dime is now worth a dollar; and it has long cost more than a penny to mint a penny. By moving our currency one decimal place, we would be able to retain all our old denominations and coin—-though the size, shape, and/or color of coins would have to change, along with the appearance of our paper money, to reflect the new reality. The current penny and nickel would disappear. The new penny would be worth today's dime; the new nickel 50 cents; the new dime $1, the new quarter $2.50, the new half-dollar $5, the new dollar $10, and so forth.

I once lived in Brazil, a country that experienced multiple bouts of hyperinflation, and where people have gotten used to periodic changes in their currency. For example, 1000 1942 Cruzeiros = 1 1967 Cruzeiro Novo; 1000 1970 Cruzeiros Novos = 1 Cruzeiro Real; and 1000 1990 Cruzeiros Reais = 1 Cruzeiro. In other words, over a half-century Brazilian lived with their currency moving nine decimal places. We should be able to live with ours moving just one.

What do you think?

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