Money Nobody Wants
Sherman Oaks, California
Until 1995, China had two currencies: renminbi for locals and Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) for foreigners (pictured). Old China hands tell of how they were limited to eating in overpriced (and dreadful) hotel restaurants, the only places that accepted FECs. Hungry expats resorted to private transactions (haters would say "the black market"), trading FECs for renminbi for real Chinese food.
It sounds like an amusing throwback to Communist days, but we currently have two tiers of currency in the United States. Although it goes virtually unnoticed (and is on a far smaller scale than the renminbi/FEC system), the U.S. government uses a form of money that is almost never used in private commerce.
I refer, of course, to the one-dollar coin.
The average U.S. citizen encounters the dollar coin in a single situation: receiving change from a Postal Service vending machine.
No one in the private sector wants anything to do with the copper tokens. The vending machine companies don't want to rejigger their millions of machines. Most private stores don't want to deal with the oddly sized coins (because banks make the stores create separate rolls for dollar coins and how often will a store receive enough dollar coins to roll them, anyway). The coins are heavy and bulky, and the people have spoken: We want bills.
That's not good enough for our commissars, who are acting like their counterparts in Maoist China. Coins are easier for the government to use, they're cheaper for the government to maintain, and that's how it's done in Europe, so it must be better. This report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland lays blame on the fact that Congress still allows the dollar bill to circulate, instead of forcing Americans to use a coin they don't like.
In a ploy to tempt Americans to go metallic, the U.S. Mint has been releasing a dollar coin for each U.S. president. The people at the Mint release four presidential coins a year, and they're up to Andrew Jackson. I didn't know about the program until this afternoon, when I bought some stamps from a Postal Service vending machine and realized that John Adams was incongruously staring back at me from a pile of change.
In other news, the penny -- a coin which nobody wants (except the Lincoln devotees in Illinois and the zinc interests in Tennessee) and nobody uses (not even the people in Illinois or Tennessee) -- is also still with us.
Currency reform: China did it. We can't. Where's our Deng Xiaoping?