It has been about five months since a new 100 dollar bill was chosen, and according to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing it will be almost exactly five more until these bills — complete with a 3-D security ribbon, embedded security thread that glows in UV light, watermark on Ben Franklin’s portrait and color-changing “bell in the inkwell” — will be issued to the public. So, in a sense, we are at a halfway point. Or if you consider that these are the final denomination in a series of several currency redesigns since 2003 (which we saw alter our 50, 10 and five dollar bills) we are at the end of a gradual adaptation to strengthen the security and steadfastness of America’s paper money. It is the opinion of one grassroots organizer, however, that we scrap all government efforts and create our own radical monetary design. Although the one dollar bill is very rarely modified due to very few counterfeiters finding it worth their while to replicate such a small amount, Richard Smith, a self-described “creative strategy consultant,” has made this his life’s mission. He predicts that adapting a more modern, unique design, akin to the Euro, will symbolize a paradigm shift for America in the eyes of other nations and disengage us from economic woes.
The U.S. Department of Treasury actually has an ongoing plan in place to redesign government-issued currency every seven to 10 years. It says that “trust and confidence are vital to the continued global acceptance of our currency. The department reliably provides safe, secure, cost-efficient, high quality U.S. notes, security documents and coins that are readily accepted by all currency users and customers to facilitate seamless commerce.” While these goals seem modest, they are what ensure this monetary system will run smoothly. These simplistic standards are what keep people from hoarding bars of gold in their closets for fear that their cash will not be accepted when they need to spend what they’ve earned.
The thing about Smith’s online, nationwide contest for the new dollar, called the Dollar ReDe$ign Project, is that its intended purpose only scratches the surface of the values that really matter with currency. His blog, which has a petition to the U.S. Treasury, is all about redefining America’s “brand” and making our money look “spanky” in comparison to others. The contest, for which voting ends Thursday, contains a diverse array of designs. Some are hand-drawn or abstract and some designs are so professional they look like artists have been crafting and refining them since the contemporary one dollar was released (1963). You can picture yourself using many of them. As a seemingly passionate leader of this grand project that claims to have the American people in mind, though, Smith is quick to overlook critical minutiae, such as whether the redesigned bills will be made to be distinguishable among one another by America’s visually-impaired citizens, or recognized by vending machines or ATMs. Also, while changes to paper money in the past have been introduced gradually, allowing the old design to continue to circulate, it seems that to really “stimulate” a national “rebranding” we would need to recall all current Federal Reserve Notes, which would be, to say the least, a vast undertaking.
Smith references the Swiss’ regular fluctuations in their currency design as a reason for us to follow suit. While America could greatly benefit by taking fiscal advice from other nations, this one superficial shortcut is clearly not the most vital. While America has a short history in contrast with most other countries, it would be a blow to our individuality and what sanctified history we do possess to attempt to erase the dark spots of our past in this insincere way. In a time when quick-fix schemes are time and time again being applied to too-complex issues, effecting disastrous outcomes, it seems foolish and wasteful to believe that printing a new set of money will undo damaged international relations and such a deep economic recession. Recreating the hallowed image of our current dollar with a sole purpose of cosmetic changes for national “branding” in mind would be on par with changing the golden arches to the “green arches” in hopes that health-conscious consumers would believe the franchise had gone from fast food to organics. We must respect the dollar for what it was initially designed for — not as national idealism embodied upon paper, but as a means to repay all debts, public and private.