DUCK SOUP: Big Ben

A Big Ben passed through my hands the other day. Quickly, too, I might add. You know what I mean - one of those new hundred dollar bills with the outlandish picture of Ben Franklin. The Big Bens have been in circulation for several months now, and to tell you the truth, Ben doesn't look any too happy. I asked Dr. Franklin how he liked his new C-note. He replied, "Remember that time is money." Then he added, "Lost time is never found again.""So the Big Ben is a waste of time?" I asked. "The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money," came his answer.I thought about how money is used and specifically about how large denomination bills are used. Portly old Dr. Franklin was right.The Big Bens must have been created by the sort of folks whose lives run on credit cards. They have lost touch with the real world of cash transactions -- otherwise they would have known that $500 notes would be much more useful than their ugly ducklings. The whole rationale of the replacement process was to call in the Little Bens that are wonderfully easy to counterfeit. So, why issue a new hundred? It will take decades for the old bills to come home to roost in any case, but larger ones would make it happen faster. Every transaction could bring a five to one reduction in those pesky Little Bens. On top of that, one hundred dollars isn't a significant amount of money today and will surely continue to slide in the next century.My first car, purchased in 1966, cost seventy-five bucks. The Little Ben I gave the former owner represented a lot of purchasing power. Today you can take Big Ben to the grocery store and be lucky to escape with enough change to make a phone call. Cashing a hundred dollar bill ten years ago could be an adventure. Today people routinely drop a twenty just filling a gas tank.Dr. Franklin and I think the treasury should stop the presses, call an engraver and start printing five hundred dollar notes today. Since we've already broken with tradition with the peculiarly Canadian style Big Ben, the obvious portrait choice is R&R.That's right, a dual portrait of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Both political parties will have a hero on the big bill, making bipartisan approval easier. The name "Franklin" lends a sense of continuity with the Big and Little Ben's they will gradually replace, and there's a sort of karmic balance. One president saved the country when it was teetering on the rim of bankruptcy and the other pretty much bankrupted it.Dr. Franklin had more advice as well. "Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on."Well, why shouldn't our money beget money? There's an obvious window of opportunity on the back of the new currency for advertising. If our money no longer looks like real money, why not let the treasury make a buck on our bucks? Everything in the consumer world is branded with one corporate logo or another, why in heaven's name should money be any different?Economic forecasters are hopeless worrywarts when consumer spending dips. What could be more helpful to recalcitrant shoppers than printed suggestions on how to spend the money in their fists?"Look honey! This money can be spent on a new car or a refrigerator! Why didn't I think of that before?""My R&R says it can buy me a computer! Imagine that!" Instead of printing Big Bens, the money makers should give old Dr. Franklin a good listen. 'The way to wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the way to market."Don't you think old Ben would give an approving smile if we could look forward to some hard-earned R&Rs?

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