After the Dollar
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“What is your opinion on ending the dollar bill?” came the cable from one of the readers with whom we have had the liveliest debates about money and gold. He was referring to the news dispatches that Congress is considering doing away with the famous piece of scrip and replacing it with a metal slug, on the theory that the slugs don’t wear out so quickly. Our answer is that the question we are focusing on in respect of this reform is not whether these new slugs are going to be better than the paper scrip but what color they are going to be.
This issue sprang into focus for us when we were writing our editorial on the scandal of the presidential coins. ABC news issued a expose on it in July 2011. It seems that the United States Mint has been cranking out 2 million of these slugs a day, but, because no one wants to use them, it’s been putting them in plastic bags and piling them up in a warehouse, which eventually irked Congress to the point where it started asking questions. One ABC headline over the story was “$1 Billion in Coins Nobody Wants.”
How we got from there to the latest plans to replace paper scrip with these new slugs, this is a mystery we’ll leave, at least for the moment, to the psychoanalysts. The color of the coins, however, strikes us as of more than passing interest. The one-dollar presidential coins have no gold in them — not even a molecule — but are colored gold. “What does one figure the government was thinking?” these columns asked when we last wrote about the issue. “Why not color them green or purple or embed them with rhinestones?”
“Surely,” we noted, “the government didn’t mean to trick people into thinking the coins were gold.” But then the question presented itself. “[W]hy,” we wrote, “with all colors of the rainbow, make these coins look, at first blush, as if they might be gold.” A “mystery” is how we summed it up at the time. It’s a vexing one, too, because the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has recently given a lecture against the gold standard. He’s also belittled the idea of a gold standard when he’s testified before the monetary affairs subcommittee in the House.
All this would be undercut, however, by coloring the coins gold. It would subject the issuer of the coins to charges that they are trying to palm off as specie a slug that has no intrinsic value. There are those who reckon the coins should be colored red, to connote the deficit that plagues the federal government, or green, since they replace green-colored irredeemable paper money. There are others who think they should be made of transparent glass or plastic, so that holders of the coins can look through them and see that there’s nothing of value there.