Magic money

New Hundred Dollar Bill

The Treasury has unveiled the new $100 bill. The redesign includes lots of new anti-counterfeiting measures, though as Megan McArdle notes this may not be a worthwhile effort:

In theory, currency counterfeiting causes mild inflation. In practice, the amount of currency that gets used in the United States is too small for counterfeiting to have any realistic impact on prices; these days, money is created not with the printing press, but in the electronic accounts of banks and the Federal Reserve. [...]

What it actually does is transfer a small amount of seignorage revenues from the federal government to the counterfeiters. An anarchocapitalist might argue that this is as it should be–that the federal government’s monopoly on currency is illegal. I won’t go that far; the counterfeiters are, after all, free-riding on the full faith and trust of the US government. What I will suggest is that the trivial damage done by counterfeiters might not be worth making our national currency a laughingstock.

Regardless, counterfeiters aren’t the only victims here. Anything that makes life hard on counterfeiters tends also to make trouble for magicians. Gaffed props or effects that depend on a $100 bill blending in with smaller currency units will be rendered obsolete. They may be adaptable to new circumstances, but there’s a short-term cost. The situation is already pretty complicated for coins, as I wrote in 2008:

Perhaps that’s because we’re a secretive lot, but the truth is that these new designs can be a real pain for us magic guys. We’re sometimes inclined to use — you didn’t hear this from me, mind you — coins that have been altered and gaffed to fit our nefarious ends. To do this it helps to know what the coins in our audience’s pockets are going to look like. This used to be easy; they all looked the same. Now we’ve got 52 different possible quarters, 3 nickels, and 5 pennies that could show up. Paper currency could be old style or new. The Kennedy half-dollar has remained mercifully unchanged and is the size most suitable for sleight of hand manipulation, but no one carries it anymore. The dime alone remains reliable. Thanks, government, for giving us only the tiniest of American coins to work with.

If I ever run for president one of my campaign planks will be installing a magician to the Treasury. It would seal up the magic vote and with his advice we could secretly build all sorts of cool tricks right into the nation’s currency.

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