What is currency good for?

Think of having a fun dinner with friends at a nice restaurant, and
then hand over to the waiter a 200-Francs bill representing the AIDS

This is on track to happen in Switzerland, although the central bank still has veto rights.  Read more here, plus there are pictures.  Swiss currency has long been my favorite, with the Euler bill holding pride of place.  Here are other bills with physicists and mathematicians.

The more general question is what images on currency should be used for.  I see a few options:

1. Prettiness.  Even better would be increasing prettiness.  If the demand for money increases over time, we may approximate Milton Friedman’s optimum quantity of money.

2. Boosting patriotic feeling and national unity.

3. Reminding people of unpleasant truths; perhaps this is the motivation behind the use of the AIDS virus.  How many lives would this save, and is this reason enough to do it?  Are you supposed to think of AIDS when you pull out bills to pay your Swiss male prostitute?  Should Indonesia try dead chickens?

4. Artistic merit.  Gilbert Stuart was in fact a very good painter, even if most people do not appreciate him.

5. Supplying images which are sold at P > MC or otherwise restricted, thereby moving us closer to an optimum.  Any examples here?  Actresses who did nude shots only in the early parts of their careers?

6. Signaling the nature of your national character to foreigners.  This helps them decide where to migrate, or perhaps deters them from attacking your country.

7. Political advertising for current candidates.  I recall reading that Hitler was on every German stamp in the late 1930s.

8. Maps or something else practical.  Multiplication tables?  Translations of key words, especially if the country is multilingual?

9. Short pithy sayings by Milton Friedman, such as "Inflation is at all times and everywhere a monetary phenomenon".

10. Honoring great achievers from the past, so as to encourage more fame-seeking in the future.  (Does a little birdie on your currency mean your country pretends to be egalitarian?)

11. Appeasing unruly minorities and ethnic groups.

12. Silvio Gesell wished to stamp and tax currency so as to keep the velocity of circulation high.  A currency which falls apart would serve much the same function.

My least favorite currency is the Euro, which seems to signify virtually nothing; perhaps this is appropriate.  I miss the old French money and its inability to fit inside any kind of reasonable wallet.

Thanks to http://kottke.org for the pointer; comments are open.


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