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Ever since the U.S. government's $700 billion bailout,
politicians and the public have been entangled in debates about the
best way to solve the national component of the global financial
crisis and the consequent economic impact. Some people are in favor
of helping those hardest hit by the downturn: the home-mortgage
payers, the poor, the jobless. Others want to assist key
government, financial, corporate and other institutions, which are
deemed necessary—some of which helped us get into this mess. One
thing is certain: the cost to the government, and ultimately the
taxpayers, is a fortune. Some estimate the total cost to be
more than $1 trillion.
And currently the public debt is well over $12 trillion and climbing.
Latest designs of the $5, $10, $20 and $50 dollar bills. (U.S.
Department of the Treasury)
I have a solution to raising funds to offset the bailout.
I suggest that the federal government follow in the tradition of
recent highways, sports stadiums, buildings and other physical
monuments. I propose that the U.S. Treasury Department make a
simple change in the graphic design of our currency, permitting
U.S. notes to feature the portraits, names and logos or insignia of
those persons and organizations willing to pay the price for a most
ubiquitous of public relations/advertising venues.
One small step for graphic design, one giant step for the U.S.
The evolution of our currency design-from the staid, symmetric,
formal iterations so easily mastered by counterfeiters to the more
recent asymmetrical, airy, almost playful (even funny-money-like)
polychrome designs in circulation—has been glacially slow. Yet our
currency, in addition to its use at home, is one of America's
greatest exports. Just as other commodities adapt to meet consumer
demand, why not exploit this export's imagery? In making
this change, the United States would capture again the world's
attention as a center of individualism, progress and
opportunity—not to mention a culture of narcissism, hedonism and
capitalism. We might even see a rise in the value (or at least the
desirability) of the U.S. dollar.
As for the cost—well, if rich entrepreneurs like Richard
Garriott are willing to pay $30 million dollars for a 10-day
space-ride, I would estimate that personalities and organizations
with enough ego and excess cash would be willing to pay $100
million dollars apiece for the satisfaction, public relations,
brand-building and/or advertising value of seeing their portraits
and logos in the hands of almost every U.S. citizen as well as
numerous people around the globe. I estimate that it would take
only 7,000 wealthy individuals or organizations (worldwide) to
raise $700 billion. Surely they would be eager to step up to the
Think about it: wouldn't Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Paris
Hilton and Tom Cruise literally leap at the chance? Wouldn't fans
of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson or even President
Obama fervently campaign to raise funds in order to feature their
favorite media/political megastars? If Matt Groening's entire
Simpson family can be featured on our stamps, why not create the
circumstances for them to be featured on our currency, too? Bart
Why wait for history to catch up? A proposed 100 dollar bill
replaces Benjamin Franklin with President Barack Obama. (composite
image by Aaron Marcus)
Stephen Colbert, the Comedy Central figurehead, might mobilize
each of his 1.3 million Colbert Nation
“citizens” to donate $100 to come up with the cash, not to send
him into orbit, but to immortalize his face on our national
currency, especially since his portrait is already in the National
Portrait Gallery. In his typically modest way, Colbert could
announce the “Stephen Colbert Saves America, and So Can You!”
Consider Apple, Microsoft, Nike, Oracle or Target, eager to see
their names emblazoned continuously on greenbacks. In fact, just
the 400 richest Americans worth $1 billion or more might wish to
underwrite part of this historic opportunity at, say, a modest $200
million per portrait.
What about wealthy grandparents, eager to see their gorgeous
grandchildren visually canonized and/or apotheosized, well beyond
the dreams of even the most powerful rulers of the past? The IRS
might even offer the donors special tax deductions.
Under the author's proposed plan, bills could be customized to
feature an adored grandchild (left) or a company's branding.
(composite images by Aaron Marcus)
Let's not leave out wealthy foreign individuals,
companies, organizations and even other countries that might
welcome portraits of other world leaders or political/economic
potentates, perhaps even with flags of their countries on the back.
Several hundred million Chinese citizens, or the Chinese government
itself, might contribute the necessary funds, thereby helping to
remind us that China owns 20 percent of our total foreign debt. If
you think it would be a little odd to see people and symbols of
other countries on our currency, consider that an Egyptian pyramid
already adorns the back of our one-dollar bill, thanks to the
interest of past presidents in Masonic symbolism.
Customized currency would also allow many possible firsts: women
and Asian nation-leaders might be featured on our own currency, if
only for a limited time. Our three billion one-dollar bills last
about 21 months in circulation, while 500 million
one-hundred-dollar bills last five years in circulation. Therefore,
there might be trade-offs in the image price and duration
vs. currency value. There are no doubt some technical issues
related to counterfeiting protection, but because most of the
design would remain the same, I think these can be overcome. (I
leave it to the U.S. Treasury Department to work out the
We might even begin to call our currency by the names of the
individuals pictured (“That'll cost you three Obamas and a
Putin!”). We could celebrate living leaders of the world, instead
of only dead, white, male presidents. Imagine what we might
accomplish through the transfiguration of imagery in our American
We have a propitious moment for a break-through graphic-design
solution to our financial crisis that will not require the expense
and time of drawn-out congressional debates or national elections.
Write your leaders! Let's get started!
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