Let’s redesign the money


Let’s throw out all the U.S. currency and start over. There’s a lot we’re doing wrong:

There’s too much paper. Notes only last for a couple of years, but coins regularly stay in circulation for as long as 40 years. Printing all those notes adds up – ditching even just the $1 bill could save us more than $5 billion over the next 30 years.1

Our coins are worthless. The median wage is about $17 per hour, meaning most Americans earn a penny roughly every two to three seconds while they’re on the job. Even if doing away with them meant that every merchant rounded their prices up, the seconds we spend fussing with pennies are literally not worth our time.

Euro coins, on the other hand, can actually be worth something. The €2 coin, for which there is no paper equivalent, is currently worth about $2.60. Canada has a $2 coin, too. Imagine buying your morning coffee with a single coin – there’s something that just feels right about that, at least to me.

Blind people can’t use our cash. Close your eyes and try to tell a $100 note from a $1 note. You can’t without a special device, and that’s not only wrong, but possibly illegal, too. Other countries have this figured out; we need to get with the times.

Our money is ugly. It’s drab, it’s antiquated, and it says almost nothing about America. I mean, judge for yourself:

Our money is uninspiring. There are great minds represented on our money, sure. But where are the scientists? The explorers? The artists? The heroes? France put Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (and his little prince) on a 50-franc note. Ireland had James Joyce. Great Britain had Charles Darwin. Switzerland has Le Corbusier. And we have…a slaveholding dueler? We have a complicated history, but we’ve produced a lot of amazing fellow citizens, and we can do better than this.

What I’d Do Instead

New denominations. I say we go bold: let’s stop minting everything smaller than a quarter and stop printing bills smaller than $5. When was the last time you bought something for less than 25¢? And sure, people think they hate dollar coins, but people can get used to anything – and they’d object to dollar coins a lot less, I suspect, if they didn’t have to deal with nickels and dimes, too. Let’s make it:

Coins Notes
25¢ $5
50¢ $10
$1 $25
$2 $50

Imagine using a couple of big coins at the laundromat instead of fishing around for eight or twelve quarters. Think of how much more a casually saved jar of spare change would be worth. Coins with real value are more convenient and make good economic sense.

Logical sizes. Why are all the bills the same size? Why is a nickel bigger than a dime? And have you ever noticed that dimes don’t even say “ten cents” on them? It’s stupid. Let’s fix it. The higher the denomination, the bigger the coin or bill should be. It will help the blind, it will be simpler for tourists and children to learn, and it just plain makes sense.2

Worthy subjects. This is more than enough for a post of its own, and I’ll revisit this later in more detail. But our money could be a place to celebrate all stripes of American greatness. People like Edward R. Murrow. Martin Luther King. Frank Lloyd Wright. Clara Barton. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mark Twain. Carl Sagan. Jim Henson.

Beautiful scenery. Let’s be proud of our money. Our banknote designers certainly have enough to be inspired by. We’re the land of Acadia and Yellowstone, of Denali and Kilauea, of the Chrysler Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. Wouldn’t we be better off as a people if we were reminded of what’s best about our country every time we bought a cup of coffee or worked out how to split a check?

What do you think?

Could you part with small bills? Would you miss our ugly old greenbacks? Or do you agree it’s time for a change? Let me know below.

Update: It turns out I’m not the first to have many of these ideas. I’ve just discovered Richard Smith and the “Dollar ReDe$ign Project.” Maybe this can really happen.

  1. This isn’t a tree-hugging thing, by the way. “Paper” currency in the U.S. has no woodpulp in it – it’s all cotton and linen.

  2. Not that we care all that much for things that make sense, of course.