Your Picture on the Dollar Bill

Facing what it says could be budget gaps of more than $1 billion in the coming years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the keeper of the region's mass transit system, is exploring selling naming rights to its subway stations, bus lines, bridges and tunnels. (New York Times 2004-07-27)

Governments at every level are thinking creatively about revenue enhancements.

More needs to be done, however, if the goal is to be achieved of liberating all Americans from all taxation for all time.

Kudos to the U.S. Mint, therefore, for its very profitable 50 State Quarters® program. As the agency points out, "the cost to manufacture a quarter is about 5 cents, providing a profit of approximately 20 cents per coin. Mint profits go to the general fund of the U.S. Treasury to help fund U.S. Government operations, reduce the need for new or higher taxes, and reduce the Federal Government's debt."

Taking nothing away from the 50 State Quarters® Program, but despite its $1 billion plus annual profits the Mint is missing some serious revenue opportunities by not being equally creative with paper money. It costs 5 cents to issue a quarter. It costs 6 cents to print a bill. You do the math.

Collectors, with their high level of passion, would go wild for new bills. Don't think they're passionate?: Look how excited they got when their favorite commodity made its biggest headlines in decades last fall by going peach in an effort to thwart counterfeiters.

As a beginning, action by the Mint could help to head off the fight over whether Ronald Reagan should replace Andrew Jackson on the ten dollar bill. Since the only really important thing about money is its value, no one really cares whose mug is next to the number. Why not put them both on the same bill thus creating an instant collectors' item?

Or have split runs, and not only between Jackson and Reagan: Share the $10 among all the presidents. Imagine what the Treasury could rake in on a 43 President Bills® series: "43 unique $10 bills. Collect them all!"

It'd make the quarters look like small change.

In fact, the U.S. Postal Service has been busy demonstrating what can be achieved with products aimed at collectors. In the face of declining demand for postal services, due mostly to the rise of e-mail and other electronic means of transmitting information, the post office continues to exist primarily as a publisher of stamps. And if Zora Neale Hurston and Buckminster Fuller can motivate people to purchase stamps, think of what they will do for a commodity that, PayPal not withstanding, still has utility.

The late Senator Everett Dirksen would have been right if he actually had said that "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money": the potential for truly dramatic increases in revenue resides not in selling a few billion dollars in collectors' editions, but in the vastly greater sums that can be generated by advertising.

Think, for example, of what it would be worth to the Dollar Store if a dollar bill carried a list of all the things that could be bought there. Imagine the impact on the boutique coffee market if $10 bills became known not as sawbucks but as starbucks. Or a twenty dollar bill could be printed to resemble a voucher from Loews, where it would be good for an admission, a medium popcorn and an Endless Cup.

Possibilities are endless here, too. Microsoft may be motivated to lease distribution rights to the $100, if only as a first step to copyrighting it. People with enough dough will surely want to rent space on bills as a variation on vanity license plates. As a contest come-on, "Your Picture on the Dollar Bill" would be irresistible. Short, colorful, carefully timed runs inevitably will be used to promote movies, television shows, albums and -- combining marketing ploys -- Presidents' Day sales.

The Treasury might even be able to make a little extra income on the side by selling, at a premium, advertising-free currency to people outraged by the whole idea.

In short, the government is uniquely positioned to reinvigorate an old adage by revising it into a slogan: 'it makes money to make money.'

This article was published by The Citizen Journal.

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