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Wednesday, February 9

Money Truly Is Dirty


The idea that mandatory RFID chips could be implemented in response to some crisis with money is an intriguing one. With new superbugs like SARS and Avian Flu emerging, it's obvious to examine the main nexus through which people interact in a capitalist society: the cash nexus. As the market grows, the exchange of goods for money will compose more and more of a percentage of social interaction. With the exchange of bills, however, comes the exchange of potentially deadly pathogens. It is no wonder, then, that bills of exchange could one day be singled out as a transmitter of disease.

Flashback: Chinese Authorities "Launder" Sars Money

"Fearful of spreading the deadly Sars virus, Chinese banks plan to do something the government usually frowns upon: launder money.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the nation抯 biggest commercial bank, is already holding all notes for 24 hours ?long enough for Sars germs to die before the currency is circulated again.

Cash is also being quarantined for a day at the City Commercial Bank of China, which was ordered to clean the money by the Central Bank, a spokesman said."


How cruddy is our cash? At random, two $20 bills, one $1 bill, and a quarter were plucked from circulation in New York and checked for germs by a microbiology lab.

Samples were taken from each note and coin by rubbing with a large, moistened cotton swab. Each sample was then stroked onto a small plastic plate containing jellylike agar enriched with blood and other nutrients. The plates were incubated at body temperature for 48 hours. They all grew grayish specks or circles, signaling small colonies of bacteria.

Five types of bacteria were identified: spherical coagulase-negative staphylococci and micrococci; the more rodlike diphtheroids; propionibacteria (a group that includes Propionibacterium acnes, the cause of acne in oily areas); and various species of bacilli. Small bills that get traded a lot are invariably the dirtiest. Our tired-looking single produced the most microbes--all five of the varieties identified. The quarter yielded the least: only two. "Anything that's very hard and dry isn't terribly hospitable to bacteria," according to Joanne Bartkus, a microbiologist with the 3M Company. "And many metals have antibacterial activity," she adds. "Often pennies come off sterile, presumably due to the copper."

The recent discovery of contaminated money in Philadelphia could serve as a proxy for future instances where the money supply is contaminated. We often are concerned about contamination of our water and food supplies, but what about our supply of money? Police officers are already being advised to take extra precautions when handling suspected drug money.
Free Internet Press has a good editorial on this when it writes:

Editor: This sounds like a prime motive to switch away from a cash spending economy, to using electronic or token currency (debit/credit cards). Unfortunately for people who believe in their privacy, like myself, it leaves an absolute paper trail for everything I do. An audit of a few sources (banks, and credit card institutions) could show every place I go, and everything I do.

This is also life imitating art. In the May 1998 X-Files episode "The Pine Bluff Variant", money was contaminated with a biological agent as a terrorist attack.

This wouldn't be the first instance we've reported on this. The Hollywood movie, "The Long Kiss Goodnight" spelled out a possible scenerio for 9/11, but the movie was released in 1996.

The question we should ask is, "Is someone using television and movie plots to plan crimes, or are these plots already in place, and the entertainment industry is being used for plausible deniability?" For example, if a movie already spelled out that a three letter organization planned some evil event, if that event were to come true verbatum, any suspicion to that three letter agency could be put off as the accusers watching too much television.

What would the abolition of money do? For one, it would get rid of the underground economy. The underground economy is the state's worst enemy, because it is economic activity that escapes taxation. Usually, countries with a high degree of underground economic activity simply tax the cash holdings of individuals through seignorage, but such a policy works against the Federal Reserve's long-standing implicit policy of low inflation. In the event of a financial crisis, people could use their own money, such as Ithaca hours or Saltspring dollars, but who's to say that FEMA can't ban the use of alternative currencies?

Table 2. Shadow Economy as Percent of Official GDP, 1988–2000

Country Group Percent of GDP


Developing 35–44
Transition 21–30
OECD 14–16


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