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Why I Pay with Two-Dollar Bills

Tags The FedMoney and BanksInterventionismPolitical Theory

07/24/2009Briggs Armstrong

I recently decided that I am going to pay for as many things as is practicable using only two-dollar bills. I will now attempt to explain my purely symbolic gesture and the reactions I have received so far.

A few weeks ago I determined that I should be doing something to express my dissatisfaction with current monetary policy, and get people interested in the topic. Inflation was my main concern. I tossed around a few ideas of how to get others interested. I needed to do something dramatic enough to get attention, and interesting, or eccentric, enough to prompt people to educate themselves about monetary policy and price inflation. But how could I both express my discontent and get people to learn that the Fed's printing of trillions is disastrous?

My first idea was to pay for everything with one-dollar bills. Theoretically, this was to alert people to the declining value of the dollar; after all, it takes a surprisingly large stack of ones to pay for most purchases now. I quickly rejected this idea for obvious reasons. Ones are ubiquitous and it is not particularly unusual for people to pay with them. My next crazy idea was to pay with pennies. Clearly, this was an even worse idea than paying with dollar bills. It would definitely get attention, but who wants to carry around a giant — and very heavy — bag full of pennies?

My next plan was to refuse to accept ten-dollar bills. After all, Hamilton is on the ten and his mercantilist policies are largely responsible for the current American version of neomercantilism. But who the heck cares if I don't want tens? Plenty of people don't want tens for various reasons and I certainly don't want to have to give everyone a long boring speech as to why I won't take their tens in order to make my point. No, I needed something that wouldn't require a captive audience or a long explanation.

Then it dawned on me. Why not pay with two-dollar bills? After all, Thomas Jefferson is featured on the two, and as all Jeffersonians and Austrians know, Jefferson had a deep hatred of central banks and inflation. (Not to mention that his vice president shot and killed Hamilton.) What's more, two-dollar bills are something of an oddity.

The front of the bill is the oldest design still in production. The reverse features Trumbull's Declaration of Independence. The two-dollar bill serves my purpose well because, as Austrian economists have taught us, price inflation is the result of the Federal Reserve printing money. The two is rarely printed, making only about one percent of all notes! One series was printed in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial, another series was printed in 2003, and the last series in 2006. The two is perfect: it is not widely circulated and most people regard it as something of a curiosity. As of 2007, there were only about $1.5 billion worth of two-dollar bills in circulation, and many of those have been hoarded away.

My mind was made up. The two-dollar bill was the perfect way to spread my message without being intrusive or a mere annoyance. Paying this way is just odd enough to get people to say "why twos?" Furthermore, twos are easy enough to use so that paying with them is not a major burden. The symbolism of Jefferson being on the least-printed Federal Reserve note in existence further sweetened the deal. So it was time to put my plan into action.

Obviously, the first step in paying for as many things as practicable with two-dollar bills was obtaining said bills. I headed down to my local Wachovia, where I do my banking. When I asked the teller for two-dollar bills, I received the expected (and desired) look of utter bewilderment. She then scrounged around, asking all the other tellers for any twos that they had. She took a quick trip to the back in her quest to satisfy my strange request. She did the best she could, returning with only $18 worth. Then the efficacy of my plan was confirmed, as she asked the question that I most wanted to hear.

After counting them out for me she said "Why do you want twos?"

I was thrilled, but I never showed my inner delight. I replied "I just prefer them."

After all, this article had not yet been written and I knew that she didn't want to hear a long rant about inflation and the Federal Reserve. Nor did I want to give such a lecture. As I prepared to leave the bank, the ever-helpful teller said she would start saving twos for me.

Later that week, I purchased a copy of Meltdown by Tom Woods at the Mises bookstore. As I shelled out the two-dollar bills, our librarian said, "You are going to pay me in twos?" Perfect. It was working better than I could have hoped! I just told him that they had my favorite president on them. After all, the Mises librarian already knows about the Fed and inflation.

The next week, when I went back to my bank to cash a check, I once again requested two-dollar bills. There was a different teller, and once again I was delighted to receive a bewildered look. Once again there was a scramble to find enough twos to satisfy my strange request. Alas, there were none in the entire bank! After profuse apologies, she informed me that they would be getting some twos in very soon. Then she asked the question that I was so anxious to hear again. I replied the same way as to the previous teller.

Now I am able to pay with twos just about everywhere I go. I do discriminate, so to speak; I try to save my twos for small local businesses. My thinking is that these places are more likely to recirculate them throughout the small college town where I live — and are more likely to inquire about my eccentric payment method. Once this article runs, when I am asked why I am requesting or paying with so many two-dollar bills, I will be able to say, "If you google 'why pay with two-dollar bills,' you will find out exactly why."

The true point of this experiment is to encourage people to educate themselves about our current inflationist monetary policy. My hope is that my readers will begin to request two-dollar bills from their banks and direct people to this article. There is no need to brow beat a captive audience with economic mumbo jumbo, just say, "Google 'why pay with two-dollar bills.'" If they are curious enough, it will lead them to use the wonderful resources available at Mises.org to shake off the heavy chains of complacency that facilitate this stealthy crime.

If you found this article because someone has been paying you with two-dollar bills, then I thank you for your interest. I strongly suggest you read some of the fantastic articles available at Mises.org. There are also numerous books available for free download. There are even audio versions of books and articles for free download. What could be easier? One of the best ways to get started is to watch this amazing free documentary: Money, Banking, and the Federal Reserve. In the current state of the economy, with the Federal Reserve printing trillions of dollars, and the government bailing out everyone in sight, it is more important than ever to be well informed. Mises.org can help.


Briggs Armstrong

Briggs Armstrong holds a degree in accounting from Auburn University.