The Curious Case of the $10 Bill Shortage


It was an offhand mention by Chris Jones at Points of Information, but it got me looking. Here’s his post in full:

Mr. Speaker, a question for the Minister of Finance: why are $10 bills virtually impossible to find nowadays, and what will the Bank of Canada do about this?

There is no reason I should be given three $5 bills for $15 in change. What does this government have against Prime Minister Macdonald and peacekeeping, and when will the members on the other side of the House resign?

After reading this post, and not really thinking about it, it was brought back to me when I paid for a coffee and donuts at Tim Hortons with a $20 bill and received three $5 bills in my change. Then I started to pay attention. Whenever I paid $20 for a purchase that was under $5, three $5 bills would be in my change far more often than a $10 bill would appear.

And $10 bills that would appear were all counterfeit protected, just like the new $20s.

I think we have two explanations, here. It’s well known that counterfeiters have started to turn away from the $20s, the $50s and the $100s and are now going after the lower currency bills. Technology has reduced printing costs enough to make these counterfeits profitable, and we Canadians run through so many $5 and $10 bills in our day to day activities that we hardly look at them. So, one explanation is that the Bank of Canada has fasttracked the installation of anti-counterfeit measures on the $10 bill and are pulling old $10 bills out of circulation. I hope that’s the answer as to what’s going on, here.

Because the other explanation is more frightening: the stores have stopped accepting the older $10 bills. Already many stores refuse to deal with $50s and $100s because the number of counterfeits have lowered their confidence in the currency.

The phrase “lowered their confidence” should be setting off alarm bells here. A currency is only as good as the people’s confidence in it. If people feel they can’t trust a currency, a person with a pocketful of that currency might as well be broke.

Right now, counterfeiters are focusing on the $10, and the Bank of Canada appears to have responded by imposing anti-counterfeit measures on the $10. I guess the technology has made these anti-counterfeit measures cheap enough that they can be applied to the $10, just as the technology is cheap enough to make counterfeit $10 bills profitable. But there are no anti-counterfeit measures on the $5 bill. How long will it be before counterfeiters turn their attention on that, and people start to lose confidence of its value? What will the response be then? More anti-counterfeit measures? Or will the $5 bill transform into the $5 coin?

This problem isn’t limited to Canada. I have to wonder what things are like in the United States where their bills are that much easier to counterfeit. Despite the fact that the exchange rate for U.S. cash is lower than for U.S. cheques because of counterfeit fears (or, so my bank manager tells me), this story is not receiving that much attention south of the border. One wonders how long things are going to stay that way.

Now I see why we are marching towards a cashless society.

Further Reading

Remembering Charles de Menezes

I think it’s important that we not forget Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot seven times in the head by London police because they thought he was a suicide bomber.

Earlier, when it was clear that Mr. de Menezes was an innocent victim, I called this case an unavoidable tragedy. I didn’t want to criticize the police for making a split-second, life-and-death situation. With the information I had: allegations that de Menezes ran from police, vaulted a turnstile, and made for a crowd of people when ordered to stop, I could not see how the police could have acted differently.

Unfortunately, the facts that are emerging paint a different picture, suggesting that this tragedy was far from unavoidable. Mr. de Menezes wasn’t running from police. Security camera pictures confirm he wasn’t wearing a baggy coat. He wasn’t challenged and ordered to stop. The indications are that Mr. de Menezes did everything one would expect a normal person would do to commute to work and arrive alive, except that he got shot dead.

The initial discrepencies in the story makes things look even worse for the police, raising the spectre of an attempted coverup.

By any measure, this is a serious failure. I do not go as far as Ian Scott, suggesting that the officers involved be charged with murder, yet, but I think we need to see a full public inquiry, with the prospect of charges of criminal negligence. Cases such as this destroys the confidence we have in the people we’ve assigned to protect us. This lack of confidence in the structures of our society is precisely what the terrorists want to achieve.

I also think we need to remember Mr de Menezes to remind ourselves that war is a dirty business, and the War on Terror is no different. This is not a war that we relish. This is a war that was thrust upon us. We are fighting to defend ourselves, our freedoms and our values, especially our value off life. The difference between us and the terrorists is that we value life, and they don’t. Even if the initial stories surrounding de Menezes’ shooting were true; even if de Menezes was actually a terrorist, it would have been wrong to celebrate his death. And now that it is clear that we took his life by mistake, we must acknowledge that mistake, mourn, and take steps to try to ensure that similar tragedies do not happen again.

Those that tried to brush off the initial reports of the shooting, or even make fun of it (link shows examples; is not a comment on the host blog itself), now have egg on their faces. Maybe next time, we won’t be in such a rush to cheer every shooting, or celebrate every death made in the name of the “good guys”.

But I highly doubt it.

blog comments powered by Disqus