Wasting money on money

Maybe you’ve seen it, maybe you haven’t, but the new $20 bill is certainly creating a buzz. At first glance the new bill is certainly spiffy, with new blue and peach inks, a color-shifting “20” in the lower-right corner and a blue eagle woven into the background. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing boasts that the new bill is “safer, smarter and more secure.” However, the mint should really have adopted the slogan “pointless, expensive and a publicity stunt.”

The biggest sticking point with the redesign of the $20 bill is the $33 million the government spent on a national advertising campaign. The television network ABC was the beneficiary of $12 million of the government’s money in exchange for cramming the new bill into as many of its television programs as possible. The production cost of the new $20 bill is eight cents a bill, which means the one billion notes the Federal Reserve is shipping out this month cost another $80 million. More than a $100 million seems like an awful lot for rolling out the new bill; certainly some of that money would be better spent on public schools or another noble cause.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing also reports shipping more than 37 million CDs, brochures, posters and videos to businesses nationwide to help employees recognize the new bill. It can’t possibly be that hard to spot a new $20 bill — Andrew Jackson is no longer encompassed by a large frame, and the blue and peach colors are a dead giveaway. Apparently, the government no longer trusts the American public to watch the evening news or read a newspaper (where the new bill received serious face time) and instead must rely on ABC and a cache of glossy posters and brochures to educate citizens.

But if they claim the new bill is harder to conterfeit, how easy was it to fake the old one? In fact, for every 10,000 genuine $20 bills currently in circulation, the U.S. Secret Service estimates that there are between one and two counterfeits. The Secret Service also reported that $43 million in counterfeit notes were passed last year. While counterfeiting is illegal and wrong, that $43 million is a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things. In fact, it’s barely more than the $33 million the government is spending on advertising for the new $20 bill.

The last redesign of the $20 bill occurred in 1998, and the press releases at that time probably boasted how the new bill would stop counterfeiters from creating illegal $20 bills. With the release of the brand new $20 bills, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is essentially admitting the 1998 redesign of the bill failed and a new design was necessary. While it’s noble the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is trying to stay ahead of the counterfeiters, the fact remains that commercially available scanning, copying and printing technologies improve every day so inevitably counterfeiters, are going to figure out a way to copy the new $20 bill. The government itself acknowledges that yet another redesign of the $20 bill will take place in 7-10 years.

Many might think that the new $20 bill is a trivial issue and that these 700 words are a waste of space. Sure, the $33 million the government spent on an advertising campaign is pittance compared to the $87 billion we’re sending to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the $33 million advertising campaign is just another expenditure that could have probably accomplished the same goals for a lot less money. Instead of plunking down millions to ABC to ensure the new bill danced across the football field on their college football games, why not create a public service announcement and have each major network air it primetime every hour for the next few weeks?

The government is planning to redesign and re-release the $100, $50 and $10 bills in the coming years. Hopefully by then they’ll realize that Americans are fully capable of handling currency changes and that multi-million dollar advertising campaigns are unnecessary waste of taxpayer money.

Joe Schilling, Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia