November 16, 2003

The New Twenty

Posted by shonk at 03:30 AM in Economics | TrackBack

Today, for the first time, I saw one of the new twenty-dollar bills that have been so heavily advertised. I have to admit, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Though the bluish eagle in the background was a bit of a surprise, the bill still looks remarkably similar to the old ones, despite all the hue-and-cry about the "radical" new design.

As for security features, here are the ones I've noticed:

-The blue background eagle

-The blue "Twenty USA USA Twenty" script behind the Treasury Department Seal

-The Watermark

-The color-shifting ink on the "20" on the bottom right

-The color-shifted silver eagle crest directly to the right of Jackson's shoulder

-The micro-printed "The United States of America 20 USA 20 USA" between the bottom-left "20" and Jackson's shoulder

-Higher relief in the serial number pressings

-The concentric hexagons in the background of the green-shaded areas

-The now-familiar security strip

-The oft-repeated malarial-yellow "20" to the right and left of the White House on the back

-The diamond-shaped lattice pattern in the bottom-right "20" on the back

-The green and red "threads" throughout

-Two textured, grooved patches on the bottom center of the back

I'm not actually sure if this last is an intentional security feature or just an accident, but these grooved patches appear on both of the bills in my possesion, so I'm assuming they are.

Long as this list is, I'm not sure how much these features (some new, some old) will do to discourage counterfeiting. How closely do store clerks really look at bills, anyway? I've never seen one looking for the watermark or security thread, though they've been on twenties for years, so I don't imagine that is likely to change (though it could be reasonably argued that, were a major counterfeiting scare to hit, people would start looking for these things). As Dennis Forgue says:

Everything they've done before has been superseded by better counterfeiters. With the effectiveness of computer-generated images these days, they can make some pretty nice counterfeits pretty quickly.
And that's likely to be more than good enough in the vast majority of cases.

Another objection is the following: sure the new features look impressive when they're on a brand-new bill, but how noticeable will they be on a faded, year-old bill? It seems to me the true test of effectiveness for stopping counterfeiters comes with age, as smart counterfeiters surely realize that, economies of scale (and withholding) being what they are, their best bet is not in trying to pass inferior new-looking bills, but in passing faded and nondescript-looking phonies. There's some literal truth to the term "laundering money".

Of course, one really has to wonder if the threat of counterfeiting is really significant enough to justify what was presumably a multi-million-dollar development process (and the $32 million price tag on the advertising campaign). Based on the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing's own figures, "the level of counterfeit notes in circulation worldwide [is] between 0.01 and 0.02 percent, or about 1-2 notes in every 10,000 genuine notes."

Balanced as I'm trying to be in all of this, I can't help but laugh at amount of effort being extended in the ironic attempt to prevent the counterfeiting of an already counterfeit currency (that's fiat currency to you economists). But, then, I'm cynical like that.

Conspiracy-theorists will be pleased to note that you can do the same folding trick on the new twenty as on the old to see supposed images of the Pentagon and the WTC going up in flames. Clearly a sign of...something.



Posted by: Stephanie at November 7, 2004 12:40 AM