As the leftmost contributor to this blog by far, it behooves me to recognize that some aspects of our society do indeed get worse with each passing year. From time to time, as I see them, I will discuss degeneracies, deterioriations, backslides, enfeeblements, and diminutions. The field is ripe, and I hope the harvest will be rich.
First installment of the series: American paper money.
Most left-leaning Americans and most Americans who have been to Europe feel some envy for that blessed continent. Socialized medicine that works (kind of)! Fast, punctual trains! Fountains designed by Bernini! Tolerance of ethnic minorities! Touring Europe is an exercise in humiliation for Americans. It used to be, however, that there was one compensatory grace: whenever he pulled out his wallet to pay for a 4-Euro cappuccino, the American tourist cackled with glee. “Sure,” he would say, “Europe has the Piazza Navona, Charles Baudelaire, and healthy levels of income disparity, but at least the greenback doesn’t look like it was designed by a colorblind architecture-school dropout.”
Not too long ago, American paper money was something to be proud of. The presidential portraits were grave and formal, but not too classical. The seals were judiciously placed. The borders had an understated beaux-arts appeal.
In recent years, the Mint has lost its head. We pass over in silence the various travesties being visited on venerable American coinage. Our beloved greenback is slowly being Europeanized. The most recent issue of the five-dollar bill includes a sickly Rosacea hue covering the president’s face, a troupe of tiny yellow 5’s dancing about the august seal of the Federal Reserve, and a translucent eagle who looks as if he might be about to peck out the eyes of Mr. Lincoln.
The reverse is even worse, however. The dancing 5’s show up here, too, along with the Rosacea, which looks like the federal government spilled its raspberry herbal tea all over the Lincoln Memorial. The worst single feature of the bill is the giant purple 5 in the lower right. Could there be any more potent symbol of what is happening to American paper money? A creepy, awkward, European “5” (in Helvetica typeface!) is spreading like a cancer across our treasured currency.