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05/14/2004 Archived Entry: "Lawful money tucked in a drawer"

AT LUNCHTIME TODAY I TOOK A BREAK FROM WRITING and cleaned out a couple of seldom-opened drawers. (Yes, that's what we do for fun out here in the great backwoods.) I was looking for metal.

Gold and silver haven't been in my budget the last few years, but the recent low prices and the constant admonishments of Silver, the biggest metals bug on The Claire Files forums, got me to thinking about precious metals again. I'd remembered having a handful of junk-silver coins in one of those drawers, and I was right.

I found something else I hadn't remembered. On March 27, nine years ago, I received some money at Bank of America. I know that because that's written in my own handwriting on the envelope I found crumpled under the silver. Among the bills they handed me that day were five -- five all in a row -- genuine $20 Federal Reserve Notes. You know the ones I mean. Instead of just bearing the terse message of today's FRNs ("This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.") all five of these beauties bore the once-upon-a-time message of genuine American dollars:

This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private, and is redeemable in lawful money at the United States Treasure, or at any Federal Reserve bank.

Now of course these still aren't as cool as the more legitimate forms of paper money that proceded them. Actually, by the time this type of note was issued, gold was already illegal. But the government still acknowledged that paper, all by itself, couldn't possibly be lawful money. Those old FRNs weren't money merely because some bureaucrat or banker decreed them to be -- like today's FRNs are.

Well, I guess I don't have to tell Wolfesblogians about the biggest bait-and-switch operation in all history. But

every time I see an old FRN or -- even better, much better -- a silver certificate (several of which were also tucked in the back of that drawer), I get mad and sad. It's an absolute truth that when a country starts debasing its money, it also becomes debased as a society -- going for the gimme gimme and the main chance and the big splurge. Going for whatever works and live-for-today, rather than standing on principle. Who knows which is cause and which is effect (although certainly cheap, phony money makes cheap, phony lifestyles more possible). But you know it's true. Sound money and sound sense are linked together by that strange invisible hand.

A few months ago, I pulled out a $10 to pay for a mocha at a local drive-up. I glanced down at it before I handed it over. It too was a "real" FRN that was once-upon-a-time "redeemable in lawful money."

"Look," I said to my young acquaintance at the coffee window, "See what this is?" I explained, without going into rant-mode, the difference between that FRN and the other $10 FRN I quickly pulled out to pay for my drink.

Miss Mocha looked at me with politely feigned interest, as though I'd just described nodules upon my pancreas or my mother-in-law's fabulous thimble collection. She had no Clue and didn't want one. Silver? Gold? What did she care, when a piece of paper would still buy her a night on the town or a new outfit?

And I tucked the old-time $10 FRN in a pocket and brought it home. It now goes in the curio envelope with those five mysteriously appearing $20s. Really, I know that even those notes were a debased form of currency -- just not as debased as what we have today. Now they're just a pocketful of sentimental keepsakes, worth no more in 2004 than the paper all those other phony FRNs are printed on. A bit of memorabilia from a time Americans weren't quite so completely hoodwinked by their government.

Posted by Claire @ 04:08 PM CST

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