I LOVE the smell of money.

I am being 100% serious here. Have you ever held a brand new bill in your hand? Rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger and feeling the intricate texture on it? Taking in a deep breath of the intoxicating smell that is so much better than the new car smell?

My love for the feel and smell of brand new bills stemmed from all the wonderful memories during Chinese New Year and the money we were given inside those good-luck red envelops. It is important to use only GOOD CLEAN CRISP, preferably brand spanking new, bills in the red envelops. Every year right before Chinese New Year, the government would print out new notes in anticipation of people waiting in line at banks to exchange their old notes for NEW and CRISP bills. As I am typing this, I can remember seeing my dad coming home with a big fat envelop filled with the CRISP NEW bills he just exchanged from the bank,  and I can also vividly recall the feeling of rubbing a $NTD 1000 bill between my fingers and my heart starts a-fluttering. The smell of new money wafts in from nowhere. Kinetic memories FTW.

The first time I tried to celebrate Chinese New Year with my children here I walked in and asked to withdraw $100 in $1’s. The bank teller was not amused but she obliged. I stared at the pile of old and dirty dollar bills in dismay.

“Don’t you have NEW dollar bills?”

“Hm. No.”

“But it’s Chinese New Year!”

I was baffled by how she was baffled by all this.

Because of my childhood, I could understand when Mr. Monk first started receiving allowances, he asked for actual, physical money and not some “virtual money” registered in our family Quicken account the way his older brother does. Every Saturday, he goes to the family change jar and takes out 8 quarters ($1 for each grade you are in). He counts them. He rearranges them. He puts them in his wallet, takes them out again and then puts them all back in. He would beg me to walk to Walgreens across the street with him so he could buy something with his own, actual, money in all its physical glory.

The idea that money in the modern world, for the most part, is virtual not only sounds  ridiculous to him but seems to insult his intelligence.

“So you mean your money is just numbers inside your bank’s computer?!”

Nowadays, like many people, I do not carry a lot of cash nor do I pay with cash unless absolutely necessary. I use my credit card for everything and for any amount. Yes, I stopped feeling guilty a long time ago for using my VISA to pay for a small soda. Hey, I figure, at least I am not using my AmEx which would cost the retailer at least 2% more in processing fee. So I am actually being nice. But I miss being awed by the sight, smell and feel of crisp new bills which, in my experience, are extremely hard to come by in the U.S.

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Despite my nostalgia for the smell of crisp new bills and my persistent discomfort with the idea of virtual money (Think: Stocks. Think: Bernie Madoff. Think: Facebook valued at $50 Billion), I listened to a story on NPR, twice, of how a “magical” idea of virtual currency by four economists fixed the inflation problem in Brazil and saved the country. I was flabbergasted and can’t stop thinking about it since.

Long story short: Brazil suffered inflation since the 1950s when the government decided to print more money in order to fund the building of a new capital. They had not been able to get out of the vicious cycle and things got so bad in the 1980s that the inflation rate was 80% per month. Can you imagine that? Per month!

In 1992, the new minister of finance as well as the president asked for help from a group of four economists and what’s more, they promised the economists that the government would go along with whatever crazy idea they came up with and the economists would have total reign. The plan was not only to slow down the printing of money but more importantly, to change people’s behaviors and mentality. For the plan to work, the Brazilians needed to have faith in the stable value of the currency, after suffering years of crazy inflation rates. “People have to be tricked into thinking money will hold its value.”

What followed was nothing short of brilliant and fantastical, and the plan, however insane it may sound at first, actually made sense in theory and worked in real life.

The four economists wanted to create a new currency that was stable, dependable and trustworthy.  The only catch: This currency would not be real.  No coins, no bills.  It was fake. [It was] called it a Unit of Real Value — URV… It was virtual; it didn’t exist in fact.

People would still have and use the existing currency, the cruzeiro.  But everything would be listed in URVs, the fake currency.   Their wages would be listed in URVs.  Taxes were in URVs.  All prices were listed in URVs.  And URVs were kept stable. What changed was how many cruzeiros each URV was worth…  after a few months, [people] began to see that prices in URVs were stable. Once that happened, [the four economists] could declare that the virtual currency would become the country’s actual currency. It would be called the real. — NPR Abridged Transcript or Full-length Podcast

Imagine that: economists as national heroes. Virtual money that saved an entire country from inflating itself out of oblivion.

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Speaking of those who are in the business of money printing aka the Federal Reserve in the U.S., of course you know who Alexander Hamilton is. The dude on the $10 dollar bill. Yes! He who had the good fortune of being the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But I did NOT know that he was born and grew up in the West Indies, an illegitimate child whose father abandoned them early on and whose mother died of a fever when he was 13.

Who’d have thought that Alexander Hamilton would make a great subject for Hip Hop and Rap and jam poetry? The Tony Award winner, Lin-Manuel Miranda did. Watch him do his Alexander Hamilton Mixtape at the White House. Really, history has never been so hip. Andrea, this one is especially for you, you High School teacher and Economics Geek you. 🙂

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{ 53 comments }

Michelle January 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm

This was great!!! And – I “learned my something new every day” right here at your blog today!
Michelle´s last blog post…You know what I CANT STAND

Absence Alternatives January 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

Oh thank you for telling me this! I sometimes do worry whether I’m sharing what people already know, and I picture people rolling their eyes at their monitor…

chickensconsigliere January 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm

That is a great story-I need to listen to NPR more!
chickensconsigliere´s last blog post…Im kind of interested in seeing those nude photos of Camille Grammer Does this make me a bad person Or is it just a little female jealousy

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 1:02 am

I hope NPR will recognize my loyalty and Carl Kasell will be the voice on my answering machine!

karaoke activity partner January 12, 2011 at 8:29 am

This post was so smarty pants that I sat dumbfounded and had to just skim as I’m either too sleepy and/or dumb to understand it…. Damn girl – yous smarts!!!

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 1:01 am

LOL you jest. 🙂

Falling January 12, 2011 at 12:06 am

Like Mr. Monk, I am baffled by virtual money. My grasp of economics is terribly poor, and whenever I hear stories about the economy, a part of me always quietly thinks, “Why don’t they just make some more money? They’ve got the printers…”

That Brazil story is ca-razy. Gotta go listen to the whole story.
Falling´s last blog post…Freakosystem

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 1:00 am

*GEEK ALERT*

LOL. That’s why I love you.

Kernut the Blond January 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I got 5 brand new sequential bills at the bank the other day. When the teller took them out I could see they looked “fresh off the press”. I could even smell their newness as she counted them. I asked her if they were brand new and the teller said no. ??? When I looked at they they were sequential. First. time. ever.
Kernut the Blond´s last blog post…Atomic Batteries to Power- Turbines to Speed

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:59 am

Ok, Chinese New Year is coming soon. Send me new bills from your bank: we will trade!

dufmanno January 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm

crisp new bills can always be at your fingertips if you follow the B-52’s lead and start printing legal tender in the basement!
Wait, now there are two men in dark suits at my door.
dufmanno´s last blog post…Minivan In Flames

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:58 am

Should I come bust you out sista?!

Diane Laney Fitzpatrick January 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

My son who lives in China is always entertaining us with tales of using cash. He pays his rent in cash, his utilities in cash. He is paid his salary in cash. He just bought a new mac computer and paid cash for it. It kills me! So funny!
Diane Laney Fitzpatrick´s last blog post…Fun With Minor Surgery

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:58 am

If a store does accept credit cards, there are TWO prices: one for cash and one for CC. sigh

pattypunker January 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm

um this country could use some economists that could think outside of the box and yes, then they’d be national heroes.

ps: i don’t trust businesses that only accept cash. i always feel like they’re avoiding taxes and worse, they’re totally inconvenient to me!
pattypunker´s last blog post…pussy galore

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:51 am

I agree: I resent the inconvenience. LOL. 😉

The Sweetest January 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Every year, for Christmas my aunt give me a “money pad”. Literally, a pad of money. Instead of paper, it is twenty-five brand new $1 bills. And whenever you need one, you just tear it off. It’s so fun! You would love it. That whole Brazilian thing sounds like a crisis in the making.
The Sweetest´s last blog post…Faded Lines

The Sweetest January 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

So, that’s why sniffing new money is so awesome!
The Sweetest´s last blog post…Faded Lines

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:49 am

What? I MUST HAVE THAT!

Vinny C January 10, 2011 at 11:53 am

I developed the same appreciation for new bills during my stint in banking (though they could be a sonuvabitch to count quickly). I also developed a preference for doing everything electronically. Paying bills online, using debit & credit cards. Ive become a virtual (pun intended) slave to the convenience of it all.
Vinny C´s last blog post…Finally! I Have Arrived

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

I like your pun. 🙂

p.s. Sorry for your comment showing up so late; it was stuck in the spam folder that I did not know to check until now. Now I know that MORE people love me. YEAH!

Elly Lou January 10, 2011 at 11:26 am

Did you know that something like 80% of the bills in circulation have cocaine residue on them? Be careful what you’re sniffing, love.
Elly Lou´s last blog post…King of the Uke

The Sweetest January 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm

So that’s why sniffing new money is so awesome!
The Sweetest´s last blog post…Faded Lines

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:50 am

Wow. FREE drugs. Who’d have thought?! LOL

Venom January 10, 2011 at 9:40 am

As a Canadian, I can just IMAGINE Dennis O’Leary creaming his jeans over this concept. He and the Dragons could no doubt improve our country’s bottom line, but he would NOT be gentle about it.

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:48 am

I had to google who O’Leary and the Dragons are. *hangs head*

I think the idea of URV worked because they were given total reign and the government stood by the idea. I am pretty sure they were maligned and people had doubts when they replaced the old currency with URV by trucking the new bills into banks all over the country on one day!

Tiffany January 10, 2011 at 9:21 am

cash? what’s that?

you’re throwing me back to last semester with brazil. i had to do a presentation on the inflation problem in brazil in the 90’s and determine how they should fix it. i didn’t even have my mba yet and already people are expecting me to solve nationwide financial problems. geez.

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

That’s what GRADUATE STUDENTS are for: free labor.

TechnoBabe January 10, 2011 at 7:47 am

Maybe a bill is more intoxicating the higher the denomination.

The video makes the true story of Alexander Hamilton attainable for all of us. We can all change our life around and we can achieve so much.
TechnoBabe´s last blog post…Will There Ever Really Be Peace

Absence Alternatives January 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm

And be made into a song that’s so catchy I’ve been humming it for days!

Jack January 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm

A crisp bill always feels good in my hands.
Jack´s last blog post…Friday Morning Music- What We Read-Listened To

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

But 2 old crappy bills in hand are better than one crisp new bill in the bush right? 😉

p.s. sorry that I didn’t let your comments out of Spam Jail till now. I hope your comments were not assaulted by “Singapore Escort” and “Ugg Boots” while there.

Velva January 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Oh, I forgot to mention I heard that NPR segment on the Brazilian economy and was just simply amazed at the ingenious way the economy was handled. Today Brazil has one of the fastest growing economies and it is thriving.
Velva´s last blog post…A Sunday Supper- Chicken Paprikash

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Truly amazing. I am also amazed that not a lot of people outside of Brazil know about this? Such a fascinating story. You’d think Hollywood would have come-a-calling!

Velva January 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I am calling in the family members to view this video! I love it.

btw, I feel vindicated that I am not the only one who purchases her Diet Coke with a credit card…..However, I use my American Express. Cash? What’s cash?
Velva´s last blog post…A Sunday Supper- Chicken Paprikash

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I hope they like it too! I have been humming “Alexander Hamilton” these past few days. DORK. I. AM.

Renee Fisher January 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm

When I was growing up, men would walk around with big wads of one dollar bills, especially on their honeymoons, so the women would be impressed. The sum total of what they had was probably like $50.
Renee Fisher´s last blog post…The Myth of Older Men Wanting Younger Women

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

No. Surely you are jesting. No. I thought you only do that when you are in strip clubs… Oh wait. Last time I was told that $5 is the norm now.

Renee Fisher January 12, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Philadelphia, mid 50s through the mid 60s, Blue Collar Heaven. A world now vanished except for pockets in New Jersey and on Long Island, discovered recently by cultural anthropologists working with National Geographic.
Renee Fisher´s last blog post…A Dialog With My 13 Year Old Self

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:33 am

You know, cultural anthropologist was my dream job when I was in grad school. 🙂

Libby January 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I remember saying to my Mom once when we were broke “how can we not have money, you still have checks.” Now I know that I could run a country with that attitude…
Libby´s last blog post…Eighteen Months

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm

LOL.

It took me a few times to explain how ATM works to my kids. I still am not sure that the younger one gets it.

Tom G. January 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Currency is nice, but nothing can delfate the worth of canned goods and ammo for the coming Zombie apocolypes. That’s my 401k!

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Eh. Don’t forget the can opener. LOL

linlah January 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I always carry $20 in cash just in case, in case of what I don’t know, but I do end up spending it eventually.
linlah´s last blog post…do you speak-a my language

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:18 pm

It is actually a very good idea to carry some cash esp. when traveling out of town!

Andrea January 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm

And by “heros,” of course I meant “heroes.” (This teacher usually relies on spell check.)

The video reminds me though — I had some students (who are performers in dance and choir) recently ask if they could write an economics song for extra credit. I can’t wait. I hope it turns into Glee right in my classroom.
Andrea´s last blog post…The Game

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:11 pm

THAT WOULD BE SO AWESOME!

Wow. You are like Michelle Pfiffer! 🙂

p.s. How do you spell her name anyway?!

Andrea January 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Hey! Awesome! I was getting excited as I read along, thinking “Oh, this will be PERFECT when we talk about currency and inflation, and again when we talk about monetary policy!” YAY!! Your post just turned into a lesson plan for me. And it’s pretty rare that economists are made out to be heros. 😉 Thanks so much!

And I, too, NEVER have cash. Not even $1. Ridiculous.
Andrea´s last blog post…The Game

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:17 pm

This was why I was so excited and immediately thought of you!

Absence Alternatives January 13, 2011 at 12:34 am

And dude, COMMENT LOVE finally for you. So happy! 🙂

Tammy January 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

Ok this was great now I am a fan also. 🙂

Absence Alternatives January 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Great! Wait, you mean MONEY? 😉

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