I read a great many publications, papers, websites and blogs in an effort to broaden my understanding of currency, it’s uses and life-cycles. A recent article republished by the website / Newsletter serviceÂ Now I KnowÂ (worth subscribing to) drew my attention to a completely new (to me) use for cash in addition to it’s primary function as a method of payment. I was educated about voting with currency. I am republishing a portion of the full article here for your edutainment. The next time I get a $2 note I will have to consider the message I am sending when I spend it…
Thomas Jeffersonâ€™s Silent Armies
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration ofÂ Independence, the first Secretary of State of the United States, its third President, and in general, a central figure in Americaâ€™s early days as a republic. Heâ€™s depicted on Mount Rushmore along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. If you live in the United States, you probably have a few images of him lying around; just check your pockets. Heâ€™s on the nickel. Heâ€™s also on the $2 bill, but itâ€™s unlikely you have one of those at the ready, because theyâ€™re not all that common. While $2 bills are still in circulation, less than 1% of the bills produced each year are of that denomination. Retail cash registers donâ€™t typically have slots for them, and if you get one as change, thatâ€™d be surprising, to say the least. In many cases, banks do not even have them. Two dollar bills certainly exist â€” but you wouldnâ€™t know it.
Which makes them an effective protest tool.
Throughout history, there are many examples of relatively small groups of people feeling neglected or taken for granted. In many cases, the impact of that smaller group on the local economy isÂ significant, but hard toÂ quantify, and even harder to see. To fix this, maybe grab a large pile of Jeffersons?
The idea is simple. First, gather a group of people who each support an issue. Then, have them patronize local businesses, paying only in cash, and wherever possible, using $2 bills. Eventually, the stores will have to give the recently-received $2 bills to other customers as change, and as the bills spread, so will the bemused puzzlement of the townsfolk: where did all these $2 bills come from? Finally, you take to the local paper to explain, demonstrating your groupâ€™sÂ impact on the local economy.
This is by no means an original idea, though. Hardly. This tactic has been used for decades and by many very different groups. One of the earliest examples isÂ cited by a newspaper article from 1964, notable because the $2 bill would be discontinued just two years later (and reintroduced for the U.S.Â bicentennialÂ in 1976). In that example, military bases threatened with closure would advise soldiers stationed there to use $2 bills within the local area.Â Unfortunately, the scheme then often failed because bills of that denomination were often considered a bad omen (really) and downstreamÂ recipientsÂ would either refuse them or otherwise make them disappear.
In 1977 â€” just a year after the currencyâ€™s reintroduction â€“ the $2 bill tactic was used by football enthusiasts. Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, and Clemson University, South Carolina were football rivals, playing at each otherâ€™s stadium in alternating years. But for some reason, Georgia Tech refused to travel north, and in response, Clemson announced that the 1977 game in Atlanta would be the final one between the schools. A Clemson boosterÂ encouraged fans traveling to that game to spend $2 billsÂ to show the revenue that the area would lose out on. While the story made the press, itâ€™s hard to say if it worked â€” the rivalry resumed in 1983, but there were other factors at play.
Nevertheless, many others have tried the same type of economic-signalling marketing campaign. Other examples range from the strange â€“Â participants at a barbershop quartet convention,Â skydivers, andÂ nudistsÂ have all employed the tacticÂ â€“ and moreÂ serious,Â politically–chargedÂ ones. In any event, the next time someone hands you back your change with a $2 bill in it, there may be a reason why.