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« Whispers | Main | Born on the 4th of July »

Really filthy lucre

By Dave Birch posted Jul 2 2009 at 7:55 AM

[Dave Birch] Here's another good reason for replacing paper money with electronic money: it's filthy and contaminated. Apparently there's not that much real money laundering going on!

public health authorities say these tests show that paper money is dirty - and an effective vehicle for the spread of germs through the population. While minute amounts of cocaine might be harmless, bacteria, viruses and spores clinging to banknotes passed from hand to hand might not be.

[From Paper money makes the germs go 'round]

The mention of cocaine is almost mandatory in these reports, since almost all banknotes in Western countries are contaminated by the drug. I wonder if we might discover something about our societies by delving into the statistics?

German Euros contained levels of cocaine that were five times lower than the Spanish ones. For Irish bank notes, one statistic suggested that of 48 notes studied the highest concentration found was 0.5 micrograms. The chemists found U.S. bills contained an average of between 2.9 and 28.8 micrograms of cocaine depending on the year and city, with a maximum of more than 1,300 micrograms found on some 1996 bills. One study based on 356 notes showed just 6 percent of Swiss francs were contaminated with cocaine at levels above one nanogram per note... between 40 percent and about 50 percent of British pounds were contaminated with cocaine at levels of about 0.0011 micrograms per note.

[From U.S. money contains highest traces of cocaine - LiveScience- msnbc.com]

This looks like scientific proof that drug dealers prefer U.S. dollars but money launderers prefer Swiss Francs. It seems a shame to lose this rich ecosystem by replacing it all with mobile phones and chip cards!! (I do remember though that I once met a chap who had a business cleaning disinfecting mobile phones that had been returned for repair under warranty before they could be refurbished and sold, and he told me that mobile phones were covered in germs too.)

James Gleick made this point many years ago in a New York Times piece on why cash is dying (albeit slowly), and I referred to his article three years ago. I suggested that a useful tactic for the e-money providers might be to play on tabloid ignorance of science and the journalists' love of health care stories by pointing out

that cash can carry Bird flu

[From Digital Money Forum: End the cash menace now!]

I need to update this to swine flu, obviously!

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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