The Last Dollar

Imagine the last dollar on Earth.  That crinkled bit of green paper in your hands was once a sound as a lion’s heart.  It could buy food, shelter, and thousands of other wonderful things.  What happened to the rest of them?  They were burned for warmth, sewn together for clothing, and defiled in privies.  That one you have escaped destruction through sheer luck–it was stuck to the back of a painting.  Someone had hidden it when it still had value.

Most people had laughed when a few writers started warning of a currency crash in the U.S.  The political class, with a couple of notable exceptions, assured everyone that the dollar was sound.  They told citizens that the money magicians could do anything.  They could expand or contract the money supply at just the right time.  Like the fireman in an old steam engine, they could shovel just enough on the fire to keep us going down the track.  And it worked.

Until the boiler exploded.

Government had grown.  And grown.  And grown.  Pundits on the left had admonished us all to give more for the common good–to quit being so selfish.  Those on the right were busy blaming gays and atheists for the collapse of culture.  Taxes went up to cover government expenditures, but each year it became harder to collect enough.  Quietly, more paper money was printed.  Then more.

The Greedy Pig Law taxed corporations at 90%  Most people liked the fact that WalMart had collapsed.  Good riddance.  The Mom and Pop Law allowed anyone to start a business with a guarantee of success against the “bug guys.”  Payroll shortages were filled by subsidy.  No one noticed much difference, though workers never seemed to get ahead.  They sneaked out of work on Friday afternoons to buy groceries before the prices went up.  There seemed to be fewer choices each week, but people liked small-farm food.  Besides, the farms could employ more people to hoe weeds since the Nothing but Nature Law.  No pesticides of any kind were allowed.

Things were looking good.  Health care was now a right, though finding a doctor was getting a little harder.  The government said some temporary restrictions on health care were necessary, but that the price would soon fall so that everyone could afford a doctor.  The Rich Doctor Law had outlawed private practice.  Few objected, saying that doctors made too much money anyway.  Wind turbines were everywhere and high-speed rail service criss-crossed the landscape.  The stock market kept going up, reaching a new high of 50,000.

The New Economics taught in public schools had finally eradicated any reverence for silver or gold.  Few questioned the math the government used to assure people that things were under control.  Most could not understand anything more complicated than fractions.  Prices were going up, but that was good.  It leveled the playing field.  The rich could no longer hoard all the money.  Legal tender laws were strengthened.  Anyone caught trading in anything other than paper dollars was subject to a heavy fine.  A few were jailed.

What surprised people most was the speed with which the Great Collapse came.  One Monday, there were a few reports of vendors refusing to take paper money.  Mom and Pop stores would trade for necessities like clothing, but not cash.  A government bulletin denouncing the New Greedy came out Tuesday afternoon.  Holdouts were excoriated in the press.  “After all the public did for you!” they howled.  By Friday, there were too many to arrest.  The dollar was worthless.

Most people were reduced to first-aid and home remedies.  “Alternative” medicine was now the only alternative.   The air was thick with smoke from fires around which the homeless gathered.  Those fortunate enough to have shelter had burned paper money first, then judiciously used pieces of their homes when temperatures dropped.  It seemed colder each year, though the government still insisted otherwise.  No independent scientists were left to argue about it.  All were employed by Science for Humanity.

As you run your hand across the Last Dollar, you look across the landscape.  Signs of economic life are returning after two decades of filthy, grinding poverty.  Most of the government bureaucrats have died.  The few that are left are afraid to say much.  People now know what caused the collapse and they aren’t about to let it happen again.  Bartering is slowly evolving into true trade.  The few who secretly saved gold and silver in spite of the Hoarders Law are now investing in businesses.  People cannot afford many luxuries yet, but more people are growing crops and building houses.  No one bothers the New Socialists who want the old government back.  They soon find honest work the only means of survival.  No one has to say anything.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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