I don’t mind admitting that I felt a bit disappointed to hear recently of the official release of the Euro currency. The paper notes are emblazoned with images of Europe’s architectural history, but not its real history. On the adverse of each paper note is a gateway or entranceway, on the obverse a bridge–images of entering a new age and all that–but not images of structures that you’re going to find in any history book.
Considering the marvelous architectural heritage of Europe, this might be a surprise, until you realize that any design would have to be approved by representatives from all countries that make up the union. How would you resolve who gets their national constructions on which denominations? Is the century-old Tower Bridge more or less important than the 2,000-year-old Pont du Gard aqueduct? So they chose to eliminate national symbols altogether. The pictures may evoke thoughts of Gothic, Gallic, or Roman architecture, but they are as thin and antiseptic as the paper they are printed on.
None of this is the reason for my disappointment, though. I had hoped that the European Union would have taken the opportunity to create the world’s first virtual currency, with no hard currency equivalent at all. The Euro has already existed that way for two years, so the opportunity was there. I suppose it would be too much to ask, considering Europeans still use cash to make major purchases. It is not unusual for businesspeople there to conduct some pretty large transactions in cash–a practice which would be viewed with some suspicion on this side of the Atlantic, by vendors and government agencies alike.
It remains to be seen if this currency will gain the same status as, well, Canadian Tire money, which would be saying something indeed. Almost every Canadian has a few crumpled bills of Canadian Tire money, probably a greater proportion than have U.S. bills, and vastly greater than have Euros. Who among us has not at least contemplated the idea of passing the diminutive bills and their dashing Scotsman off on our friends to the south? Fittingly, this enduring icon of Canadiana is now being honored with an exhibition at the Currency Museum in the Bank of Canada in Ottawa, Ont. Many Canadians no doubt feel more connection to these coupons than the real currency.
Maybe that’s the point. A report from Visa that has been gathering dust on my desk for a few months now–I only wish my Visa card had been so lucky–says that only 2% of mid- to large-scale businesses use electronic technology to make purchases today, but that this is slated to grow rapidly. Electronic Data Interchange billing, says the study, is expected to grow to 39% of Canadian organizations by 2005, up from 13% today.
It is with rising interest I read that the findings also stated cheques now account for 85% of payments for goods and services bought by corporations today, but will likely drop to 64% by 2005; electronic funds transfer is expected to rise to 23% of transactions, an increase of nearly five times.
In such an environment, it is a wonder we’ll have need of money at all before long. A recent poll stated for the first time ever that a majority of Canadians would favor a common currency with the U.S. This is a point advanced most often by businesses with strong ties to the U.S., usually by Americans. My retort has always been, “No problem, I’d love the U.S. to adopt the Loonie.” (This line doesn’t usually get a laugh, but that’s never stopped me before.)
The reality is though, that although Canadians may want a common currency, they don’t want it to be the U.S. dollar. We need an alternative then. My first choice would be a virtual currency–a North American Monetary Unit (NAMU) existing only on balance sheets and banking statements–but failing that, maybe we should just resort to Canadian Tire money.
After all, a lot of us have been telling Americans it’s the real thing for years anyway.
— Andrew Ross, Editor
P.S. Have a safe and happy holiday season, wherever you are, whatever you’re spending.
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