Imagine you are the sole supplier of a commodity that nearly everyone in the country uses, many on a daily basis. For some reason you decide to alter the product in a few subtle ways; the product itself hasn’t changed, it is used for the same thing and in the same manner, and it is clearly recognized as the same basic product. Only the packaging has changed.
So what do you do when your new, improved model hits the streets? If you’re the U.S. Treasury, you spend about $32 million letting people know about it.
That’s how much the feds are shelling out to acquaint us with the new $20 bills.
They have their reasons. They claim the advertising campaign is necessary to familiarize cashiers and foreign businesses with the new bills and smooth the transition. We can understand that a certain degree of notification might be necessary to avoid some problems, but a $32-million campaign seems a bit steep. And we’re not alone in this feeling.
“The airwaves have been inundated with slick television commercials showing people spending the revised $20 bill. Either the government thinks Americans are not sufficiently intelligent to believe that a bill with Andrew Jackson’s picture, the words ‘Federal Reserve Note,’ the signature of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and the number 20 on it is a $20 bill, or Washington just has far too much money to spend,” Citizens Against Government Waste president Tom Schatz said.
“With a record $374 billion deficit in fiscal 2003 and a projected $480 billion deficit in fiscal 2004, it can’t be the latter reason. It must be the lack of respect the government has for taxpayers.”
We won’t go so far as to say the government doesn’t respect the taxpayers, but Schatz is right to criticize the federal government for its wasteful spending. With the $50 and $100 bills scheduled for redesign in 2004 and 2005, respectively, we worry about the money to be spent promoting those bills, as well.
Schatz continued, “In fact, it is not the responsibility of government to build immediate awareness among the cash-handling public. Private companies have a strong incentive to educate their employees and customers about accepting the new currency.”
He’s right again. It would certainly be cheaper and make sense for the Treasury Department to notify banks and major retailers of the change, then allow those businesses to educate their employees and customers. Would that be forcing businesses to pay for something over which they have no control? Not really. It’s simply a change about which consumers should be aware.
As customers, Americans should be familiar with the currency we use. If a cashier hands us something we haven’t seen before, we should question that person. After all, if you received a Canadian dollar as change, wouldn’t you want to know what was going on?
The feds say they worry a bumpy transition to new bills could torpedo the recovering economy. Although that seems a bit over the top as far as possibilities go, we’ll take them at their word on the importance of acceptance. But can’t they promote the new bills with a few billboards and signs in banks and post offices? It seems as though that would be just as effective and a lot cheaper than forcing television viewers to see the same silly commercials several times a day for weeks.
We join CAGW’s Schatz in hoping the feds will see the light and pull the plug on future campaigns.