The Banknotes We Really Need for the Modern Era

The committee appointed to recommend new public figures to feature on Israel's next round of banknotes didn't really think things through. The panel, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel, recommended replacing people such as Israel's second prime minister, Moshe Sharett; the second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, his successor Zalman Shazar and the author S.Y. Agnon with the names of streets and airports (!) such as Begin, Rabin, Ben-Gurion and Herzl. What were they thinking?

There have been howls of protest against both the committee and the Bank of Israel, which will be replacing the banknotes in the years to come. But the critics missed the point. They groused about the absence of women, scientists and spiritual leaders from the list of luminaries to be immortalized on the new bills, but that's not the real problem. The real problem is that the committee demonstrated it has no grip on reality, no connection with the Israeli street or with the money markets.

Money is known as filthy lucre for a reason, after all, and there's no cause to sully the images of people such as Theodor Herzl or David Ben-Gurion. If we want to commemorate politicians then clearly neither Yitzhak Rabin nor Menachem Begin aren't appropriate for banknotes. We need an entirely different set of personalities, for instance Abraham Hirchson and Shlomo Benizri, who have demonstrated their affiliation and affection for hard cash.

But the Turkel committee didn't flop only when it came to choosing images. It also failed miserably in considering the true needs of the people who will actually be using the grubby legal tender. Technology marches on and tomorrow's trading methods require a shakeup of the formats of bills and coins. The committee needed to think outside the box. Here are some ideas that would have better served the market's needs.

An NIS 100 million banknote to bring money from home

One has to wonder why nobody thought of it before. Time and again we read about tycoons and smaller fry of the business scene whose companies sank into the mire of debt, who owe money to savers and who "have to bring money from home." Which means, put their paw into their own pocket and fork over some of their personal fortune. We read and we fume, but what we don't think about are the logistics. You can hardly ask a tycoon to lug around a suitcase stuffed with cash or to push a convoy of wheelbarrows, handing out the lolly to people. The bills could be blown away by the wind! And given the sums we've been reading about a convoy of a few wheelbarrows wouldn't do it, you'd need hundreds of the things. And let's not even start with those types who like their money in coins.

This logistic pickle could be neatly solved by issuing notes of NIS 100 million.

It is true that the debtors could continue to shrug off their debt, thus rendering the new note idle, but at least then we'd know the obstacle was a technical one.

Now, whose face should grace the bill? Nobody could be more appropriate than Lev Leviev. But we don't want to deprive other tycoons. We could produce a note with Arcadi Gaydamak's mug that vanishes, or one with the visage of Sheldon Adelson that is handed out for free.

An NIS 100 note with a 2% management-fee stub

There's no question that the public is hopelessly ignorant about what it pays and for what services exactly. Every month we deposit money in provident funds, insurance policies and pension plans. Our new deposits join previous deposits we made and mix in with the returns we achieved on the stock market, and at the end of the day we are completely incapable of answering the question: How much are we paying, and for what?

TheMarker has a simple solution! And the technology already exists. We need banknotes with a detachable stub, kind of like a movie ticket. Every time we deposit NIS 100 into an investment fund the investment bank will tear off the management fee stub, worth 2% of the face value of the note, and keep it. We will then know that our deposit has diminished from NIS 100 to NIS 98.

For insurance policies there'll be a twist on the theme: The company will tear off the 2% stub and give it back to the policy holder and keep the rest.

Whose image should be on the note? That of the man in the street, to honor him for his role in the arrangement.

A 99-agorot coin

The absence of a 99-agorot coin is really an embarrassment for the Bank of Israel. Shame on it. It shows how detached the central bank is from the street. If its people would descend from their aerie once in a while and amble 'round the marketplace, they'd realize something strange: Almost all prices end in "99". A shirt for NIS 49.99, or a towel for NIS 12.99, and so on. But the merchants don't give 1 agora in change. Some believe that the amount accruing due to this failure to give change is roughly the size of Malta's annual GDP. It just goes to show how sorely we need this coin.

Since the list of dignitaries cries out for a spiritual leader, we at TheMarker believe the honor should go to Eli Reifman. He certainly has spirit, and some say he isn't worth a shekel.

A new shekel coin

Do you know whose image is on our shekel coin? No? That's how it is when the authorities choose boring images at a time when there are so many people worthy of commemoration running around. For example, Rami Levy, the man who's been setting rival supermarket chains into a tailspin with his special deals, such as selling whole chickens for a shekel.

So, TheMarker believes the honor should go either to Rami Levy or to the chicken, whichever is lower. If Levy declines, we could use the beggar who keeps stopping us on the street and asking, "Brother, can you spare a shekel?"

Note with a stub for pre-nups

It is true that the craze for prenuptial agreements keeps a whole army of lawyers in clover. But the whole bureaucratic nightmare could be abolished instantly by developing a banknote with a detachable stub, like the one for pension funds. If you split up or divorce you simply hand over the stub to your newly beloathed and that's that. No lawyers, no endless court hearings, no exchanges of ugly accusations. Clean and neat. It even complies with the law requiring all goods to bear a price tag. It solves the problem of the lack of female representation, too: Print Shari Arison's picture on the notes and Bob's your ex-uncle. In any case Arison owns most of the banknotes in circulation in Israel.

A coin with a floating value from NIS 3.20 to NIS 4.90

The Bank of Israel's stolid lack of imagination really is irritating. Why should notes bear a single value anyway? Why not a floating value that changes according to circumstance?

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is the first who should acknowledge the need. With his own bare hands (and a few tens of billions of dollars) he moved the value of the dollar from NIS 3.20 to around NIS 4. But meddling in the forex market is risky business and it's expensive, too. He could save himself all that with a note that has a blank line where the amount should be. Each morning he'd publish the value of the note and users would fill it in with pencil. No more appropriate image could be found than that of Fischer himself for the bill, which would be called the shekel/dollar.

Notes with morphing MKs and amounts

The plague of private member bills in the Knesset costs the taxpayer a fortune. All MKs want to give their supporters a little something. Some would happily pass a law giving each MK an iPhone. But they don't think about the cost of their proposals. They don't care. All they want is to do well by the people and get their picture in the paper.

So, a note could be issued for each legislative proposal that comes with a cost, bearing the image of the MK behind it. Its value would be the cost to the public. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has agreed to expand the concept to the courts, which unthinkingly hand down rulings that cost us billions. Similar banknotes would be issued bearing the image of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and look! Now we have a second woman on a note.

Crazy Eights bills

The business world needs us to stay on our toes and improvise, and our present currency system is no help at all.

For example, it has no solution for dealing with bankers who make vast sums but who leave the public holding the bag when the bank fails. It has no answer for the case of tycoons who rake in banknotes with steamshovels, buy hotels in London and executive jets for the poodle and skyscrapers in Manhattan, but when they stumble they come to the people with their hands out, begging: Refinance us, forgive us.

This is how the Crazy Eights bills would work. We give them a bill and when they start going nuts and buying yachts we whip out a Skip bill, so they lose a turn. If they continue to squander our money we whip out a Wild Card bill, and get our money back. If they don't return our money we whip out the terrible +2 note, which means "Give us back our money plus the controlling interest in your company."