Money as Medicine

There are actually people who think that money might not be the ultimate source of human happiness. These fringe thinkers argue that what makes us New $100 happy are the mundane trivialities of days at the beach, good food, sex, and so on.

Of course, the counter-argument is that all those things can be purchased with money. Moreover, the more money spent on them, the more people tend to enjoy them. That could be because the nice stuff is more desirable so its price gets bid up. Or maybe the fact that more of that magical money stuff is involved means that it makes us more happy.

Recent scientific evidence supports the theory that it is money itself that brings happiness. Researchers at the University of Minnesota had college students count either $100 bills or slips of paper before dipping their hands in 122 degree water. The money counters felt less pain.

What is really striking about this result is that the students did not get to keep the money, they just got to handle it. Merely rubbing their fingers across the cool familiar surface of that very special form of paper, seeing the reassuring and all-knowing visage of Franklin, and breathing in that wondrous and unique musty aroma of our great American currency was enough to ward off discomfort.

This is an exciting development in the field of pain management. It raises the possibility that instead of wasting precious money on such things as morphine, hospitals could simply provide patients with a bundle of Benjamins to caress. Instead of wasting money installing Jacuzzis in their homes, back pain sufferers could just fill an ordinary tub with coins.

Of course, our understanding of the healing effects of money are still rudimentary. Further experimentation will be needed. For example, we do not yet know if allowing the students to fondle, for example, credit cards, gold bullion, or Treasury Bonds would have had similar or indeed better results. We also do not yet know the importance of denomination. Would $10 bills have worked just as well? Or perhaps there is something special about the hundred.

The significant possibility that $100 bills contain important medicinal properties has led me to question the government’s recent announcement of further design changes to the bill. I think that until we better understand the science, and can isolate the active ingredient, we ought to leave the current formulation alone.

Apparently, the plan is to make the $100 design so overloaded with multicolored and discordant features and symbols that no self-respecting counterfeiter would be willing to make one. (Dramatic video of new design here. You will want to turn off your sound first.)

Clearly, the emergence of paper money as medicine only increases the concern over counterfeiting. A fake $100 is not merely lost revenue to the government, it is a health issue. But, again, more research is needed. There is the possibility of a strong placebo effect.

It is just possible, and I am only speculating here, that the beneficial effects of touching a fake $100 are nearly the same as touching a real one, provided that the patient thinks it is authentic. By all accounts, the Madoff victims were as happy as actual rich people until the moment they found out that they were not actually rich.

And a placebo effect would raise an ethical issue. Is it right for our government to prevent those in developing nations, who cannot afford the authorized version, to make their own $100 bills?


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