Well, that didn’t take long.
In March, we heard reports that two companies, ING Groep and Citi, had tested a $5tn bill. For those not familiar with the proposed new US currency, the bill is far from radical. It is comparable to what the world economy was taking in 2007, and in dollars was similar to today’s US currency, using technology which was built around and to a large extent developed by the Bank of England.
How the ‘elephant bill’ emerged: quote of the day Read more
But in other ways, the “elephant bill” is far more radical. The bill will feature a sculpture of an elephant, in the image of a certain African great ape. The bill is not just a happy accident; on the contrary, the intention was to raise awareness of a specific species, and illustrate an ideology – one that deliberately involves amputating human and animal dignity in favour of power.
The $5tn bill will include, among other things, a comment message that says: “In the language of the zoo, the bill is the ‘ego animal’. This is what an elephant is like to ‘walk in our shoes’, from walking alongside us to being ‘taught by us’ to understand and eventually speak our language. How would you see a valued and important equal, rather than a potential thorn in our side, you might ask?” That is, would you aim to serve an animal that was capable of fighting to the death, then be sued when it changed its mind and decided not to fight? To this end, the bill has a fox on it, and that could well be the most controversial thing about it.
The elephant in the room
The first issue surrounding the bill is that, while ING and Citi believed it was necessary to put a comment on the bill, the spirit in which they thought it should be included is at the same time grossly offensive. The combination of attempting to have the $5tn bill go viral, and trying to explain the moral purpose of the bill with the most obvious recourse – namely to themselves – raises the real question: what kind of company, what kind of work, would possibly undertake an action that will result in such a backlash? That is, what kind of company would seek to manufacture a slogan for its new US currency that would be seen by people globally as expressing an unacceptable level of arrogance?
Bernard Sanders released a photo of his proposed $5tn bill. Photograph: @BernieSanders/ Twitter
The elephant in the room
That is why it is not surprising that the Wall Street Journal has drawn the attention of activists as well as the people of the US, to the fact that this issue is bigger than an imagined demonstration, or protest, or fundraiser; that this is an actual act that defies human decency, as well as evident objectivity. (Thank goodness that Bernie Sanders has done this, in opposition to Wall Street.)
Sanders, meanwhile, has been forced to apologise, on the issue of his political donation. According to its rulebook, Wall Street firms can make political donations only to an outside group, and Sanders has now admitted that that one of his campaign finance advisers should have checked this policy before handing out the campaign money.
I have thought this:
• I have had a theory for years about what really drives a move like Sanders’s. I’ve always maintained that some big businesses and financial institutions are morally bankrupt, and want to claw at the status quo to try to regain power over markets and their own lives and conduct. To be proven wrong, to be proven guilty, they must start looking for influence – and that means both overt tactics, such as bankrolling a candidate, as well as “opinions”, like rolling out the $5tn bill. Thus, the campaign finance adviser’s error has been an opportunity to prove itself right.
• The issue about trust is an important one to address. Many of these financial institutions have sucked the funds out of every person and institution in sight. Trust is now sorely needed, and to find a president and financial regime that reduce wealth inequality will certainly require trust building. As Martin Luther King said, we cannot fly so high if we cannot afford to land safely; we can only do well by being honest. This move is just another example of how honesty is not rewarded, and trust is what all of us need to develop.