Money can look like anything. In ancient China, bronze knives circulated as forms of payment; during the Great Depression clam shells were used instead of money: in the 1970s Irish merchants were forced to make promissory notes out of toilet paper. As Hyman Minsky, economist explained: “Anyone can create money; the problem is its acceptance".
Europeans must soon accept a new euro. A survey by the European Central Bank, ECB, asked citizens which new style of banknote they would choose from "together we build Europe", "rivers, the water of life in Europe" and "our own Europe". A design competition will now follow, and the updated euro will roll out of the cash machines in 2026.
Economists see money as a medium of exchange, but the images on banknotes are the most widely reproduced designs in the world. For governments, they are a propaganda opportunity by conveying a clear idea of ??the state. Birds, another possible design, symbolize freedom but also show the EU's commitment to protecting nature.
Such a rosy picture of European cooperation is in stark contrast to the messages sent a century ago: the German 10,000-mark note, introduced in 1922, featured a vampire, representing France, devouring a German worker.
Putting dead presidents on money, as the US does, or monarchs, such as Britain, is a less attractive option in Europe. The 20-nation bloc would not be satisfied with the face of a country's leader on the money.
Famous artists, an alternative also discussed, will almost certainly end up in an argument about which genius of the country deserves the 500 euro note, which one ends up at 5 euro, and which one is lost altogether.
The ECB had previously managed to avoid these dilemmas by using imaginary bridges. These showcased the continent's traditional architectural styles (Baroque, Neoclassical and so on) without favoring the monuments of any one country. That was until Spijkenisse, in the Netherlands, broke things up. The suburb in Rotterdam turned the images into reality, using concrete painted to match the color of the banknotes.
Whatever the end product looks like, hard cash is still the way to go. According to the ECB, they were used for just 59% of euro transactions last year, down from 72% three years ago. For many Europeans, especially younger ones, money no longer looks like paper or coins, but whatever appears on the screen of a smartphone. Ultimately, then, the new look for the euro will be decided more by graphic designers in Silicon Valley than by central bankers in Frankfurt.