Magazine article Newsweek International

The Value of Worthless Money

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Value of Worthless Money

Article excerpt

Byline: Raquel Laneri

An exhibit considers the politics and art of inflation.

The worse a nation's economy, the more inflated its currency.

That's one of the takeaways from Signs of Inflation, a new exhibition at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The show, presented by the American Numismatic Society, looks at the history of inflation through the 7th century B.C. to present day. (Yes, even Ancient Rome experienced inflation--it needed to finance those wars.) Signs of Inflation includes almost 200 monetary objects, ranging from engraved gold coins and cowrie shells to twisted iron rods and handwritten IOUs. But it also demonstrates the myriad, complex ways a bank note--or coin, shell, or what have you--reveals a society's political and economic health. And it does so through treating money as partly an objet d'art.

Inflation happens when the general level of the prices of goods and services increases. As inflation rises, a dollar, for example, buys a smaller percentage of a good than it could previously. Inflation, particularly hyperinflation, is also intrinsically connected with periods of crisis--mounting debt, unemployment, war--which often require governments to spend more than they have. Because of this, bank notes or coins issued during inflationary times can be rich in symbolism and meaning. Sometimes, they are meant to evoke normalcy, such as when French Revolutionary authorities continued to mint coins with Louis XVI's portrait on them after beheading him. …

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