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Andrew Henderson

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Europe’s seemingly harmless new capital controls

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Can you name the three United States banknotes without a President on them? If only two – the $10 and $100 notes – comes to mind, you’re not alone. The third one is of a bygone era where liberty still reigned.

Long ago, the United States printed banknotes in denominations as high as $100,000. While the highest value note was generally reserved for commerce between governments, the $10,000 note was in circulation and featured the mug of Salmon Chase, a Senator, Treasury Secretary, and Chief Justice.

These days, the largest US notes are $100. In 1969, the US government had one of its brilliant ideas and decided to take out of circulation all larger banknotes. Not surprisingly, the $100 bill of those days was worth more than what a $500 bill would be today.

Across the pond in Europe, the European Central Bank has a brilliant idea of its own. It wants to get rid of the country’s 500 euro notes, currently one of the highest value banknotes in the world.

The reason? Well, it doesn’t really have one. Some Bank of America analyst said it might kinda spur trade or sorta devalue the currency for exports, or something like that. Imagine, a banker wanting to make it harder for people to hold cash. But none of that really means anything to Big Government.

Government has to put a pretty face on whatever they do and claim that they’re out to save you from criminals, terrorists, and other ne’er-do-wells. That’s how they get away with capital controls.

And that’s exactly what they’re doing as they contemplate ditching the 500 euro note. Back in the real world, eliminating large notes is great for government because it is a de facto capital control.

Take Cyprus. The government put strict limits on cash movement out of the country after they decided to dip their fingers into everyone’s bank account. Try getting your money off an island – Ireland would be similarly troublesome – when you have to stack six inches of bills just to accumulate a decent amount of savings. 500 euro notes make storing and transporting cash easier.

Of course, no government pitch would be complete without a boogeyman to scare the sheep into voluntarily handing over their liberties. The ECB has chosen to use one of the oldest plays in the playbook: big, bad criminals. They say criminals are the ones holding most of the 500 euro notes for the same reason I stated; they’re easier to store and transport.

Yet I suspect that criminals will get along just fine without the larger note. It’s not like crime came to a screeching halt in the United States when larger bills were taken out of circulation. But leave it to government to fail to fix a problem like crime, then blame their failure on their own citizens. We all suffer because they’re incompetent.

The bankrupt governments of the west have a goal: to herd everyone into a system of ones and zeroes where they can track your every move, freeze and seize your money on a whim, and control your life. It was never about crime. Very little that they do is about the stated purpose. It’s about giving the government more power to own you.

Heck, if it were only about crime, they should turn to Singapore. They issue a S$10,000 bill – worth about US$8,100 – and crime there is practically non-existant.

However, there may be some rationale to the crime argument. Except that the criminal will be you. We all know that the government can change the rules whenever they want. Forget that it will one day be unlawful to transport your money from one country to the next. The days of you being a criminal merely by holding or spending cash are approaching faster than you’d like to admit. France has enacted strict restrictions forbidding cash transactions over 1,000 euros. Italy was working on a law to ban all transactions over fifty euro. You wouldn’t even be able to fill up your Fiat!

The ECB has referenced the 500 euro notes as “bin Laden notes”. They know how to make it sound oh so scary. It would be funny if it weren’t so predictable that bankrupt governments are also bankrupt of ideas. Too bad the average citizen is all too happy to hand over their liberties to the government, thinking its out for their best interest.

On top of voodoo terror threats, the ECB also griped that many of the larger bills are hiding under people’s mattresses. (Maybe that proves the bankers they’re listening to haven’t inspired much confidence in people.) So what if people choose to put their money under their mattress, or in a vault? Who is the government to dictate what people do with THEIR money?

Because it’s not really your money as far as Big Government is concerned. It’s theirs, but through their benevolence, they’ll allow you to use some of it. As long as you play by their rules and do as you’re told.

So, no, don’t get rid of the 500 euro note. Drug lords and criminals will carry on one way or the other. More importantly, those of us who aren’t criminals (yet) shouldn’t be forced to suffer the consequences of some perceived war on crime. Nor should we allow Big Government more freedom to take away our economic freedom as they seek to convert every cent we have into a bureaucrat’s playground, a system fully at their control.

Like most other thefts of your liberty, it was never about crime to begin with. Except the crimes you’ll be guilty of when they change the rules to commandeer even more power.


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