01: Bank of the Taliban
Convincing a change-strapped Delhi shopkeeper to accept a 500 rupee (€7) note can be challenging at the best of times, but Subcontinental retailers now have another reason to refuse large notes. High-quality fakes are appearing in the country and recent reports suggest their manufacture is thought to have fallen into the hands of ex-military types and the Taliban. While the Reserve Bank of India claims that only four in every million notes are fakes, it is the quality and the provenance of the fakes that’s worrying. New Delhi has been forced to act and has put out tenders for new polymer notes.
The plastic notes are harder to fake and more expensive to produce, but Professor Jayanth R Varma, from the Indian Institute of Management, says they are no panacea: “For a foreign state, faking polymer notes will not be an insuperable obstacle.”
It won’t be long before the counterfeit notes are indistinguishable from the real deal, with worrying implications for Asia’s third-largest economy and the security of the region.
You might think printing money would be, well, a licence to print money, but in the past year as the amount of currency in circulation has declined, the manufacturers of bank-note paper have suffered.
02: The great escape
Last autumn, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, US economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff updated their database of financial crises – beginning with Denmark’s panic during the Napoleonic Wars.
It was clear 2008 would appear frequently on the list of episodes of systemic bank failures, next to episodes in countries such as the US, the UK, Japan, Hungary, and Iceland.
The real mystery surrounds countries that avoided addition to the database in 2008 and – since. They seemed to have common attributes. Some, including Portugal, had not seen the property surge that triggered the crisis. Others, such as Israel and Canada, benefited from aggressive regulation and many developing nations were in a sort of financial quarantine.
Most intriguing are Australia and New Zealand, countries both engaged in global markets and had a domestic property surge. “The [Australian and New Zealand] banks were not engaged with the increased risk-taking,” says Reinhart, who used the crises database for a new book, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, co-authored with Rogoff.
A gold card from Byblos Bank in Lebanon would look good in any wallet. But it’s unlikely Wall Street bankers will head to Beirut.
03: Swap shop
Bartering has gone mainstream. In the US, Mother Earth News (“The Guide to Living Wisely”) has given tips on bartering since 1970 and Craigslist has become the unofficial barter site for most communities.
But barter company BizXchange has taken it to the next level with a $2.2m (€1.5m) deal and inclusion in a list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the US. It has 6,000 clients doing $60m (€40m) of barter transactions a year, with revenues up 54 per cent on the same period last year. Bartering now accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s total business. BizXchange’s $2.2m deal was in Dubai and exchanged an inventory of cars for radio and print advertising. President and CEO Bob Bagga says: “I’ve always believed bartering was mainstream but the credit crisis has raised awareness and smart people are bartering more.”
There are also numerous “local currency” projects, but many of these are just protectionism disguised as community bonding.