What's a Good "Doomsday Currency"?

A reader named Marcus Kalka writes:

I have a weird question, but a good one. With all the talk about the value of the U.S. dollar falling and the U.S. dollar losing its status as the world's reserve currency, I am curious to know your guys' thoughts on what possible temporary alternative currency you believe would be the most optimal for us here in America in a hypothetical future doomsday scenario -- i.e., what one should stock a lot of in his or her basement in the event of a [heaven forbid] total financial meltdown? Historically, cigarettes, alcohol, candy, and even packs of mackerel have been used as a bartering commodity currency where cash is not as useful or cannot be used. And so, my question for you is this: From an economic standpoint, which item do you think would make the most ideal "doomsday currency" in the U.S. for this time period? Perhaps cigarettes or wine? Gold or silver coins? Cans of tuna? Baseball cards? Bottles of water? Any thoughts? And any ideas on a potential makeshift currency sign?

Tough one. How about ... gems (the old standby), cell phones, iPads, SIM cards, incandescent light bulbs, toolboxes, running shoes ...

Will the Cashless Revolution Wipe Out Panhandling?

A reader named John Neumann writes:

Guys, I had a thought today as I was walking to work in the sweltering D.C. morning heat: As the U.S. has increasingly become a cashless society with the rise of debit- and credit-card use, has there been a decrease in panhandling, busking, and homelessness? Obviously, fewer people carrying cash or change means panhandlers, buskers, and the homeless will have fewer and fewer people giving them money on the street. Would busking and panhandling become extinct if we do eventually become a completely cashless society? Is that already happening?

Great questions, John!
I don't know the answers, but I might now seek them out. If we do ever get truly cashless, presumably you could transfer money from your digital wallet to a panhandler's digital wallet. Might it be hard for a panhandler in possession of a digital wallet to appear needy? Probably not: if they are ubiquitous, the cost of a digital wallet itself would likely be near (or even below?) zero.

John's questions raise two other thoughts:

+ I wonder if the appeal of going cashless might wane in light of so much high-profile financial hacking going on.

+ If/as we do get more cashless, what are the other unseen ramifications? Personally, I'd be happy to do away with the stuff. It's dirty, inefficient, and produces a lot of troublesome by-products.

The Coin That Saved Japan's Arcades

While arcades in the U.S. (and most of the rest of the world) are fading, they're still strong in Japan. Why? According to Mark Cerny, an arcade gaming expert, it has to do with currency.

Euphemisms for China

We've all done it. You've been introduced to someone, but forget his or her name. And so you spend the rest of the conversation studiously avoiding needing to refer to your new friend by name. Well, as far as I can gather, the same thing happened on Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. He gave a talk at Brookings that was all about China, but if you didn't know better, you could be forgiven for thinking he had forgotten her name.

Where Currencies Get Their Signs

Where the money comes from.

Cutting the Currency Gordian Knot

Get rid of the dollar bill and the penny.

Cash, Credit, or Torches?

If you live in Brooklyn and you're sick of looking at George Washington's face every time you buy coffee, things may be looking up.

No Cash in Japan?

When we last talked about abolishing paper currency, we joked about it happening in 2012. In Japan, where the future comes early, they're considering banning cash now, as a way to stave off deflation.

Would You Like Some Gold With Your Chocolate?

Germans may soon be able to purchase gold in vending machines at the country's airports and rail stations. It is said that the machines will charge a 30 percent premium (!) and prices will be updated every few minutes. Gold has generated significant investor attention, particularly in Germany, since the financial crisis hit.

Zimbabwe's Novel Currency

Zimbabwe’s currency has been essentially worthless in-country for months. Now the Zimbabwe dollar is officially worth more on eBay, where collectors can snap up a few trillion-dollar notes for less than $25. Technically, a currency exchange would give you 37 million Zimbabwe dollars for every U.S. dollar, but since Zimbabwe’s government recently suspended its currency […]