I go to a nearby currency exchange to check them out. A Canadian $5 and Australian $5 set me back $9.24. The bills are decidedly plastic. Smooth. Foreign.
“They’re a little bit more slippery,” says Russell White, a sales associate at Foreign Currency Express in Los Angeles, “so sometimes you get bills stuck together.” He says that can make them a little harder to count, “but they’re good.”
White repeats a rumor I’ve seen online, “I’ve heard stories that if the plastic bills, the new Canadian, are in the heat too long, they actually melt. So you can have your money go away in one day if it gets too hot.”
Sounds like a challenge to me. I spread them on my car's dashboard, let them cook in the sun. Two hours later, on an 85-degree day in Los Angeles, the bills are fine.
I wash them. And dry them. I boil them. Freeze them. Crumple them.
They bounce back.
“It actually lasts about 2 and a half times longer than paper,” says Manuel Parreira from the Bank of Canada. He says these polymer bills are also good for stopping fakes; there are plastic windows, a frosted maple leaf with a transparent outline. “It makes it more difficult to counterfeit but also easy to use,” says Parreira, “and that’s key to insure that people can check for counterfeit.”
You’re not going to see George Washington on a plastic bill here in the U.S. any time soon. According to the Federal Reserve, the current paper blend is very secure. But, they say they’re always looking at options. Evaluating and revaluating. To stay a step ahead of counterfeiters.
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum kicks off this week, in Davos, Switzerland. The global elite -- executives, politicians, media moguls, and academics -- will gather in the Alps for a four-day confab. This year, one of the items on the agenda is inequality.
There is a lot packed into this conference. The program -- sorry, programme -- lists more than 250 panels and lectures, and there are plenty of opportunities for networking.
“I think there are real possibilities for concrete action to come out of a place like Davos,” says Katherine Klein, the Edward H. Bowman Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She went to Davos last year.
According to Klein, you feel like you are among the who’s who, “and if Davos and the World Economic Forum say this effort is important, that also gets folks’ attention.”
Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at M.I.T., has never been to Davos, but he welcomes the World Economic Forum’s focus on inequality.
“It’s good that the media, policymakers, and academics are paying more attention to it,” he says.
Acemoglu notes there is an irony here: “They can spend a week in the most luxurious circumstances, flying in their private jets, precisely because of the inequality that we are talking about.”
But, Acemoglu says, if the economic and political elites in our society are genuinely interested in a social problem like inequality, they can attract attention to it and contribute resources to address it.
Russian security forces are reportedly searching for at least one young woman who may be intending to set off a suicide bomb. She's said to be the widow of an Islamic insurgent. Meanwhile, the U.S. will have warships in the Black Sea in case evacuations are necessary during the Winter Olympics.
We’ve all heard of websites like Kickstarter, where you can donate to projects you believe in. Well what if, instead of just donating, you could go online and buy an equity slice of a small business? This crowdfunding of investment is what the JOBS Act is trying to promote. And it’s how one real estate company in Washington D.C. wants to shake up local development.
Sharon Lewis is a hairstylist who’s lived along the H Street corridor for decades. When she describes how the neighborhood’s changed, she chooses her words very carefully.
“On H Street, it used to be a lot of hairdressers,” she says. “But now it’s a lot of bars.”
It used to be a black neighborhood, now it’s gentrifying. And booming. You can’t park on a Friday night. But developer Ben Miller says, until now, it’s been impossible for local people to invest in development right across the street.
“Who owns your environment? You don’t know,” he says. “Who’s building your environment, who’s building your city? Not you.”
Miller is co-founder of the group Fundrise, which has started selling shares of private real estate projects to the public online. A tiny slice of ownership for a hundred bucks a pop.
First they bought 1351 H Street with private capital, then crowdfunded about a third of it.
“This building has almost 180 owners,” Miller says.
It’s going to be an Asian night market. 906 H Street has 360 owners. And at 1300 H St, there’s a funky, shuttered library. Fundrise wants to buy the site from the city and turn it into apartments.
“It could have ten thousand investors,” he says.
To solicit small investors now, Fundrise goes through a lengthy review with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These equity shares are securities, after all, and the SEC wants to protect small investors.
But once the JOBS Act is implemented, crowdfunding could take off nationally. Companies will be able to crowdfund up to one million dollars a year from small, unaccredited investors. If they choose to qualify with the SEC the way Fundrise does now, they should be able to raise $50 million a year from small investors (up from $5 million currently).
The whole idea is to create new avenues for small businesses to access capital. But there are risks to this deregulation.
“Do not invest money in crowdfunding that you can’t afford to lose,” says Rick Fleming, deputy general counsel of the North American Securities Administrators Association, the organization of state level securities regulators.
Fleming says crowdfunding can be an important tool. But he warns that most small businesses fail. Lighter regulation of crowdfunding to come could lead to more fraud. And you can’t sell your crowdfunded shares on the stock exchange.
“You’re not going to be able to get that money back anytime soon. These are going to be illiquid investments, because there’s no secondary trading market for these types of securities,” he says.
Still, a lot of people investing in Fundrise think it’s just fun and interesting. Elan Schnitzer lives on H Street. He expects a seven percent return.
“My first $7 dividend check, I will take right back to the restaurant that comes in and get a sandwich,” he says.
Actually, Schnitzer bought two shares, so he might be able to afford dessert. He won’t have much say in the property he owns, but at least he’ll get lunch.
The type of storm that's blowing up the East Coast of the U.S. on Tuesday has an explosive-sounding name. Add bombogenesis to the growing list of weather terms we're learning about this winter — a list that also includes polar vortex.