I'VE BEEN giving a lot of thought to the dollar lately. Depending on what paper you read, the dollar is sick, sagging, sinking or collapsing under its own weight.
It wasn't always like that. For years after the Second World War, the dollar commanded respect in every part of the globe. It was the golden age for Americans and we were sought after, flattered, admired and seduced by people dealing in less-vaunted currencies. None of us ever dreamed that some day the dollar would be treated in Europe and Japan as a terminal case.
What went wrong? I discussed this the other day with Alain, a French friend, who believes the loss of confidence in the dollar started shortly after the war ended.
He told me, "It wasn't the dollar we were so interested in at that time as American cigarettes, nylon stockings and Hershey bars. If you recalls back then the Europeans were much more interested in bartering for these items than they wre in acquiring money. We were perfectly willing to continue taking your cigarettes, nylons and Hershey bars in exchange for lodging, food and favors. But your government forced the dollar on all of us, and we took in so many of them over the years that we finally said, 'Enough is enough.'"
"Are you trying to say that if the Americans has stuck to cigarettes, nylons and Hershey bars the dollar wouldn't be in trouble today?"
"Of course. Europeans have an insatiable appetite for cigarettes, nylons and Hershey bars. But when you've seen one dollar you've seen them all.
"We were willing to go on forever giving you anything you wanted if you had stuck to bartering. But your leaders insisted that the only answer to communism was to flood our countries with dollars. What you forgot is that Europeans have always had more faith in chocolate than we have had in our money."
"Yet, Alain, there is a flaw in your argument. The Europeans started to make their own cigarettes, and nylons and candy bars after the war. We would have had to devalue ours as your production increased."
"We only went into the cigarette, nylon and chocolate bar business after our sources of these goodies dried up. In Germany and France and Italy you discouraged your G.I.'s from using cigarettes as currency. You told them if they waved nylons or Hershey bars under our noses they would be considered ugly Americans. But we never thought that way. A carton of cigarettes, or a pair of stockings, or a Hershey bar with almonds in it is something a person never forgets."
"Would you advise the United States to get off the dollar kick and go back to trading in these particular items again?"
"It couldn't hurt. But I would stay away from the low-tax cigarettes because Europeans like their tobacco strong. And you might substitute pantyhose for nylon stockings."
"What about Hershey bars?"
"I wouldn't mess with them. Don't forget, we're very strong on tradition.
"It could be the solution." I told Alain. "God knows it worked for us after the war. We've been so blinded by our economists that we've forgotten the things that really count with people. Perhaps if Americans tourists filled up their suitcase with pantyhose and chocolate, the dollar would be king again."
Alain said. "It's a little late, but it's worth a try. The gnomes of Switzerland might scream, but I don't know one Frenchman who would not rather have a pound of Hershey Kisses, than a solid bar of gold."