[FOUNTAIN]Pyongyang’s last stand?A gentleman gave a beggar a $100 bill. As the beggar ate a luxurious meal at a fancy restaurant then generously tipped the waiter, the gentleman thought, “Now everyone is happy. The beggar is full, the restaurant owner made money, and the waiter received a big tip. Of Course, I am happy, because I satisfied them all with a counterfeit.”
It would have been good if everyone was happy, but the reality is completely different. After circulating counterfeit bills, only painful suffering awaits. The U.S. dollar is the legal tender of Panama. While the balboa is the official currency, only coins are circulated. Thankfully, Panama has never experienced the kind of inflation suffered by most Central and Latin American nations. Panama chose economic stability over economic sovereignty.
Ecuador must have envied Panama’s stability. Ecuador decided to discontinue use of its official currency, the sucre, in 2000 and switched to the U.S. dollar as its currency standard. However, the change only aggravated inflation and economic chaos, rather than bringing the anticipated stability. Why did the strategy that worked in Panama fail in Ecuador? Counterfeit dollars from neighboring Colombia poured into Ecuador and disturbed the market. Most Ecuadorian citizens are indigenous American Indians who speak no English and had never seen U.S. dollars, so Ecuador became a counterfeiters paradise.
However, Ecuador’s experience is far less harsh than Britain’s during World War II. Hitler’s Nazis had established a paper company in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to produce counterfeit bills. Former painters, printers and bankers in the prison camp were forced to cooperate in the operation. In the last days of the war, nearly half the British bank notes circulating were counterfeit. The forged bills were so precise that it was hard to distinguish them from real ones. The Bank of England had to call in all circulating bills.
Of course, Hitler also forged U.S. dollars. After 255 attempts, the Nazis were able to make perfect counterfeit dollars. However, right before circulating the fake bills, the Soviet Union invaded Germany. If the fake dollars had been circulated, World War II could have lasted longer.
The U.S. government claims that North Korea is doing what Hitler failed to do. Not only the Treasury Department, but also the U.S. Ambassador to Korea are making grave comments. While the “supernotes” are not inscribed “made in DPRK,” we cannot say for certain that Pyongyang is not responsible. Just the thought that currency forgery may be Pyongyang’s last resort, as it was Hitler’s, gives us goose bumps.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.