WASHINGTON – There's a phony story going around about a mythical currency that's supposed to replace the dollar called
New Jersey blogger Hal Turner says a friend in the U.S. Treasury smuggled him a 20-amero coin made at the U.S. Mint in
Denver – evidence, he writes, of a conspiracy to unite the United States, Canada and Mexico in a North American Union.
Well, you can get as many of these 20-amero coins as you want for $9 apiece – which would be a steal if it were a
real currency. Just check with Daniel Carr at www.dc-coin.com. Mr. Carr makes the coin touted by Mr. Turner, along with other
gag coins, such as his phony Texas quarter bearing the motto "Alaska could swallow us whole."
The idea of a common currency for Mexico, Canada and the United States has floated around in think-tank circles since the
North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect in 1994.
Canadian economist Herbert Grubel came up with the mythical currency's name in a 1999 paper, "The Case for the Amero: The
Economics and Politics of a North American Monetary Union."
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Mr. Grubel says he's abandoned it in the face of the resulting political uproar
over erosion of sovereignty.
"The euro had just been created. I said we could do that in North America, and in parallel with the euro, let's call it
the amero," he said from his home in Vancouver. "The rest was economic gobbledygook about values."
Mr. Grubel, now a senior fellow at Canada's Fraser Institute, was a member of Parliament from 1993 to 1997 and economics
spokesman for his conservative Reform Party. He said he stays in touch with national political and financial leaders, who
have fleshed out the tale of how his idea has become an Internet conspiracy theory.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox toyed with the idea of a common North American currency when he took office in 2000,
Mr. Grubel says, but found it political anathema among Mexicans.
"In the United States, at the Federal Reserve, I'm told this is not on the horizon at all. It just has never entered their
mind as far as something the Fed would be involved in," Mr. Grubel said.
Canada's central bankers have said a common currency would help balance the highs and lows of Canada's economy, which relies
heavily on trade with the United States. It's on the minds of many Canadian businesses right now because the sharp rise in
the value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. currency has hurt sales to the United States.
But, "obviously, it's politically totally out of the question," Mr. Grubel said. "Nationalists would go on the barricades
and shoot anybody who suggested it."
Of the three North American nations, Canada has the biggest reason to consider a common currency. Two years ago, the Canadian
dollar – known as the "loonie" because of the loon on the one-dollar coin – was worth 60 U.S. cents. Now it's
worth 93 cents.
That works out to a price hike for Canadian exports to the United States of more than 50 percent – and a 50-plus
percent discount for U.S. exports to Canada. Two-way trade between Canada and the United States is more than $533 billion
a year. With the price spike for Canadian goods, U.S. buyers are shying away and American vendors are grabbing market share
from Canadian companies.
Canadians are still on pace for a $70 billion surplus with the United States this year, but the surplus is falling and
some Canadian firms are hurting.
"There's tremendous pressure on the bottom line," Mr. Grubel said. "Many, many businesses in Canada are going bankrupt."
If both nations had the same currency, Canadian companies wouldn't be hurting so much. Such fluctuations are a big reason
so many countries in Europe decided to unite their currencies into the euro.
But the power to print money has a big impact on interest rates, inflation, growth and sovereignty that no North American
government is ready to surrender.
Mr. Carr said he decided to make amero coins to be provocative and get people thinking about the issue.
He said he was not asked by the U.S. Mint to design the coin (and Mint spokesman Greg Hernandez agrees).
The fantasy coin maker said he's sent three e-mails to Hal Turner trying to get the coins off Mr. Turner's Internet site
but has gotten no reply.
Meanwhile, Mr. Turner stands by his story and says he has now heard from an anonymous ATM maker that the government is
starting to provide specifications for amero paper bills.
What will this guy sell next? Mexican shares in the Brooklyn Bridge?