Charlie Chan and the Case of the Incredible Shrinking Dollar

As the value of the dollar continues to decline, that legendary Honolulu police detective of yesteryear, Charlie Chan, is summoned to question several persons-of-interest.

With his Number Three Son, Tommy, Chan enters the plush, mahogany paneled meeting room at the Department of the Treasury where several likely suspects await. 

In the center of a conference table, inside a tamper-proof glass box, is a single dollar bill that appears to be smaller than normal. We listen in on the conversation:

Vice President Joe Biden: Welcome to America, Charlie. I've heard so much about your restaurant in Honolulu. I love cashew chicken, myself. Sure glad you could join this Spring into Recovery celebration. You know, Charlie, I'm on record as saying that we have to spend money so we don't go bankrupt. Now, by that I mean we...

Chan: Honorable Vice President, excuse please. Humbly request you get everyone take-out lunch from Chinese Restaurant down block. (Biden agrees and leaves on his mission.)

Tommy: Pop, you just sent the Vice President of the United States out to get lunch!

Chan: Ancient honorable ancestor say serious matter best discussed by serious people. He not shrink dollar, Tommy. But he may get lost seeking restaurant.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary:  Mr. Chan, the President, as you well know, is very concerned about the shrinking dollar and spends several hours each day in meetings with his Council of Economic Advisors, working hard to make sure that...

Chan:  Mr. Carney, no questions now. Thank you. Please tend to important matters at White House. (Turning next to Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury)  Honorable Secretary, in June 2009, you told group of Chinese students in the land of my ancestors that America will not monetize its debt.

Geithner:  That's right, Charlie. In fact, as I said after that meeting with those Chinese students, "I'm actually hearing quite a lot of confidence in not just the long term strength, resilience, dynamism of the U.S. economy-- as you would expect.  I think that confidence is justified."

Chan:  Why then, Honorable Secretary, did students laugh at you?  (Chan holds up one hand before Geithner can answer.) No need answer, Honorable Secretary.  Perhaps your meaning lost in translation. (Turning to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke)  Honorable Chairman, also in June 2009, you say to members of Congress same thing, that "The Federal Reserve will not monetize the debt." But you print many dollars since.  

Bernanke: Well, as I told Congress, "Either cuts in spending or increases in taxes will be necessary to stabilize the fiscal situation. Furthermore it's important...bla...bla...bla"

Tommy:  (Pulls Charlie aside) Pop, he didn't answer your question. And what was all that talk about QE2?  Is he going on a cruise?

Chan: QE means quantitative easing, Tommy. Ancient honorable ancestor say that when important man desires to avoid question, his answer is like Chinese puzzle box - only able to be opened by complicated series of manipulations. Economists use convoluted language to convey complexity in order to mask questionable content.

Tommy: You mean he was blowing smoke up your skirt?

Chan:  NO! I mean economists use important sounding...oh, never mind. Explain later. And I never wear skirts.

Tommy:  Look, Pop! The dollar under the glass shrunk while Bernanke was talking!

Chan: (Nods yes.)

Austan Goolsbee:  Mr. Chan, as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, I'm missing an important meeting with the President. Look, I'm not responsible for the incredible shrinking dollar, but I did bring along the YouTube video of an internet presentation where I professorially...because I was, you know, a professor at the University of Chicago... where I present a white board lesson explaining why we need to increase taxes on the rich. I can show it to you here on my laptop. First, I start off...

Chan: Honorable Chairman, thank you. Not now. Maybe later.  Now interested only in what you know about incredible shrinking dollar.

Goolsbee:  Detective Chan, like I said back last year when the economy slowed down in the first quarter of 2010, ""The biggest driver was a reduction in government spending at the federal level, a big negative from defense spending."  That's still true. The government must spend more money, until we collect more revenue from increased taxes on the richest Americans. Until then, it's print and borrow, print and borrow, print and borrow, till we spend our way out of this recession. That's why it's so important we raise taxes on the rich because they're not...

Chan:  Thank you, honorable Chairman. No additional questions.

Tommy:  Gee, Pop, he sounds like the Vice President. Are they related?

Chan: Ancient honorable ancestor say that bad economic theory like virus that spreads sickness.  

Tommy:  Well, he's a one trick pony. It's like he's pedaling a unicycle in a NASCAR race.  He's so focused on increasing taxes on the rich that if he was a cell phone his only app would be making calls.  

Chan:  Speak English, Tommy! And remember - stand-up comedy is Goolsbee's hobby, not yours.

Geithner:  Charlie, can I leave now.  I have to go work on my taxes.

Chan:  One more question, Honorable Secretary. In February 2009, London newspaper reported that, although you said you "had not read the plans by China's central bank governor for a ‘super-sovereign reserve currency' run by the International Monetary Fund" you were "open" to the idea. When dollar value declined next day, you told different story. You want weak dollar, Honorable Secretary. So you have motive to shrink it.    

Geithner:  My tax accountant just paged me. I do have to go.

(Chan and Tommy remain in the conference room.)

Tommy:  Look, Pop! The dollar got smaller, even though no one in the room touched it!  So who's guilty of shrinking it?

Chan: Ancient honorable ancestor say that, although big crime may have one desire, it often requires many to accomplish.

Tommy:  You mean they're all complicit, along with others, in shrinking the dollar, to some extent?

Chan:  We must leave now, Tommy. Before Joe returns with curry chicken from an Indian Restaurant.