The color of money
The news – read on Wednesday in this newspaper – seems to me sensational: according to the union of technicians of the Ministry of Finance, five hundred euros bills represent seventy-five percent of the outstanding euros in Spain,
that is: three quarters of the total. Where are they? Who has them? Because in everyday life there are very few, if any. It is not black money: it is invisible.
They say that in the good times of the real estate bubble, more than half of the tickets of this type were circulating in Spain throughout Europe, but I did not see any until 2012, when all that fictitious prosperity was already history. The first ones were given to me in a notary’s office, five brand-new five hundred euros bills along with sixty or seventy euros more, to return the part that was left over from the advance of real taxes that I had to pay.
I confess that in the first moment those bills made me feel complicit in a sympathetic crime, of those that we would all like to be able to commit from time to time. I went home and, since I did not think it wise to carry them in my wallet, I hid them in the pages of a hardcover edition of John Cheever’s complete stories. It was the place that seemed most suitable to me. If writing a book and publishing it has always been the best way to keep a secret in this country, a book could also be a good place to keep those five bills. In addition, it seemed a very fair homage to one of the best storytellers of the twentieth century, a writer who, without intending to, portrayed very well the value of money in American society.
When I needed money and decided to take out one of those bills, I realized the problem that was before me. Where could I change it? It was not a matter of going for a beer and paying with a purple ticket. Since I had to buy some filing cabinets and the place that caught me closest was El Corte Inglés, it occurred to me that I could pay with one of them. Said and done. I went and when it was time to pay the employee she stared at the ticket, frowned and told me to wait a moment. I thought that I would go back to the security guard and that they would take me to an office where I would have to explain about the notary and who knows how many more things. But no. She returned with a gentleman who identified herself as a plant manager, gave me a slightly knowing smile and, without asking me anything, authorized her to accept the ticket.
After three weeks, I had to get the second ticket out of Cheever’s book. To avoid the El Corte Inglés scene, I decided to go to a branch of La Caixa near the house and ask to be changed. After ten minutes of queuing -in the banks, I do not know why, there are always more windows than employees-, the cashier put on a face I do not know if of disapproval, of envy or boredom, but he changed it without saying a word.
When I ran out of the ten fifty-dollar bills he gave me, I took two hundred euros from the cashier. He did not know why, but he did not want the Treasury to see that he spent so much time without taking money out of the bank account. I was pulling until it was time to get the third ticket. I was in Mallorca and went to a gas station to buy the newspaper, a loaf of bread and four cans of beer. The cashier, a South American woman, accepted it with all naturalness. She was obviously used to seeing tickets like that. I still wonder if it is because in the Balearic Islands more black money runs or because gas stations are particularly appropriate places to use these tickets.
I had to change the room after three weeks. I decided to go to my bank and enter it, along with the fifth. I did not understand how it had not occurred to me before. It was the simplest thing. What could I be reproached? They had been given to me in a notary, right? I made the corresponding queue and, when my turn came, the teller gave me a smile of approval so cloying that I swore to never accept any five hundred euro bill.
He did not know that he risked having to reject seventy-five percent of the money in circulation. Now they say they want to withdraw, and it seems logical to me. If they account for such a high percentage of the money in Spain and most mortals do not see any, it means that they do not circulate much or nothing. It can be imagined that some of their owners have not been completely honest with the
tax authorities. Removing them from the circulation is a very simple way to encourage them to get them out from under the mattress and explain how they won them. Do not we want to fight against tax evasion? Have we not decided that it is not right for some to pay taxes and others not? It is surprising that nobody has come up with this measure until now. Surprising and – if it is true that they represent seventy-five percent of the money in circulation – a little worrisome, really.