NEWCASTLE – Approximately 190 currencies – from dollars to dinars – circulate around the world, according to Morrison Bonpasse.
In his opinion, that’s 189 too many.
From a cellar office in his 200-year-old farmhouse off a dirt road, Bonpasse is waging what appears to be a one-man campaign to promote a shift to a single global currency, a goal he hopes to achieve by 2025.
The change, he points out, would eliminate currency trading and currency-related investment risks while averting some of the financial crises that erupt periodically in countries from Argentina to Thailand.
He estimates that the resultant savings worldwide would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
As Bonpasse sees it, the desire of people everywhere for monetary stability trumps nationalistic concerns that a country should have a currency to call its own.
“People don’t care whose face is on the coin and whose home is on the bill,” he said. “What they care about is that the currency they have in their pockets or in their bank accounts will be worth the same tomorrow as it is today and that it’s going to be there for their children and their grandchildren.”
Despite occasional setbacks, Bonpasse believes that the tide of history is flowing in his direction.
Most notable, of course, is the adoption of the euro. It was launched Jan. 1, 1999, in 11 nations in Western Europe, replacing such venerable currencies as the French franc, the German mark and the Italian lira.
Other regional currencies are gaining favor, Bonpasse said, in the Middle East, West Africa and the Caribbean. And some countries, such as Ecuador and El Salvador, have gone a different route by adopting the U.S. dollar as legal tender for international trade, while maintaining their own currencies for internal use.
To sample public opinion about a single currency, Bonpasse financed a nationwide Zogby poll, which showed that 28 percent favor the idea, 59 percent oppose it, and 12 percent are unsure.
Bonpasse, who plans to update the poll at six-month intervals, said he was heartened by the results and thought support for the idea would be lower.
“We have to get the issue on the radar screen, and we need a measure of what the radar screen looks like. And it looks like it’s already there for some people,” he said, explaining why he commissioned the poll.
Bonpasse, 56, is no economist. A Yale graduate who has a law degree, an MBA and a master’s degree in public administration, Bonpasse worked for Massachusetts state government and Digital Equipment Corp. before moving to Maine in 1999 to head a staffing company.
The idea for a single currency surfaced in 2002 when he ran for the Legislature. As a Democrat in a Republican district, he was looking for an issue that could energize voters and would go beyond the usual campaign rhetoric about taxes, health or education.
“Where did I get the idea? I’m not sure,” he said.
He lost the election. But it did lead to the formation last June of the Single Global Currency Association. Bonpasse, who serves as the group’s president, sold his staffing business in March and hopes that his work at the helm of his new nonprofit will evolve into a full-time career.
Annual dues now stand at $20.03 but will go up a penny in 2004. For other currencies, Bonpasse suggests calculating dues at 20.03 times the cost of a half-kilogram of bread. He acknowledges that membership rolls are minimal but says he has just begun to promote his idea through speeches and articles.
While directing an organization with such a lofty goal from his rural hideaway may seem quixotic, Bonpasse has never been one to shy away from a cause in which he believes.
He founded Americans for a Nonviolent Society two decades ago, only to see it fail; he also headed the Lucy Stone League, named for a 19th century suffragist which supports name choice after marriage.
Bonpasse said some of the opposition to a single currency comes from critics who view it as a step toward world government and equate defense of the dollar to that of the flag. The primary objection among economists, he said, is that governments would no longer have the flexibility of tinkering with the money supply to respond to economic shocks.
Bonpasse says the single currency concept makes such good sense that people will rally behind it and their leaders will have no choice but to follow.
“This is good for everybody – except for currency speculators, currency traders and people who make their money hedging and going hedging contracts,” he said.
Others are not so sure. Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University, agrees that a consolidation of world currencies would be beneficial and is likely to occur within the next 75 years. But he said the most likely scenario would be the emergence of three or four central currencies.
“I would be concerned about a single world government entity having a complete monopoly over currency issues,” he said. “There needs to be a safety valve.”
While he has not looked closely at Bonpasse’s effort, Rogoff suggests it could have an impact. “It is certainly true that ideas come from all over the place. It’s a very open debate,” he said.
Bonpasse, meanwhile, keeps plugging away, promoting his concept on the Web, addressing service clubs and networking with economists and business leaders.
He has scheduled the first annual Single Global Currency Conference next July in Bretton Woods, N.H., in a hotel room across the hall from the site of the historic world monetary conference 60 years earlier.
As for what to call a global currency, Bonpasse shies away from expressing a preference. But he notes that the leading names proposed over the years include the eartha, the globo and the mundo.
“Picking a name might mean that the goal goes down with the name,” he said. “I don’t want the concept to go down with the name.”