The simpleminded prediction was always that the rise of credit cards, and services like PayPal, would eliminate cash. But a cashless society is like the Paperless Office—it just ain't gonna happen. And now the Times reports an interesting trend: These days cash—paper bills, not the concept—now physically lasts longer.
Everyone knows that U.S. cash is already printed on durable paper. It's cotton-based stuff that's impregnated with either polyvinyl alcohol or some type of gelatin; the exact recipe is, unsurprisingly, a secret. But as the Times points out, the increased longevity of paper bills is due not to advances in paper technology, but advances in scanning technology (in addition to less usage):
Thanks to technological advances, the average dollar bill now circulates for 40 months, up from 18 months two decades ago, according to Federal Reserve estimates.
Banks regularly send stacks of old notes to the Fed, which replaces the damaged ones. Until recently, notes were simply stacked facedown and destroyed, as were dog-eared notes, because the Fed's scanning equipment could not distinguish between creases and tears. Now it can. In 1989, the Fed replaced 46 percent of returned dollar bills. Last year it replaced 21 percent. The rest of the notes were returned to circulation where they may lead longer lives because they are being used less often.
Unfortunately, my own personal cash does not seem to last as long now as it used to. But that's largely due to my vintage sewing machine habit.