06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Funny Money

I had to laugh when I saw Treasury Secretary Geithner and Fed Chair Bernanke announce, with great fanfare, a new high-tech $100 bill. It's supposed to ward off counterfeiters.

How big is the currency fraud the two G-men are after? Of the roughly $625 billion in "Franklins" in circulation, less than 1/100 of one percent is reported counterfeit, according to the Treasury Department.

That means that Geithner and Bernanke are trying to protect the taxpayers against the loss of $62.5 million from phony hundred dollar bills. That might seem to be a big hit on the American people - we need every dollar we can get these days - except that's nothing when you compare it to, say, the $750 billion in taxpayer money that went to rescue Wall Street from speculation and outright thievery.

It's less than nothing when compared to the estimated $600 trillion dollars in "derivatives" - packages of mortgages or other assets - that are sitting in investment portfolios throughout the global economy. That sum is about ten times the value of the entire output of goods and services by every country on earth. The geniuses on Wall Street were giddy trading derivatives with each other, getting a cut of every transaction, until suddenly the players realized that they had no idea what the derivatives were worth. Indeed, many derivatives have no intrinsic economic value, but rather are simply bets on how other packages of investments will perform on Wall Street. Derivatives were at the core of the Wall Street collapse that threw our economy into a deep dive.

Our two crime-fighting government officials missed the real crime against the taxpayers - like everyone else who was supposed to be looking after the public's interest. They sat idly by while hundreds of wealthy and politically-connected individuals made billions of dollars trading worthless securities until greed and the laws of gravity caught up with them.

Geithner and Bernanke remain at the scene of the crime. Which, of course, is still going on, day and night, and will continue until Congress puts an end to it, if our elected representatives can overcome the power of the Dark Side - derivatives lobby.

Meanwhile, we are meant to be thrilled and comforted by the spectacle of a greenback that is tough to duplicate. It's like a cheap magic trick designed to distract us from what's really going on.

You can see a $100 bill, after all. And it's easy to imagine some lowlife printing it up in a shed in his backyard. But no Americans ever saw a Wall Street trader concoct a derivative or try to foist one off on a clerk at the local grocery store. The derivatives that brought America to its knees exist only as electronic apparitions on a bank of monitors in front of some speculator at a Goldman Sachs or similar operation. Those are the people who were really "making" money.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. $100 bill introduced by Geithner and Bernanke has a big blue stripe down the middle, and all sorts of busy and confusing symbols designed to thwart criminals. It looks like something that has been run over several times by a truck. Just like our economy.