It is fitting that this story would surface around the same time that Bernanke has been harping about the gold standard. From TheDaily:
Law enforcement officials across the country are puzzled over a crime wave targeting an unlikely item: Tide laundry detergent. Theft of Tide detergent has become so rampant that authorities from New York to Oregon are keeping tabs on the soap spree, and some cities are setting up special task forces to stop it. And retailers like CVS are taking special security precautions to lock down the liquid. […]
Tide has become a form of currency on the streets. The retail price is steadily high — roughly $10 to $20 a bottle — and it’s a staple in households across socioeconomic classes. Tide can go for $5 to $10 a bottle on the black market, authorities say. Enterprising laundry soap peddlers even resell bottles to stores. “There’s no serial numbers and it’s impossible to track,” said Detective Larry Patterson of the Somerset, Ky., Police Department, where authorities have seen a huge spike in Tide theft. “It’s the item to steal.”
So… what is up with this? Why Tide? Joseph Salerno picks up the story on the Christian Science Monitor blog:
This is just another confirmation of [Carl] Menger’s insight that the market responds to the absence of sound money by monetizing highly salable commodities. It is clear that Tide has emerged as a subsidiary local currency for black-market, especially drug, transactions — but for legal transactions in low-income areas as well. Indeed police report that Tide is being exchanged for heroin and methamphetamine and that drug dealers possess inventories of the commodity that they are also willing to sell. But why is laundry detergent being employed as money, and why Tide in particular?
Menger identified the qualities that a commodity must possess in order to evolve into a medium of exchange. Tide possesses most of these qualities in ample measure. For a commodity to emerge as money out of barter, it must be widely used, readily recognizable, and durable. It must also have a relatively high value-to-weight ratio so that it can be easily transported. Tide is the most popular brand of laundry detergent and is widely used by all socioeconomic groups. Tide also is easily recognized because of its Day-Glo orange logo. Laundry detergent can also be stored for long periods without loss of potency or quality. It is true that Tide is somewhat bulky and inconvenient to transport by hand in large quantities. But enough can be carried by hand or shopping cart for smaller transactions while large quantities can easily be transported and transferred using automobiles.
Sound money can be hard to come by.