Tide as Money

A number of things have served as money throughout history: shells, tobacco leaves, even cigarettes in POW camps and prisons.  Now those operating in the urban drug trade are using Tide detergent as currency.

Supermarkets and drug stores in some areas of the country can’t keep the detergent on the shelves.   During a recent police raid on a drug dealer’s home in Washington D.C., the police found what they expected—cocaine—but also noted the 20 large bottles of Tide on the dealer’s shelves.

It turns out users paid the dealer in Tide rather than U.S. dollars.  And why not, Proctor & Gamble’s best selling laundry soap is holding its value better than the government’s greenbacks.  The flame-orange bottle makes Tide recognizable.  It’s expensive, selling for up to $20 for a large bottle, so it has relatively high value per weight.  The bottles even have handles, making it portable.  It’s divisible- a person can trade in half bottles and so on.  It doesn’t spoil, making it durable.  And, everyone has to wash their clothes.  So Tide is valuable for other uses than just trading.  The fiat dollar does not do near as well in satisfying these requirements as a suitable money.

Rather than sticking up convenience stores for the cash in the register, thieves are now taking Tide off the shelves and running out the door with as many bottles as they can carry.  Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the Associated Press, “Tide is an ideal target for thieves, in part because high demand makes it easy to resell. The flat economy is a factor, as is the relatively low risk to criminals.”

Informants and undercover offices say that drug dealers actually encourage their customers to pay with Tide rather than cash.  “I’m out of marijuana right now, but when I get re-upped I’ll hook you up if you can get me 15 bottles of Tide,” one dealer was quoted as telling an informant, according to police.

“They’ll do it right in front of a cop car—buying heroin or methamphetamine with Tide,” says Detective Rick Blake of the Gresham, Ore., Police Department told The Daily. “We would see people walking down the road with six, seven bottles of Tide. They were so blatant about it.”

Dealers need to wash clothes, but they don’t do enough laundry to carry that much detergent for their own personal use.  Tide’s marketability allows the dealers to sell bottles to local stores and other businesses.

It’s clear that dealers and their clients understand what money is, whereas Ben Bernanke and his troops at the Fed do not.   Even addicts know they can’t print their own paper money and expect dealers to trade their goods for worthless script.

Dealers demand that in exchange for their drug inventory, customers provide a tangible good in trade.   Meanwhile, the Fed injects more debauched money from the ether into an economy now addicted to cheap money.


  1. While the logic of this interpretation is appealing, my inner skeptic keeps asking me ‘Why Tide particularly?’ There are lots of commodities with the same general characteristics as Tide, that could potentially fill a quasi-monetary role in the same way: instant coffee, tea, other brands of detergent – any aggregately homogeneous powder, pellet or liquid with a meaningful and reliable consumption value per KG or litre would serve the purpose.

    I’m left with the suspicion that when cutting the wholesale drug product for retail sale, Tide is the ‘dilutant’ of choice. Perhaps someone with some inside-track insight into this market could affirm or refute this.

  2. I think what has probably happened is the people to whom they sell the drugs don’t have ready access to physical cash and after years of easy access credit cards, they same users are excluded from the credit card market. That leaves the dealers with a problem – no paying customers. Tide as has been pointed out is readily available and probably increases in price as the dollar devalues, also with the federal clampdown on means of payment, Tide is also untraceable and can be “laundered” easily by drug dealers. People who live in the United States can confirm if the price of Tide follows inflation trends or not. Given there are more people than ever before on food stamps, and so many day to day transactions are carried out using plastic cards, I would not be surprised if drug users could not actually get their hands easily on these means to pay for drugs. Dealers do like to be paid, so the market has created a “solution” albeit one that is based on the deprivation of property rights of others i.e. stealing Tide from stores in more than a few cases.

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