Efforts to establish alternative currencies amount to an economist's version of a Fed boycott. But how the system would actually work remains murky. States do not have the constitutional authority to print money, but Marshall believes a potential loophole exists that could allow states to coin silver and gold.
Utah's law recognizes coins minted by the federal government from precious metals, intended for use as investments or collectibles, to be used as legal tender anywhere in the state. One Utah company even advertises the coins for use in 401(k) retirement plans.
Although the law hasn't changed what's in most residents' wallets, the measure became the poster child for those calling for a return to the days when money derived its value from gold. Today, money is backed by the authority of the U.S. government.
Economist Bernard Lietaer, author of "Rethinking Money," pointed out that a host of informal currencies have proved widely popular in the United States. For example, he said, there are 50 trillion airline frequent-flier miles in circulation, far surpassing the number of dollar bills.
The benefit of a single currency "has been drilled into our heads for about 300 years," Lietaer said. "I'm still looking for a book of economics that drops this assumption."
And of course, there is the open question of what a Virginia coin would look like. A tongue-in-cheek prototype made the rounds two years ago at an annual dinner for lawmakers and journalists in Richmond, the state capital. It was a wooden nickel, stamped with Marshall's likeness and emblazoned with the motto "In Bob We Trust."