Of course, Professor Amberson has just traveled through time, although he doesn't realize it yet. "Not a man to take much note of his surroundings," he writes out a check on the counter and gets in line to see a teller. The scornful young man in the teller window looks intently at the check and then tells Amberson to go play his games elsewhere. It is only then that the good professor notices the strange way the man is dressed, in brightly-colored clothing that look like pajamas. When the teller refuses, Amberson makes enough of a scene that the guard walks over and confronts him, a guard who is dressed even more strangely.
"The man wore a salmon-pink uniform with enormously padded shoulders. He had a thumb hooked in his belt, his hand close to the plastic bowl of what seemed to be a child's bubble pipe."
There is an altercation which leads to the professor being shot with some kind of ray gun that prevents him from moving. Only then does the bank manager emerge from his office, a "fussy little bald-headed man" wearing "pastel blue pajamas with a gold medallion over the heart," who wants to know what all the commotion is about. Once he opens Amberson's change purse and sees a 1949 quarter, he has the professor brought back to his office. It's all now perfectly clear to the manager, but not to Amberson. This is not 1949 but "year eighty-three under Gradzinger calendar." The manager opens the windows to his office and reveals a strange cityscape, unrecognizable to Amberson, who now realizes he's not in Kansas any more.
But this is not really a problem, for the manager need only call the "Department of Temporal Technics" at Columbia University to send over a few technicians who will send the professor back. It is while they are awaiting the arrival of the time boys that Amberson takes the opportunity to ask about the economics of the future world. The currency is now small plastic pellets, although the monetary decimal system has been retained, and when Amberson makes the presumption that the currency is still backed by gold, he gets a dismissive answer.
"Greenbush gasped and then laughed. 'What ludicrous idea! Any fool with public-school education has learned enough about transmutation of elements to make five tons of gold in afternoon, or of platinum or zinc or any other metal or alloy of metal you desire.'"
The professor suggests other possibilities, such as units of energy, precious stones, even rare national resources, only to be laughed at by the manager. Perplexed, Amberson asks a question that must sound strange to anyone who was not an adult before 1970:
"But currency, to have value must be backed by something!"
It is backed by "something," something that is still rare in a future where there is an abundance of everything else that once had value, something that can not be duplicated with speed or mass-production, something that the manager just happens to have stored in his "refrigerated" bank vault: an "HUC."
To find out what that acronym stands for, you'll have to read the story.
It's hard today to recall that once our money was backed by precious metals, and that one could actually walk down to the Treasury Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC and exchange bills for silver or gold. Historically this was always the case, with a few periods of national crisis (World War II, the Great Depression) when that standard was relaxed. When MacDonald wrote "The Miniature," the United States has returned to the gold standard only three years before as a result of the Bretton Woods agreement that set a system of fixed exchange rates and pegged the value of gold at $35 per ounce. That system was followed until 1970, when Richard Nixon closed the gold window and began a system of fiat money, where the currency of the nation was backed by nothing more than "the full faith and credit" of the United States Government. The world followed suit (the dollar being the world's primary currency) and the gold standard has never been used since. Interestingly, a few days before I re-read "The Miniature," former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told the Council on Foreign Relations that "fiat money has no place to go but gold," and the continuing troubles of the world economy bring almost daily calls for a return to some sort of "sound money" policy.
It makes me wonder what MacDonald would have thought of our current economic mess. A Keynesian most of his life (recall the name of Meyer's boat at Bahia Mar), MacDonald had a change of heart after the economic troubles of the Nixon, Ford and Carter eras, and he told George Vassallo in his last-ever interview that he believed the world economy was doomed, "unless we dump Keynesian theory and embrace Schumpeter's vision of the reward to the innovator." He even blew up the John Maynard Keynes at the beginning of Cinnamon Skin!
"The Miniature" was included in MacDonald's 1978 science fiction anthology Other Times, Other Worlds -- which can be found on used book sites -- and it is currently available in eBook form (marred by several typographical errors) as an entry in Wonder Audio Books' Death Quotient and Other Stories.