Who’s on our money?

Jackie Robinson: Does he belong on our money?If you don’t have some kind of greenback in your pocket, you’re probably terribly poor or sickeningly rich, which means for the rest of us, paper currency is everyday stuff. I’m looking to write a column soon that floats the idea that maybe it’s time to update the faces on our money. Does anyone really care about Andrew Jackson anyway? Really? I’ve got some ideas about who might be better and I’m looking for others. I’m thinking about artists, activists, writers, anyone who inspires modern-day Americans.

The idea came to me at the memorial for the late Tony Hill on Aug. 17. Tony was a beloved central figure in the Santa Cruz activist community and possibly the most prominent African-American in Santa Cruz at the time of his death. Several times during the memorial, Tony’s admiration for the great Jackie Robinson was brought up and it struck me that those who real people hold up as heroes in their everyday life don’t get the sanction of the government, for whatever reason. Not that Jackie Robinson is an obscure figure, but isn’t he more of a figure of inspiration than Alexander Hamilton?

The floor is now open for nominations.


13 thoughts on “Who’s on our money?

  1. No names offered, but you should know that there are some nations (I believe Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are among them) that DO (rather, did, before the Euro) have their great cultural names on the currency. For example, Sigmund Freud (also known as “Sigmund Fraud”) was on some cash; his legacy is controversial, but there is no doubt that he was influential.

    “Activists” is a term I detest. No activists, please.

    I’d be happy with Jackie Robinson, for sure.

  2. Given the way the dollar has been tanking, I am thinking that Walt Disney would be apppriate. I would have suggested Mickey Mouse, but I believe his visage already appears on the privately issued “Disney Dollars,” which, I believe, have held their value better in recent years than the embattled old greenback.

    The only problem I have with putting more contemporary faces on the currency, is that this will make it easier than ever for people today and tomorrow to forget the great ideas, efforts, and sacrifices of the people who had the right stuff (and a lot of good luck) to give us the United States of America. You say, “who cares about Andrew Jackson?” It’s fair question, but an even better one is, “would wondering who Jackie Robinson was and rediscovering his life story inspire future Americans to defend their country and make it better?” Sometimes, people are motivated find out more about the people whose faces are on the money. It’s not such an honor for the dead as a reminder for the living, in my opinion.

  3. The problem with US money is that the nation is so fractured. Quick, who are the two females who appear on dollar coins, and what the heck did each of them do? In one case, might that not be offensive to native Americans?

    I can’t think of any reason why anyone even remotely near the mainstream would object to Jackie Robinson, even in preference to a name such as Babe Ruth. But (going back to the topic of “activists”) no doubt there would be pressure for Cesar Chavez, even though Samuel Gompers would be a better choice in that category.

    Visualize the Michael Jackson dollar.

  4. Ah, now you’ve got me going… sorry about that.

    Readers, did you know that in many cases it is possible to privately issue “money” in any design that cannot be mistaken for official currency? Really, that’s what gift certificates are.

    But unlike a gift certificate, which stipulates that it can only be used at store X, private “money” can be used wherever it is honored. The catch is that nobody is required to honor it, unlike real money. Gosh, if you have a $10 gift certificate for Store X, you (often) can offer it to me as payment for whatever amount I agree upon, if any.

    I am free to print bills with my own name and picture on them, with a stated value that does not imply official sanction. The bills would be valuable if others voluntarily agreed to take them in payment. They probably wouldn’t, unless there were yet others to whom the private bills could be transfered in payment. For sure, you couldn’t deposit them in the bank as money.

    Look, suppose that Bill Clinton walked into a local coffee shop, ordered a cappuchino, then discovered that he had no cash handy. He says to you, the barista, “Tell you what, I’ll hand-draw a picture of a $3 bill with me in the center, and sign it. Will you take it in payment?” I’ll bet you would! That’s because you know that if you ever need $3, you can find someone else who’ll take it.

    Let’s take this to the next logical step: Customized real money. Imagine that the US mint provides money templates. Anyone who cares to put up the money (by bank transfer) can have any random name and picture on bills, with the mint providing the authentication printing. So, for example, let’s say Bill Gates puts up $1,200,000 and provides the artwork for “Bill’s bills,” and in return gets $1,000,000 of real, offical US money with his name and picture (the rest of the dough is the service charge). “Bill’s bills” would be official US tender, just like anything else. It would have to be accepted as cash, whether or not the recipient liked who was on the bill.

    The next step would be to have cash machines recognize only the mint template, rather than the customized name and picture.

    Well, it’s possible! But I rather think that postage stamps are a better idea.

  5. The customized money idea is pretty cool. As far as issuing private money, perhaps the largest amount in circulation from one source comes from LibertyDollar: http://www.libertydollar.org/

    They create gold, silver (and recently copper) medallions of various sizes and valuations, and also issue 100% redeemable “warehouse receipts” for same (their form of “paper money”). Several million Liberty Dollars are in circulation, and there are various parts of the country where you can offer LDs or regular greenbacks and make your purchases either way. No famous figures are depicted on this money: only Lady Liberty. (They did just do a special run of “Ron Paul” dollars in honor of the Presidential candidate’s interest in returning the country to the money standard that is defined in our constitution, but this is an election-season promotion only.)

    On the other hand, as you might expect, the US Mint is talking trash about the LD. Even though the private money in no way pretends to be legal tender, the mint has spread rumors that its use in commerce “has been determined by the justice department” to be against the law. That is to say, there may or may not be prosecutors in Alberto Gonzalez’ justice deprtment who think they might be able to make a case. No charges have ever been filed (the LD has been available for around ten years), no case has ever been tried, and no verdicts have ever confirmed that rumor. The LD people are suing the government to either show that there is an illegality or quit talking trash.

    The irony is that the LDs are actually pure valuable metal, with face value somewhat higher than the metal value to keep people from hoarding the coins or melting them down, and to cover costs of promotion and distribution that are paid by taxes in the case of government legal tender. The government’s money is not intrinsically valuable; it is “worth something,” and we have to accept it in payment of debt, just because a law says so. But government money inflates, while the LD’s value has actually appreciated over the years.

    People have the right to offer and accept in trade pretty much anything they want (other than contraband substances or services, I suppose). If the government can squash the LD, without ever even getting a court decision against it, then what hope might there be for other private-issue currency, much less the “custom” sort that RobtA proposes?

  6. On a roll, now…

    Imagine customized dollar bills with the president of NOW and the slogan, “Womens’ right to choose!” Now, imagine them being deposited in the collection place at the church. Would they use the money, or throw it out?

    How about pictures of meat, to be used as payment at the vegetarian restaurants? Would they dare give any back in change to other customers?

    The possibilities for offense are endless. Soon, our national fragmentation and divisiveness will spill over to the country’s very foundation: money. Anarchy, here we come! It’s already heading that way with license plates, in some states. For example, “choose life” is controversial in Florida.

    Keep in mind that the Comic News (rather, one of its honchos) came up with Nixon-in-jail envelopes when the Nixon stamp was issued. It’s the same concept. I have often suggested that the Post Office issue “hate mail” stamps that would cost a bit more than standard stamps (as a means of getting revenue). They’d be a big hit on, say, tax returns.

    Back to Jackie Robinson… There’s also the opposite way to go. Instead of honoring people (who may be controversial, or who may provoke demands from others who have favorites), why not honor things? That’s the way it was with Canadian bills, a few dedades ago, as I recall. Sure, the Queen was on all the bills, but otherwise the pictures were of Canadian natural resources or generic industries.

    If there is a problem with the Liberty Dollar, it may be because it could be mistaken for official money. Not everyone knows the obvious.

    Find someone who just arrived by plane from Europe, but has a pocketful of American change. Ask if they have a ten cent piece. They may not be able to pick it out, because the coin says “dime” not 10 cents. Back when coin phones cost a dime, tourists would often have that problem: The instructions said “deposit 10 cents.” But all they had was dimes.

  7. RobtA said, “If there is a problem with the Liberty Dollar, it may be because it could be mistaken for official money. Not everyone knows the obvious.”

    Well, and consider that the Mint is making it harder to distinguish US money from other money, by greatly expanding the number of designs in circulation for nickels, quarters, and dollar coins, not to mention the several versions of paper currency we have seen in recent years. I think the primary reason why anyone would confuse the LD with US money is because it does say USA (basically denoting country of origin, not official connection with the government), and because it looks so professionally well-done. But if that’s true, then the US Mint is punishing a private firm for TRUTH IN LABELING and EXCELLENT WORKMANSHIP. Ironies abound.

  8. According to Wikipedia, Jackie Robinson campaigned for various politicians including… Richard Nixon. That’s not a critique; Nixon had his good points, too.

    But here’s another suggestion: Instead of putting our best on the dollars, why not put our worst on the pennies? Yes, hate money! For example, Robinson apparently had a large number of “beanballs” come his way by arrogant, racist players. Put them on the penny! Then, whenever someone drops one in the gutter, nobody will pick it up; others will put them where they will be squashed; machines won’t take them; and so forth.

    Now, someone like Nixon would not be a candidate for the penny. he was a tragic person with flaws, not a common jerk.

  9. Wallace, bear with me while I appear to change the topic. I’ll come back to it.

    Today (Labor Day) there’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the history of labor unions, in relation to affirmative action.

    I note it because, in an earlier reply to this thread, I mentioned Samuel Gompers. He appears (disreputably) in the article. Also note that the capital-P Progressives are dished some disrespect.

    Of special interest is the reference to “dagos” (Italians) by socialist Eugene Debs. I’m sure that was representative of a large body of thought. Note that the “dagos” are white, but were considered less so than Anglos; this is not mentioned in the article. What is peculiar is that out east especially, the “dagos” were excluded from certain kinds of jobs, but did not get the benefit of compensatory action in the civil rights era, with only one exception to my knowledge. (I know these things, being half-“dago” myself.)

    Also note that the article focuses on race, but makes little mention that except for blacks, the disrespected groups were immigrants (Chinese, Italians). Understand that the WSJ is firmly pro-business, pro-open-borders, and approves of immigrants decreasing labor power. So it might not be inclined to stress the immigration factor, relying instead on race.

    I promised that I would get back to the blog topic. Having mentioned that Samuel Gompers might be more important that Cesar Chavez on money, you can now see why that might be a very bad choice. On the other hand, over in Watsonville the name of Chavez wasn’t applied to a school, despite its likelihood for the clientele. Yet Foothill College (in Los Altos Hills) has a Cesar Chavez plaza, and Cabrillo College has a Martin Luther King plaza, despite the relative irrelevance of those people to the school’s dominant clientele.

    Something tells me that Jackie Robinson is about as close to being non-controversial as one can get.

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