Jeff Schneider has a good post up about how our country, for all its talk of liberty, devotes too much attention and reverence to men of power. He’s specifically talking about memorials and coins, which are almost universally devoted to politicians with a few generals thrown in. Don Boudreaux riffed off this to come up with a list of people he would put on our coins and currency in place of the current list of politicians, politicians and more politicians.
Our current arrangement has the following men on our currency. For coins: Lincoln (penny), Jefferson (nickel), FDR (dime), Washington (quarter), Kennedy (half-dollar), various (dollar). Only Sacagawea wasn’t a politician but she’s been replaced by a list of all of our Presidents. For bills, we have: Washington ($1), Jefferson ($2), Lincoln ($5), Hamilton ($10), Jackson ($20), Grant ($50) and Franklin ($100). McKinley, Cleveland, Madison, Chase and Wilson are on higher denominations that are no longer in circulation.
Looking at that list, I can see a lot of room for improvement. As admirable as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are, do they need to be on both a coin and a bill? There’s no reason Kennedy should be on a coin, other than Baby Boomer idol worship. Batshit crazy Indian-murdering Andrew Jackson doesn’t belong on a coin. Nor does Grant, really.
So here’s how I’d remake things:
The penny: I’d get rid of pennies.
Nickels: I’d actually get rid of nickels too, but we’ll have a big enough fight getting rid of pennies. If you must have a nickel, go with someone like Earnest Hemingway or some other artist or writer. Hemingway with a shotgun and a bottle of whiskey would make an awesome nickel.
Dime: Jonas Salk.
Quarter: The Wright Brothers.
Half Dollar: MLK
Dollar coin: I like the idea of varying this to reflect various important people from history (non-politician division). One year, you could have Elvis. One year, you could have Carnegie. If you wanted, you could put Steve Jobs on the dollar for a year. Or Bill Gates. Or both. I’d much rather have Bill Gates on my currency than a damned Kennedy. However, that could make coin-collecting expensive, so maybe that’s better done with the quarter.
$1 bill – I’d get rid of the $1 bill
$2 bill – Let’s stick with Jefferson but let’s also recognize him for the things he considered the most important — the Declaration of Independence, the Statue of Religious Freedom and the creation of the University of Virginia.
$5 bill – We can stick with Lincoln
$10 bill – George Washington can go here. Washington is one of the few Presidents truly worthy of honoring. He could have stayed in office until he died. He could have massively expanded the power of the Presidency. But he didn’t. And that choice was critical to the survival of our Republic.
$20 bill – I’d put Norman Borlaug here. I think an American who saved over a billion lives deserves some recognition, don’t you?
$50 bill – Albert Einstein. He was born in Germany, but we’ll claim him.
$100 bill – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Because, in the end, the greatest achievement of Western Civilization, so far, was putting a man on the moon.
Anyway, put your ideas in the comments.