business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

US Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced yesterday that after months of debater, discussion and public comment, a decision has been made to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist. This reversed the previous intention to put a woman on the face of the $10 bill, which would have replaced the portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury in the George Washington administration.

At the same time, Lew said, the $5 and $10 bills will be redesigned so that the backs of the bills will feature prominent American women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Marian Anderson.

The New York Times writes that "the final redesigns will be unveiled in 2020, the centennial of the 19th Amendment establishing women’s suffrage, and will not go into wide circulation until later in the decade, starting with the new $10 note. The unexpectedly ambitious proposals reflect Mr. Lew’s tortuous attempt to expedite the process and win over critics who have lodged conflicting demands."

Much of the public criticism of the original plan focused on Jackson, who had a record, the Times notes, of "forcibly relocating Native Americans, supporting slavery and — despite his prominence on currency — opposing a national banking system and paper money."

In addition, the enormous popularity of "Hamilton," a Broadway rap musical about one of the Founding Fathers, created a groundswell not to replace his portrait on the $10. (To be fair, NPR's Cokie Roberts yesterday wrote a column suggesting that Hamilton has his own problems - he was a philanderer and not even a very good money manager in his personal life.)

I understand that this is all going to take as long as it will because redesigning and replacing money is a complicated effort, but I think that the Times gets it absolutely right when it describes this decision "may well have captured a historical moment for a multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial nation moving contentiously through the early years of a new century." Some will deride it as "political correctness," but I'm okay with that ... it is absolutely correct that women who have helped to shape this nation ought to be depicted on our currency. In fact, it is way overdue.

(The Times story points out that it is at least possible that whoever replaces Barack Obama in the presidency next year will decide to veto these changes, but I cannot imagine that any politician would be so tone-deaf as to reverse a decision replacing female abolitionists and suffragists on our currency. Okay, I actually can imagine it. But it is unlikely.)

I haven't seen "Hamilton," nor am I likely to anytime soon, considering it is sold out until sometime in 2030. (I'm only mildly exaggerating. But it probably is going to get worse, since "Hamilton" yesterday won the Pulitzer Prize.) But I'm absolutely tickled by the idea that a Broadway show has helped to influence one small corner of public policy. Sometimes culture reflects the real world, but sometimes it affects the real world ... and I'm one of those people who thinks that we as a nation don't spend nearly enough on the arts and culture. That may not change anytime soon considering the current political climate, because politics affects how we spend money. But at least culture is having some impact on the money we spend.

It all is great. It all is an Eye-Opener.
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