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Money without Kings

It appears that Kenya has some something surprisingly sane: it has decided to remove portraits of real people, especially politicians, from its currency.

At one time, policy in the United States was quite similar; anthropomorphic representations of abstract concepts (like “liberty”) were the only human images permitted on government produced money. Then, slowly, the inevitable happened, and politicians began to be deified by putting the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the rest on coins and bills.

I think the notion that senior politicians are not, in fact, kings and emperors, and ought not be the subject of secular worship, remembered with expensive public memorials, put onto money, have bridges and airports named after them, etc., is a rational one, and I hope that it someday becomes much more widespread.

38 comments to Money without Kings

  • lucklucky

    You just have to look at US aircraft carriers changing naming… from Lexington, Saratoga, Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown to presidents…and do not ends there.

    Like an Admiral said when was asked why submarines did not had anymore names of sea creatures: fish do not vote.

  • CaptDMO

    Lest we forget….
    Why IS it that (once very difficult to forge) portraits of George Washington , or Abe Lincoln, or (Ben Franklin?) US Grant, or Al Hamilton, or Andy Jackson, constantly reminding us of….history, and stuff?
    Not to worry, the BIG push is ON to eliminate cash, and coin, entirely!
    They’re…..too expensive! (Silver… in coins?)
    But why can’t I get a Grover Cleveland $1,000, or Bill McKinley $500, what with inflation and all?

  • Flubber

    I agree entirely, after blessed Maggie is put on the new £50 note…

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I think the notion that senior politicians are not, in fact, kings and emperors, and ought not be the subject of secular worship, remembered with expensive public memorials, put onto money, have bridges and airports named after them, etc., is a rational one, and I hope that it someday becomes much more widespread.

    I also hope that unicorns exist.

    Then, slowly, the inevitable happened, and politicians began to be deified

    Key word here is “inevitable”. I’m pleased to see such an insight here on Samizdata.

  • Deep Lurker

    CaptDMO:

    But why can’t I get a Grover Cleveland $1,000, or Bill McKinley $500, what with inflation and all?

    You’re not the only one asking.

    “In my opinion it is a mistake for the government not to issue the larger denominations ($500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000) that are authorized by law.” – Milton Friedman.

  • Mr Ed

    You just have to look at US aircraft carriers changing naming… from Lexington, Saratoga, Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown to presidents…and do not ends there.

    Of course, James Earl Carter has a nuclear submarine named after him, not an aircraft carrier, as he was one of the first nuclear submariners.

    There is in fact a recently declassified submarine named after Richard Nixon, but the media don’t like to mention it. I beleive it has the best microphones ever developed.

  • Eric

    Ah, don’t worry. The big push in the US now is to put people of questionable note on bills because they have the right genitals and skin color.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Rather than dismiss the idea of people’s images or names on objects, why not go the next step and just ask living people to sponsor the object.

    Given the massive ego of most billionaires I think the aircraft carrier USS Elon Musk would pretty much be completely paid for before it leaves dock.

  • Mr Ed

    I’ve just had a look at (WIUTB) the Constitution of Kenya (2010), which is the usual list of ‘rights’ of people rather than limits on what the government may do.

    46. Consumer rights
    (1) Consumers have the right—
    (a) to goods and services of reasonable quality;
    (b) to the information necessary for them to gain full benefit from goods and services;
    (c) to the protection of their health, safety, and economic interests; and
    (d) to compensation for loss or injury arising from defects in goods or services.
    (2) Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for consumer protection and for fair, honest and decent advertising.
    (3) This Article applies to goods and services offered by public entities or private persons.

    I could go on but it has 18 Chapters and 6 Schedules of the familiar crap. So this is just a happy accident.

    Anyway, putting people on dollar bills helps everyone sighted bar those with face blindness to recognise the value pretty easily. The blessed Euro has bridges or some form of architecture on it, and in the UK, just as per Capt DMO’s point, we get lunatic ninnies demanding ‘equality’ of representation in bank notes, insisting on everything being politicised, and these feckers are taken seriously.

    Perhaps one way forward would be to start with the $1 bill with Washington and as inflation eats into the value, you put on the next bill the President whose administration made that $1 bill equate to say, $2, $10 and so on, so that you can chart the depreciation of the dollar over time.

    Or just go back to silver and gold, as per the Constitution.

    And if Kenyans can’t go on currency notes, does that mean you will be spared….?

  • bobby b

    ” . . . why not go the next step and just ask living people to sponsor the object.”

    Now you’re getting close to David Foster Wallace’s Subsidized Time in Infinite Jest, where corporations pay the government to sponsor individual years, giving us the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar . . .

    If we’re going to allow the underclasses to sponsor government by selling them state-sanctioned lottery tickets with horrible odds, why not allow for this same sort of tax on the ultra-wealthy? You could pay your yearly property tax with a Soros-note or two, or maybe break a Gates-note to do it. Get enough ultra-rich egos involved and maybe we could halt the advancement of the cashless-society mavens who want to track our every transaction.

  • The USSR’s money sometimes had socialist-realism pictures: heroic soviet aviators extending the wondrous new world of communism; factories over-fulfilling their five-year plans; etc.. It sometimes had images of Marx and Lenin, but, for obvious reasons, avoided displaying actual living persons It would have been very tedious to recall all the notes of an issue every time one of them became an unperson.

    The UK banknote line-up I grew up with was Sir Isaac Newton, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Fry. That covered the Elizabethan to Victorian epochs and represented science, war, medicine, literature and social work. One could do worse.

  • Mr Ed

    For my money (buh-duh-dum), Portugal had the most attractive bank notes with the escudo notes. I still have somewhere a 20 escudo note that was in circulation as late as the early 1980s, with ‘Vinte Escudos Ouro” “20 escudos (of) gold” on it, and IIRC Saint Anthony’s visage. This was when 20 escudos was around 8 pence, the escudo was around 150 to £1 but then had a 30% overnight devaluation and fell down to 250 to £1, when the Spanish peseta was around 200:£1.

    One good thing about these debased currencies was that using them helped you learn to count way past 100 in the local language, particularly Italy with c. 2000L:£1.

    I’ve still got a couple of Commie Yugoslavia 50 and 100 dinar notes from the 1980s, just before hyper-inflation. They had little stick figures holding hands in fraternal friendship, a sick socialist joke as it turned out. I came back a couple of years later after IIRC some notes had been re-issued with a stamp denoting 4 zeros being removed in the ‘new’ dinar, and I recall a Kiwi chap on a train being baffled by getting in his change at the buffet a couple of new 5 dinars and a couple of old 50,000 dinars. I had a haircut and was quoted in writing ‘3,000,000.0’ dinar (around £5 then), I thought it was 30 million or £50, then the barber pointed out that he was still adding the ‘cent’ mark.

  • Alisa

    I fail to see a reason for complaint here: if we are going to have money issued by government fiat, we might as well be open about it and have government faces on it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Agree with the original post by Perry M: it will be good to get such pictures off our money. But the problem is that as long as we have fiat currencies backed ultimately by the power to tax on pain of going to prison, our money is intertwined with the State, and the people who lead said states. So really, getting away from this means moving to competitive currencies.

    As for whether there was anything inevitable about this, well, the practice of putting heads of state on currencies goes back to ancient times, and of course, as far back as Diocletian, governments have been keen to debauch currencies. Monopoly power will be abused eventually. It is, as Shlomo says (who is usually wrong about everything), inevitable.

  • Sam Duncan

    “So really, getting away from this means moving to competitive currencies.”

    Not necessarily (unfortunately).

    Bank of Scotland notes feature Sir Walter Scott. RBS notes (used to) feature Lord Ilay, the bank’s first Governor. The Clydesdale £50 has Adam Smith. Ulster Bank’s have a picture of Belfast Harbour. (And remember: these are on the front, not just the back like BoE notes.)

  • CaptDMO

    In the US.
    It seems that professional athletic team names are removing real people*, and playing in publicly financed arenas subject to Private corporate “Naming Rights” and logos.
    Big Chief Wah Hoo (ephemera vendors)hardest hit!
    Then of course, there’s the isue of Idlewild, and Washington National, Airports, and airports “named” after lessor, mere….. mayors.

  • Fraser Orr

    I like the idea of corporate sponsorship for Aircraft carriers and such…. Cruise missiles and death brought to you by…. “Do you have trouble sleeping at night…. consider our super comfortable pillow….”

    However, in a similar vein I was just so tired of all the hoopla here over the death of President Bush. Don’t get me wrong, it is always sad when father dies, but why is it such a massive public event? Of course the answer is “professional courtesy.” It is all part of the whole Diane Fienstien thing “Please call me senator, I worked hard to get that title”.

    I just struck me, and has always struck me, as odd that we spend all that this time and resource on a guy who’s claim to fame was that he had a bunch of high paying government jobs. Why not do it instead honor some guy who actually risked his life or even gave his life in defense of the country? Like I say, the answer is “professional courtesy.”

  • lucklucky

    “but why is it such a massive public event?

    Simple. To try to oppose his image to Trump image.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    The UK banknote line-up I grew up with was Sir Isaac Newton, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Fry. That covered the Elizabethan to Victorian epochs and represented science, war, medicine, literature and social work. One could do worse.

    I have no trouble with that, but of those, only the Duke of Wellington was anything close to being a politician.

    I think a salutary rule would be that the price of being elected to public office is that nothing will ever be named after you. You get to serve, but your memory will be preserved by history books or not at all. Perhaps a rule that you will receive no public funeral, no news coverage of your funeral, etc. might also encourage the correct mindset.

    Of course, no number of rules will actually fix the underlying problem, which is that no one who seeks office is fit to hold it.

    I was just so tired of all the hoopla here over the death of President Bush. Don’t get me wrong, it is always sad when father dies, but why is it such a massive public event? Of course the answer is “professional courtesy.”

    I note that whenever a prominent journalist dies, it is, mysteriously, covered as vital news of the day.

  • Penseivat

    Fraser, I read somewhere that an image of Audie Murphy, the highest decorated American soldier from WW 2, earning many of those decorations for heroism and bravery while still in his teens, was proposed for 10 dollar bills – apparently his weekly wage as a recruit. It is said that many of the politicians, who enjoyed a war of luxury and safety, replied “Who”?
    I would suggest that images of real people who deserve recognition on British currency is as likely as Junker doing the gangnam style dance in Speedos.

  • Fraser Orr

    I’d be happy if we just got rid of the ridiculous practice of continuing to call people by their titles after they left office. President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, Speaker Gingrich. It is like it is a title of nobility or something. It is all part of the ridiculous notion that politicians are public servants, somehow doing us a favor by doing what they do, rather than the reality: people seeking their own advantage climbing the greasy pole.

    Surely people who are stupid enough to believe that delusion shouldn’t be allowed to vote? (Much as Perry M. says, people who seek public office should be immediately disqualified from holding it.)

    @Penseivat
    Junker doing the gangnam style dance in Speedos.

    Honestly dude, you made me think that thought, and some thoughts just can’t be unthunk…

  • Mr Ed

    It has long puzzled me why (media) Americans use job titles not just like ‘Senator’, but ‘Ambassador’ even for retired hacks, the UK gets round this with imaginary titles for old hacks like ‘Lord’ or ‘Dame’ when granted. But surely the Mayor of New York tops it with ‘Hizzonor’, a title in England used by Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges.

    Perry M, Sir Isaac Newton was, in ‘public service’, the MP for Cambridge University, albeit rather low-key, and more notably Master of the Royal Mint for 30 years, and apparently fell foul of Gresham’s Law by fixing and capping the gold/silver exchange rate. He pursied counterfeiters of the coin, bit of a slight to put him on a bank note, and not a sovereign.

  • bobby b

    Personally, I would love to see Trump’s face on our currency.

    Then I could sit back and watch horrified lefties burning their own money.

  • Julie near Chicago

    😆

  • Ellen

    Fraser Orr
    December 12, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    I just struck me, and has always struck me, as odd that we spend all that this time and resource on a guy who’s claim to fame was that he had a bunch of high paying government jobs. Why not do it instead honor some guy who actually risked his life or even gave his life in defense of the country? Like I say, the answer is “professional courtesy.”

    Well, during WWII, George H W Bush was a naval aviator, and flew 58 combat missions in the Pacific region. He piloted one of the four Grumman TBM Avengers of VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima on September 2, 1944. His aircraft was hit by flak during the attack, but Bush successfully released bombs and scored several hits. With his engine ablaze, he flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member bailed out; the other man’s parachute did not open. Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft while several fighters circled protectively overhead, until he was rescued by the submarine USS Finback. This counts as risking his life in defense of the country.

    Since this fluffle started over portraits on money, who’s on our paper money? George Washington is on the one, Andrew Jackson on the twenty, Ulysses S. Grant on the fifty – all soldiers first, presidents later. Risking their lives, again.

    Thomas Jefferson is on the two dollar bill, Abraham Lincoln on the five, Alexander Hamilton on the ten, and Ben Franklin on the hundred. Jefferson was one of the chief authors of the Declaration of Independence, and Franklin one of the greatest men the New World has produced. Jefferson writing the Declaration was indeed “risking his life” for the country, and Franklin did enough traveling by sea on diplomatic missions to count as risking his life also. I’ll not argue for Hamilton, but Lincoln gave his life for his country.

    Most of these people qualify by “risk” as well as having had high-paying government jobs. So I’d rather you not slight them the way you did. (The coinage of the twentieth century goes in the same vein, and similar stories could be told of Eisenhower, Kennedy, et al.)

    As for people on money – I’m agnostic there. Great scientists, artists, humanitarians, and explorers would be perfectly good choices. Just, whatever you do, keep Franklin.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Very good, Ellen. :>)

  • Fraser Orr

    Ellen
    Well, during WWII, George H W Bush was a naval aviator

    How many pilots who did this and much more were honored with such a state funeral? I agree that his service in WWII was indeed honorable, but it is a fantasy to imagine that it was that rather than his high paying government jobs that were the reason for all the hoopla.

  • bobby b

    One of my favorite Willie Nelson songs is “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Nelson was a cowboy, so the lyric was no surprise.

    If politicians as a group had an anthem, it would likely be “My Heroes Have Always Been Politicians.”

    And we allow politicians – who control the purse strings to huge amounts of our money, and who exert huge influence over public opinion – to declare, each time that we lose some old politician, that we have lost a hero.

    Like Fraser Orr, the term “public servant” strikes me as the most self-serving of tripe. Show me a politician who entered that “public service” to the ultimate cost of his own money or power or influence. No, after a decade or so of that “service”, they all seem to retire to their new estates and live lives of rich gentlemanly dignity, even those who pursued lowly-paid “social organizer” careers prior to their “service.”

  • Rich Rostrom

    GHW Bush’s “high-paying government jobs” meant almost nothing to him financially. He was a very successful businessman before entering politics, becoming a multi-millionaire.

  • Paul Marks

    An interesting idea Perry M.

    Certainly worth thinking about.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, wrt to your comment above at December 13, 2018 at 3:17 am:

    Ellen’s first paragraph on December 13, 2018 at 1:44 am is a direct response to the final sentence of your comment left on December 12, 2018 at 5:39 pm:

    “Why not do it instead [to] honor some guy who actually risked his life or even gave his life in defense of the country?”

    This question implies that Mr. Bush did not risk his life in defense of his country. That, as Ellen notes, is factually incorrect.

    From https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/navy-aviator-george-h-w-bush-and-his-squadron-attacked :

    On this day [Sept. 2] in 1944, future President George Herbert Walker Bush is serving as a torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific theater of World War II when his squadron is attacked by Japanese anti-aircraft guns. Bush was forced to bail out of the plane over the ocean. According to the Navy’s records, Bush’s squadron was conducting a bombing mission on a Japanese installation on the island of Chi Chi Jima in the Pacific when they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. The engine on Bush’s plane was set ablaze, yet Bush managed to release his bombs and head back toward the aircraft carrier San Jacinto before bailing out over the water. Three other crew members perished in the attack. After floating on a raft for four hours, a submarine crew fished a safe but exhausted Bush out of the water. His bravery in action earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross. The previous June, Bush had experienced a similar close call with death when he was forced to make a crash landing on water after a bombing run; a U.S. destroyer crew rescued him from the sea. After his harrowing experience near Chi Chi Jima, Bush returned to the San Jacinto and continued to pilot torpedo bombers in several successful missions. Over the course of 1944, while his squadron suffered a 300 percent casualty rate among its pilots, an undaunted Bush won three Air Medals as well as a Presidential Unit Citation. In total, Bush flew 58 combat missions during the war. In December 1944, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was tasked with training new pilots. He received an honorable discharge from the Navy in September 1945 after the Japanese surrender.

    The Japanese troops stationed at Chichi Jima were known to eat their enemy captives. Bill Whittle points out that Mr. Bush must have been aware of this when he went out on that bombing run (see “YT.com”/watch?v=APqLHl0P4Uw).

    Or, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_H._W._Bush :

    [Lt. J.G. Bush] piloted one of the four Grumman TBM Avengers of VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichijima[10] on September 2, 1944. His crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney and Lt.(jg) William White.[4] His aircraft was hit by flak during the attack, but Bush successfully released bombs and scored several hits.[4] With his engine ablaze, he flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member bailed out;[11] the other man’s parachute did not open.[4] Bush waited for four hours in an inflated raft while several fighters circled protectively overhead, until he was rescued by the submarine USS Finback.[4] He remained in Finback for the next month and participated in the rescue of other aviators. Several of those shot down during the attack were executed, and their livers were eaten by their captors.[12]

  • Fraser Orr

    Again, not to beat a dead horse Julie, there is no doubt that Bush was brave during the war, and no doubt he was rich due to his hard work and his daddy’s connections. But none of that had any bearing on the hoopla that surrounded his passing. There were, evidently, many braver, and obviously many richer who were not honored in this way. It is his “service” to government that got him the hagiographies and apotheosis and the solemn Marine Corps guard, flags at half mast as if he were the late departed King of England.

    It is the idea that since America doesn’t have an actual royalty and an actual aristocracy, we will create one with fancy ass titles like Senator (for life) and state funerals for government functionaries. One need only look at the Kennedys and the whole “Camelot” mythology to see it writ large.

    And that, surely, was the whole point. Why do people get such adulation for being good at climbing the greasy pole?

    Of course part of the answer is to make us think that our Lords and betters are in fact on a higher plane than us, and that we certainly couldn’t get by without them. Partly a show to keep us plebeians in our place and partly a self adulation to make these putative american aristocrats feel they truly are aristocratic and better than their subjects.

    George Herbert Walker Bush may well have deserved a nice military funeral for his military service, or a fancy funeral with his family and friends reflective of his massive family and massive wealth, and the fact that, all in all, he seemed like a decent guy. But a state funeral is just a ridiculous nonsense.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I understand that that’s your main point, Fraser, and I’m not talking about that.

    I was only pointing out that your rhetorical question implied that the gentleman had not “risked his life … in defense of the country,” which isn’t correct, per the sources I gave.

  • Mr Ed

    Well the late President had done one thing to bring the political classes down to Earth along with us mere drones, vomiting on the Prime Minister of Japan, perhaps the thought of his cannibalised ship mates…

  • staghounds

    Ellen, don’t scout Alexander Hamilton- he volunteered early in the Revolution, and was shot at a lot doing various heroic deeds. A soldier before he became a politician as well.

  • Ellen

    Staghounds, Fraser:

    From Hamilton, I know very little. But it’s not just politicians who get the big funeral celebrations – look at Elvis. (And he was in the military too …)

    Lots of people deserve celebrations in their memory – far too many for us to celebrate them all. But the size and likelihood of a celebration rises when everybody knows who they are. These things are always going to be a crap-shoot. You’re expecting logic and justice out of humanity?

  • Fraser Orr

    Ellen
    You’re expecting logic and justice out of humanity?

    Oh definitely not. But my realism doesn’t mean I can’t comment on the stupidity of it all. And one important difference? I didn’t pay for Elvis’ funeral, so frankly what happened at his funeral is really none of my business.

  • Tedd

    Runcie:

    While I agree that your idea has a certain sardonic appeal, I’d rather have Musk’s (et al) money invested where it is. Having billionaires pay for things like ships would probably create even bigger and more damaging market distortions than paying for them by taxation does.

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