The James Brown Bill
A Modest Proposal
On December 26, 2006, I was driving south on I-280, with my daughter in the back seat. We passed Colma, and the big flag there was at half-mast.
Over the noise of traffic, I called back to my daughter, “See that flag? It’s at half-mast; and that is in honor of someone who died recently. Now it happens that recently two well-known people died; Gerald Ford and James Brown. Gerald Ford was the President of the United States; an important politician; and James Brown was the Godfather of Soul; a great musician. Now the usual story is that the flag is at half-mast in honor of the President, and James Brown happened to die the previous day. But as far as I am concerned, it is the other way around. That flag is at half-mast in honor of the Godfather of Soul, and Gerald Ford happened to die the next day! That is my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
Hannah listened to this quietly. She’d heard this sort of thing from me before.
And it’s true; I’d rather live in a country where flags fly at half-mast for the Godfather of Soul. In keeping with this vision, accidentally realized on that day, I here propose a new system of honoring Americans on the coins and currency. I suggested that we honor more than dead Presidents, and expand the gallery to poets, inventors, scientists and other valuable citizens.
Here is an example of what I suggest:
On the 1 dollar bill and the 1 cent coin we honor Presidents:
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln
On the 2 dollar bill we honor Actors:
Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn
On the 5 dollar bill and the 5 cent coin we honor Athletes:
Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Jesse Owens
On the 10 dollar bill and the 10 cent coin we honor Poets:
Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost
On the 20 dollar bill and the 25 cent coin we honor Inventors:
Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Jonas Salk
On the 50 dollar bill we honor Writers:
Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway
On the 100 dollar bill and the 50 cent coin we honor Scientists:
Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman
On the 500 dollar bill we honor Philosophers:
William James, Ralph Emerson
On the 1000 dollar bill and the 100 cent coin we honor Musicians:
Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, James Brown
I put popular musicians over philosophers, and presidents at the bottom, because I think that’s an apt description of American values. There are up to three of each denomination. Get them all! Later of course we could expand the list.
Note that having a 1-dollar coin would be a cheap way for a poor person to have an Armstrong or a Presley or a Brown, for which you’d need 1000 dollars, in a bill.
Who would you recommend for third position for Scientists and Philosophers? And what changes to the other categories? The intended theme is iconic achieving Americans.