The new Sacajewea dollar coin is an offense, starting with its color. It
is supposed to summon the memory of the gold standard, when the dollar was
something besides a piece of paper. Money was then just another name for a
real commodity that facilitated exchange and held its value independent of
government’s blessing. Liberty thrived because the government wasn’t the
owner and controller of the means of economic exchange.
When free-market economists say that freedom and gold go together, they
mean the metal as a market-chosen money, not just a round slug made with a
cheap dye. There’s an element of deception here, as if the U.S. Mint wants
to invoke the symbol of sound money without its substance. The Mint calls
this new coin the “Golden Dollar,” when it is no more real gold than a
child’s gold-foil covered candy.
So what is this new coin made of? The U.S. Mint brags in high-flown
detail: “The alloy layers on each side of the core are manganese brass, a
golden-colored material composed of 77 percent copper, 12 percent zinc, 7
percent manganese, and 4 percent nickel. Taking account of the copper core,
the overall composition of the new Golden Dollar is 88.5 percent copper, 6.0
percent zinc, 3.5 percent manganese, and 2.0 percent nickel.”
In short, it’s a bunch of scrap metal, worth one dollar, not because of
what it is but because of what it once was. And what a difference time
makes. In the old days, the dollar was merely another name for a weight of
silver or gold. In the 19th century, it was about 1/20th of an ounce of
gold. The dollar took a beating with World War I, the Depression, and the
New Deal, and by 1934, the dollar was redefined as about 1/35th of an ounce.
Finally, Nixon threw out the gold link altogether, unleashing hyperinflation
by the late 1970s.
This process of debasement — accomplished not through coin clipping but
through executive fiat with central bank cooperation — is nothing but
theft, spread out over decades and done in a way that bypasses the
legislative process (in a way that taxation cannot). In the ensuing years,
the U.S. government has tried a series of tricks to instill respect in its
money, first with its silly “Bicentennial Quarter,” then with its “Susan B.
Anthony Dollar” (which fell flat), and now with its supposedly collectable
quarters with state emblems on them (an appropriate symbol of what states
have been reduced to: nice pictures on the government’s slugs).
The big concern at the U.S. Mint is that the Sacajewea dollar will flop
just like its Anthony predecessor. To ensure against that, the Mint went to
great lengths to make its design appeal to all the right interest groups.
Hence, Sacajewea, the Shoshone Indian who accompanied Lewis and Clark, was
chosen for the portrait for political reasons: She appeals to the new
sensibility of recovering lost heroines who have been buried by the great
white male conspiracy. The image on the coin was sculpted by a woman too. In
another time, you might have thought that a coin honoring the Lewis and
Clark expedition would have, say, Lewis or Clark on it. But when you are
truly inclusive and diverse you have to be exclusive (no white males) and
homogenized (only current race and sex fashions, please). It’s a form of
historical debasement that implies that Lewis and Clark were mere parasites
on the glorious work of their Indian guide (and please don’t mention that
her French husband, also on the expedition, rescued her from slavery and
translated for her.).
In the future of Marxist historiography, the story of everything will
have to be told in terms that identifies real progress with the workers and
peasants and never with the decision makers at the top. Only in this way can
we be sure that no student will learn anything about anything. And it’s all
to the good, imply our governing social therapists in Washington, that
another dead white male (George Washington on the dollar bill) is being
displaced by a woman of color.
But all this smarmy coinage politics actually works to discredit a great
American tradition of featuring Indians on coins. The gold dollar struck in
1854 featured an Indian princess. It was followed by the Indian penny in
1859, minted just before the conquering Union armies began their cruel
massacres of the Indians.
Then there were the early 20th-century $10, $5, and $2.50 gold coins with
magnificent Indian chiefs on them. The most famous coin with an Indian theme
is the buffalo nickel, still a highly valued item. The implicit political
message of these coins was to herald the storied independence and romance of
Indians, a summing up of the best of American history and culture. The
gold-colored dollar of today, however, is struck in a different spirit, a
mere token of tokenism.
The best one can say about the coin is: thank goodness it doesn’t have a
politician on it. In the case of FDR, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, they were
canonized by the U.S. Mint soon after death — as if to say that their
legacy is beyond question. At the same, since the coin has no value apart
from being “legal tender,” the government can’t do anything that would cause
people not to carry it around. The Richard Nixon dollar, or the George Bush
dollar, just wouldn’t cut it.
The new Golden Dollar coin serves as a bitter reminder of what the
government has done to our money. If you have any doubt about its merit,
imagine how the chiefs of the Shoshone Indians would have reacted to pale
faces trying to fob off scrap metal as real gold.