An airport in Washington. A highway in Illinois. A 7-foot-tall statue in the Capitol Rotunda. And, of course, a library in California. When it comes to our 40th president, the landscape of everyday life has no shortage of reminders. Nevertheless, a North Carolina congressman wants to add Ronald Reagan’s cachet to America’s cash.
It’s hard to find fault with someone whose heart is in the right place, so we’re reluctant to criticize U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry for his legislative proposal to replace Ulysses S. Grant with Reagan on the $50 bill. The Republican counts Reagan among his heroes, just like many other Americans. This admiration also manifested itself in 2004, when GOP legislators entertained ideas to add Reagan’s likeness to the $10 bill, the $20 bill or the 50-cent piece. (Some folks even want to see his face carved into Mount Rushmore.)
Why the enthusiasm for putting Reagan in the same rarefied air as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln? Part of the mystique involves his role in the end of the Cold War, his common-sense eloquence and his optimism at a time when the country sorely needed it. At the same time, Reagan supplied inspiration for conservative and libertarian thinkers long before he hit the national stage. They celebrated the fact that many of their causes had such an appealing and devoted advocate. They still celebrate it today, six years after Ronald Reagan’s passing.
Perhaps foremost among those causes is the idea of limited government, particularly one that spends less and therefore taxes less. It’s here where the story takes an interesting turn.
Redesigning money involves a long, complicated process, and legislative approval represents only one step on the journey. Altering a bill, for reasons of security or aesthetics, requires input and effort from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Secret Service. Research and development, labor — it adds up. According to a spokesperson for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the colorization of the $20 note as an anti-counterfeiting measure increased its production cost by about 18 percent.
It’s impossible to know what Ronald Reagan would’ve made of all this. We do know, however, that he favored smaller government and less bureaucracy. We also know that he once said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
So it seems reasonable to ask whether the idea of putting Ronald Reagan’s face on money, as well-intentioned as it might be, has the potential to devalue his currency.