Liberty Bill 2
David A. Wheeler
Original Version April 29, 2002
Revised as of March 2, 2005

U.S. banknotes should include a short text summary succinctly expressing the founding values of the U.S., based on documents such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. It should not simply be a table of contents, as the "Liberty Bill" proposes.

The Liberty Bill proposes putting an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution on the back of the U.S. dollar bill; it's been proposed to Congress as H.R.1021 and S. 1225.

At first, this sounds like an interesting idea, but the "demo" results on the Liberty Bill web page suggests that the result would mostly be a table of contents on the back of the dollar bill. Frankly, I don't see what a table of contents does for anyone; it's certain to do nothing interesting for those who aren't U.S. citizens. But I think there is a germ of a fantastic idea here.

U.S. banknotes, such as the U.S. dollar bill, are one of the few pieces of paper that go out to other countries, even repressive countries who oppose democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. And unlike most pieces of paper from the U.S. government, ordinary people around the world look at and value these pieces of paper. Why not use some space on them to present a much clearer message of the U.S. from the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other founding documents? I think this would be a very useful way to slip past terrorist propaganda and repressive dictatorships to at least present the U.S. side of the story. Too many people around the world are misled into thinking the U.S. is just about money; the U.S. should present the reason it has become wealthy instead.

The U.S. is currently trying to fight a war on terror and encourage repressive regimes to democratize. We spend money a lot of money to do so. Yet we're not using our money as effectively as we should, because our money is (in itself) prime real estate for information about what the U.S. stands for. People don't usually pay for pamphlets on ideas... but they will if they're part of U.S. currency.

It appears to me that the U.S. Treasury could simply decide to do this; I don't see any law forbidding them to do it. But if Congress must first pass a law to do this, they should ask the U.S. treasury to place an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution on the back of the U.S. dollar "to succinctly express the founding values of the United States." The U.S. treasury would then need to form a group to determine the exact text (alternatively, the Congress could write the text into law).

The text should be based on founding U.S. documents, something that say 90% of U.S. citizens would agree to, and one that might inspire many overseas. I'm not the final arbiter of that text, but here's an example of what I'm talking about:

We believe all people are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that governments derive their just powers by the consent of the governed. We believe in the rule of law and that no one is above the law. We believe in freedom of religion and its expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. We believe in due process of law with trial by jury, in just compensation if property is taken for public use, and that slavery is wrong.

Too many mistakenly believe that the U.S. is just about money. Let's make our money give the real message.

If you're interested, you can also see my home page.