Recently, I spoke about Harriet Tubman and adding her likeness to the $20 dollar bill, and it ignited thoughtful controversy. Unfortunately, the premise of my position was misunderstood in those conversations.
Harriet Tubman, one of America’s truest and most revered freedom fighters, deserves a far more fitting tribute than to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency by placing her on the twenty dollar bill. The effort to rush this through under the current Obama administration is nothing short of national disgrace – an empty gesture designed to mask a much more fundamental problem: the burgeoning U.S. debt, and the declining significance of the U.S. Dollar.
But before going into all of the reasons why placing Tubman on the dollar is such an ill-advised tribute, let us reflect for a moment on the monumental significance of her legacy. Harriet Tubman was born a slave on a plantation in Maryland in 1822, and never left the plantation until she escaped, at the age of 27, in 1849, when she managed to travel undetected on foot to Philadelphia. To the slave owners of that time, her act constituted nothing less than the theft of property. Since many plantation owners were able to finance their operations by pledging slaves as collateral, her escape and her subsequent work in helping (an estimated) three hundred others gain their freedom in all likelihood significantly weakened the financial position of the unjust slave system by miring it in debt.
Harriet Tubman was above all a freedom fighter, and she was no wall flower; she understood the life and death stakes of not only achieving her own freedom, but returning more than 19 times to the South to rescue others. She was ready and willing to kill or die for the cause of freedom. The Underground Railroad she helped establish – a network of communication, safe houses, and transportation, became a significant lifeline for countless African Americans in their quest to achieve freedom from an unjust, cruel and oppressive system. For these reasons, she is rightly honored as one of America’s greatest heroes.
One of the most interesting things about Harriet Tubman is that she fought, not against some external enemy like the British, but against America’s internal enemies – who had erected a greedy and cruel system of theft and oppression in the form of slavery. Fast forward to today. Today Americans are also being enslaved by their own government. We are being enslaved by a burgeoning national debt, which has grown at an alarming rate over the past decade. At the current level, the national debt is almost $20 trillion, a cost of over $60,000 dollars for every citizen in this country. Moreover, the debt is accelerating. It has basically doubled over the past twenty years. Let that sink in for a moment.
Almost every child born in this country is born with a negative net worth. At today’s average income of roughly $50,000, it would take that child more than three years of slave labor to repay the debt they are born with. And that does not include the debt the country is likely to accrue in the interim, or the personal debt that child is likely to incur trying to borrow their way through college to get a job that even pays the average wage.
Harriet Tubman would likely be turning over in her grave if she knew she would be the new face of American debt slavery. She would revile the cheap trick being pulled on African Americans in getting them to support this nearly bankrupt symbol of American debt. It is amazing how, just as the currency dwindles down to near worthlessness – all of a sudden the Government wants to invoke Harriet Tubman as a symbol on the twenty dollar bill.
Constant deficit spending has reduced the value of the dollar by almost fifty percent over the last twenty years, and promises to go even lower over the next decade. In fact, by reducing the average interest rates paid on the U.S. dollar, the Federal Reserve has in essence engaged in the most massive coin-shaving operation in world history. In most major American cities, an average family needs more than twice the average wage to live reasonably. This is nothing short of slavery by a new name, decreased purchasing power.
The cynical pandering to race, and the exploitation of a real American hero in order to mask the highway robbery being enacted by the Fed and the U.S. Government is nothing short of a disgrace. It is one thing if they want to rob the American people blind, but quite another to do it in the name of a true freedom fighter.
It would even be somewhat conscionable, although still not ideal, if the American people were getting something in return for the massive debt they are incurring. But sadly, this is not the case. A large part of the debt is being incurred merely to cover the interest on past debt. Another chunk is going to pay large insurance companies to continue to fleece the American public in the form of a hidden tax called Obamacare. But even more deplorably, Americans are working harder every day to earn dollars that are worth proportionally less each year. Even Americans who want to save for a rainy day are being disadvantaged – they cannot put their money in a safe place and know that it will keep up with inflation or even earn them a return on their investment. This, in turn, has drastically lowered the compensation that investors are getting for taking risks in the marketplace.
Before selling out the sacred legacy of a revered American freedom fighter, we should stop and consider whether what we are getting in return is really worth it. Some things are just not for sale. And that includes the hard-won legacy of one of America’s greatest heroes. Let us not disgrace Harriet Tubman by symbolically linking her with a nearly bankrupt instrument of slavery and debt.