Steve Chapman

Grant, having been on the $50 bill for nearly a century, would make way for Reagan, the most successful president of the last 50 years (Bill Clinton, his only real competition, isn't eligible because he's alive).

Hamilton might yield to Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson could be replaced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Theodore Roosevelt.

Am I leaving out any deserving souls? We can go beyond political people. Maybe a scientist -- such as Jonas Salk, creator of the polio vaccine -- or a novelist. F. Scott Fitzgerald, tribune of the rich, would be perfect on the $100 bill.

Or how about a musician? Say, Ella Fitzgerald, who sang "Love for Sale." Since we're talking about money, I'd include Milton Friedman, the peerless economist who worked so hard, though without complete success, to preserve its value.

Once we open up to new faces, we may find there are more we should accommodate. Fine: We can rotate in the runners-up after 10 years, and again 10 years after that.

The idea will take some getting used to. Jay Beeton and Rod Gillis of the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs tell me that Americans generally distrust any monetary change. That's why the $1 coin has never caught on.

It's easy to see how many Americans who tend to be suspicious of government would fear being shortchanged by any alteration of their money. For them, I have reassuring news: Our experience proves that our leaders do not need to redesign the currency to debase it.

It may be too much to hope that our leaders will uphold the purchasing power of our dollars. But if we are going to have to watch as the currency declines in value, at least the government could make it more interesting to look at.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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