I will never forget my first economics class at the university. My professor, a member of Ford’s board of directors and an economic advisor, asked a student for a dollar bill. The professor then held up the bill and requested a straightforward question,
“What is this one-dollar bill worth?”
A discussion ensued between class members. We were then split up into groups to discuss the topic further and graded on our answers. In the end, we all failed; we had missed the mark. He said the actual value lies not in economic theory but in our belief in the dollar—not how much a dollar will buy. We believe the dollar is worth a dollar because we believe the dollar has the government’s full faith and confidence and that the government has the people’s full faith and confidence. This delicate relationship is critical for the American constitutional republic to exist, a belief and confidence in the system. At all costs, this belief system must be protected.
Then, a student interjected, “What happens if we quit believing in the government because of their bad acts, for example? Nixon, as a case in point.”
“Good question,” the professor replied and then asked the student for a five-dollar bill. The professor took the bill and walked back to his podium to begin lecturing. The student looked positively stunned; five dollars was the price of a movie and combo refreshments pack in 1980.
After a bit, the student got brave enough and raised his hand.
“Yes?” the professor said.
“May I have my five dollars back?”
“No,” the professor replied, “You said that you did not believe in the government; therefore, you place no value on this bill. I, on the other hand, believe in the institution of the government, regardless of whoever holds the office, and therefore believe the bill is worth five dollars.” That was the end of the discussion. A lesson I remember from forty years ago.
How appropriate for our current situation. Is it possible for the American people to lose faith in the institution, as our predecessors did after the banking and stock market crashes of 1929?
How can we maintain confidence? We can push for our government to protect its vulnerable citizens. We can work together with private organizations to help those in need. After all, we, the citizens of America, can have confidence in each other and move forward together through these difficult times.