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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blindness and the Pecuniary Obligations of Charity

CNN doesn't seem to have it on their website, nor does Drudge, but I heard a rumor today from an ordinarily credible source that a 9th Circuit District judge ruled today that U.S. money is unconstitutional. No, it hasn't a thing to do with God -- Robert what's his name sat this one out.

It was because it's all the same size.

Apparently, a blind man brought a Federal suit (14th Amendment, I suppose . . . talk about the king of all unintended consequences) claiming that the absence of holes, raised type, or size differences in American paper currency constitutes a violation of his right to . . . well, do something (I would imagine the issue was framed as one of deprivations of rights without due process -- because there's a right to be able to identify things by touch. I guess.)

There's two sides to this -- on the one hand there's the risibly specious legal argument, that the Mint has to make money that every person can use and identify regardless of disability (what about people without arms or hands? They can't very well use the bills either -- should we have walking or self-spending money?). On a purely practical level, this is not an insurmountable problem -- hasn't someone told this guy about The Sand Lot? If you recall, James Earl Jones's blind character in the movie talks about how he folds bills different ways to keep them straight.

On another side, however, is there any sort of non-legal obligation on the part of the government to produce blind-friendly money? I look at this question in a number of ways. On the one hand, we have coins. Granted, the dollar coins continue to be a huge flop (although they're going to do a thing similar to the state quarters with every president -- even Benjamin Harrison), but they exist and can be gotten ahold of. They can quite obviously be distinguished by touch. On the other hand, I look less at the government's responsibility to provide friendly money and more to the responsibility of honesty and charity that individuals in society bear. if I'm a bank teller or a cashier, I have a serious responsibility not to cheat blind people. The degree to which that responsibility binds me is far greater than any similar responsibility the government may possess to make non-ocularly identifiable money.

I mean, to a degree I feel bad for this guy; society is capable of making it so that people can cope with blindness. But in some ways, I feel worse for the judge in this case: nobody should have to live with being that stupid.

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Blogger Dennis said...

NPR had a thorough piece on this story today on All Things Considered. It fills out some of your questions. You might still disagree with the court after you hear it, but it's a good story.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most countries in the world don't have this problem because... well... most countries in the world have bills of different sizes.

If we can drastically change the appearance of our bills... which we have... then I don't see what the problem is in terms of size. Moreover, the rest of the world apparently can pull this off without the roof coming down on them.

This issue sort of reminds me of the whole metric system thing. 12 inches to 1 foot? Why? Because we're American, that's why.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I really like the non-metric measurements. Let the Europeans have their godless units of measurement (which is really an accurate assessment -- the metric system was created by the revolutionary French as part of the expunging of Catholicism). I also dislike (and I should have put this in the post), colored money, especially when it changes all the time. They say they're trying to keep ahead of counterfitters, but all they're really doing is making it completely impossible to know what the money is SUPPOSED to look like actually. It seems like a lack of complete standardization makes counterfitting easier . . .

And it's not a matter of the world ending, it's a matter of insisting that the Constitution says things it doesn't say (think, for an ecclesiastical reference, "spirit of Vatican II").

11:17 PM  
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