A Hand And A Hat

by Sandro Bassanini

“This Note Is Legal Tender For All Debts, Public and Private”

These simple words are written on all paper notes of the United States of America. I remember being a young First Year Student at Purdue University School of Economics and for the first time realizing that money is indeed only paper, unless of course behind the paper stands honor for commitments.

Honor. My father operated a farm in Mulazzano near Lodi. Every Saturday morning all the local farmers would drive to the Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi and begin a strange dance. I was 7 the first time my father took me to the market, I remember this well because for the first time he gave me 50 Lire to play the Pinball machine (Flipper) at Café Vistarini. He would pull up a chair so that I could stand on it and reach the buttons. By the time I was 9 the Flipper machine had already bored me, so I would follow my father who would spend the entire morning talking to local farmers. He would buy Wheat, sell Pork, purchase Milk, trade for Corn, speak with a welder, and argue with the truck drivers. In those days, all the men would wear a hat, and at the end of their talks my father would shake the other person’s hand and tip his hat. The other person would return the gesture and both would move on. By the age of 14 I was keenly aware that this is how business was conducted. The tip of the hat and the hand shake were the symbols that cemented an agreement, no paper, no pen, no signatures. A hand shake and the tip of a hat.

The year 1986 came, and with it my degree in Economics. I felt ready to conquer the world and jump straight into business in the United States, but first my father wanted me to come home. And so, I did, it was the Summer of 1986, late June and I arrived at my old house, it was a Saturday, and right away my father told me he had to go to the market and asked me if I wanted to join him. I thought that a nice Gelato at Café Vistarini would be a nice return treat and so I joined him. My father looked a little older but his spirit was still evident. He gesticulated, argued, negotiated and then like magic the hand shake and the tip of the hat. I remember laughing inside, thinking how antiquated and primitive was all of this. On the drive home I began… “Papa, how can you still trade like this? You have no contracts, no signature, nothing! If tomorrow the price turns against you, you can rest assure that the other person will not respect the terms! While at school I learned about binding contracts, arbitration clauses… “ he stopped me. Pulled the car over to the side of the road and extended his hand at me. For a split second I thought he would give me “Sberla” or worst “Uno Scappellotto!” but instead he calmly said… “Figlio mio…. Vedi questa mano? Questa mano e quella di mio padre (tuo nonno) sono su quella piazza dal 1912. Questa mano e’ l’unica cosa che la nostra famiglia ha! Il mio onore, la mia parola, e’ l’unica cosa che vale”.

“This Note Is Legal Tender For All Debts, Public and Private”

Many books have been written about the U.S. dollar and how it came to be the strongest currency in the world, and a worldwide monetary reference. Many of the theories are complicated, but the answer in reality is quite simple. For the past 150+ years, when the United States of America said something, when it shook your hand, when it gave you its word, it meant it. Honoring commitments in the United States was not based on a single individual, or the whim of a sitting President, Honoring commitments was a way of living, a matter of National pride.

I lived in America for over 30 years and I have experienced it first-hand. I saw families in complete financial disarray, fathers who lost executive careers waking up at 5 AM to go work at a McDonald Drive Through. I lived in Rural America all my adult life and when a farmer shook your hand, it meant “take it to the Bank”. His hand was his bond.

Today I was asked how America will recover after the COVID-19 Pandemia but all I could think of was how can America recover from a President who has made a mockery of honor by trampling on International Agreements which came not only with a hand shake and a possible tip of the hat, but with actual signatures of past American Presidents!

The Paris Agreement, The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, KORUS, NAFTA, UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and next on the list things like NATO, WHO’s funding and God knows what else.

Sure, a newly elected President can disagree with past policies and agreements, but the Agreements were made by America! Signed by America and simply pulling out without respecting the terms of the Agreement is an infringement of your honor.

COVID-19 will someday go away, or a vaccine is going to be found, what will not be found again is the trust in the United States of America and the hand that they will try to shake. Hats are long gone.

About the author: Sandro Bassanini lives in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.  He has his own vinyl record shop, Tondo Music, located in front of the post office of a small village on the lake of Lugano and he sends records all over the world.

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