08 Dec 2012

So Simple! We Just Need to Create Two Platinum Coins Worth $1 Trillion Each

Debt, Economics, Federal Reserve, Inflation 53 Comments

This is a real news article:

If President Obama wants to avoid an economic calamity next year, he could always show up at a news conference bearing two shiny platinum coins, each worth … $1 trillion.

That sounds wacky, but some economists and legal scholars have suggested that the “platinum coin option” is one way to defuse a crisis if Congress cannot or will not lift the debt ceiling soon. In theory.

The U.S. government is facing a real problem. The Treasury Department will hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by February at the latest. Unless Congress reaches an agreement to lift the debt ceiling, the government will no longer be able to borrow enough money to pay all its bills.

Last year, Republicans in Congress resisted raising the debt ceiling until the last minute — and then only in exchange for spending cuts. Panic ensued.

What happens if there is another showdown this year?

Enter the platinum coins. Under current law, the Treasury is technically allowed to mint as many coins made of platinum as it wants and can assign them whatever value it pleases.

Under this scenario, the U.S. Mint would make a pair of trillion-dollar platinum coins. The president orders the coins to be deposited at the Federal Reserve. The Fed moves this money into Treasury’s accounts. And just like that, Treasury suddenly has an extra $2 trillion to pay off its obligations for the next two years — without needing to issue new debt. The ceiling is no longer an issue.

And then my favorite part of the article, immediately following the above: “I like it,” said Joseph Gagnon of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “There’s nothing that’s obviously economically problematic about it.”

53 Responses to “So Simple! We Just Need to Create Two Platinum Coins Worth $1 Trillion Each”

  1. Dan says:

    Honestly if you didn’t point out this was a real news article, I swear this sounds like an article from The Onion.

  2. Major_Freedom says:

    All hail Keynesian “spending”!

    Welp, at least two platinum coins are better than “pyramids, wars, even earthquakes”. Fewer resources and labor needed, and fewer dead people.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      All you have to do is add a few zeroes. Go from a $100 face value coin, worth actually $1600 or so, to a coin that says it is worth $1 trillion. My only question is, why platinum? Why not silver, or steel or something way cheaper?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Because gold and silver are “barbaric relics.”

        Platinum, now there’s a nice shiny commodity.

        Plus, gold and silver coins would give the rabble the wrong idea.

      • Blackadder says:

        My only question is, why platinum? Why not silver, or steel or something way cheaper?

        Federal law limits the denominations of gold and silver coins, but not platinum coins.

        • Ken B says:

          Right. This is a dodge to avoids having a vote in congress. It’s a rather sly bit of loopholery that highlights the arbitrariness of the whole thing. Central to the loopehole is that the coins will never actually go anywhere or do anything except get around the ceiling.

        • guest says:

          Federal law may not violate the Constitution.

          Therefore, only gold and silver may be made legal tender in payment of debts.

          Also, depending on what is meant by “denominations”, Congress may or may not be allowed to determine those. Congress may discover the weight and fineness of a commonly circulating gold or silver coin, and then merely declare that such will be the weight and fineness of the coins it mints.

          But it may not arbitrarily say what the value of such coins are, on the market; Nor may it arbitrarily mint custom sizes of coins.

          Congress’s power to “regulate the value” of legal tender gold and silver coins, and of foreign coin, requires a knowledge of the quality of coins the market is choosing to use.

          “Regulate the value” meaned to “make regular”, not “make up a value”:

          What is Constitutional Money?" with Edwin Vieira — Ron Paul Money Lecture Series, Pt 2/3
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6gMkKmQSW4

          • Demosthenes says:

            As much as I’d like it if you were right, the gold and silver restriction is held specifically against the states, not the federal government. Note its appearance in Section 10 of Article I (which lays restrictions on states to prevent them from usurping federal authority), but not in Section 8 (specifying the powers of Congress).

  3. Mike K says:

    Why stop there? Let Obama sign a version of FDR’s executive order 6102 and take gold in exchange for, say, $19.33 an ounce. Then pass another Gold Reserve Act to raise the price of gold a few million dollars an ounce and all the debt problems will be solved. Now that might seem like political suicide or obviously economically problematic, but AMERICA MUST PAY IT’S BILLS!

  4. guest says:

    Enter the platinum coins. Under current law, the Treasury is technically allowed to mint as many coins made of platinum as it wants and can assign them whatever value it pleases.

    No it can’t. It was never allowed to do that:

    “What is Constitutional Money?” with Edwin Vieira — Ron Paul Money Lecture Series, Pt 2/3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6gMkKmQSW4

    Constitution, Article 6:

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land;

    Federal laws which were not made in pursuance of the Constitution are not laws at all.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      haha, not constituionally allowed.

    • xgsmmy says:

      guest, you should look up the “14th Amendment solution”.

      Bob, this is just about trying to find a legal loophole, and has nothing to do with solvency except Republican’s in congress being unwilling to pay the United States debts. It has nothing to do with the ability to pay as it’s normally understood.

      The solution is wacky so may spook the market into demanding higher interest rates–maybe, but there is no “obvious” problem with it. So maybe we see temporary higher inflation, because the central bank controls interest rates and has promised to not raise rates for the time being.

      • guest says:

        The 14th Amendment was not lawfully ratified, and so is not law:

        The Squalid 14th Amendment:
        http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig/healy1.html

        Ratification “at the Point of the Bayonet”

        We return to 1865. As the legally reconstituted Southern states were busy ratifying the anti-slavery Thirteenth Amendment, the Republican-dominated Congress refused to seat Southern representatives and Senators. This allowed the remaining, rump Congress to propose the Fourteenth Amendment, consistent with Article V’s requirement of a 2/3 majority for sending a proposed amendment to the states. Never mind that Congress also clearly violated that Article’s provision that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”

        Though the Northern states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it was decisively rejected by the Southern and border states, failing to secure the 3/4 of the states necessary for ratification under Article V. The Radical Republicans responded with the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which virtually expelled the Southern states from the Union and placed them under martial law. To end military rule, the Southern states were required to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. As one Republican described the situation: “the people of the South have rejected the constitutional amendment and therefore we will march upon them and force them to adopt it at the point of the bayonet.”

        President Andrew Johnson saw the Reconstruction Act as “absolute despotism,” a “bill of attainder against 9,000,000 people.” In his veto message, he stated that “such a power ha[d] not been wielded by any Monarch in England for more than five hundred years.” Sounding for all the world like Roger Pilon, Johnson asked, “Have we the power to establish and carry into execution a measure like this?” and answered, “Certainly not, if we derive our authority from the Constitution and if we are bound by the limitations which it imposes.”

        The rump Republican Congress overrode Johnson’s veto and enacted statutes that shrank both the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction and the Court itself – just in case the judicial branch got any funny ideas of its own about constitutionalism. Jackboot on its neck, the South ratified, but not before New Jersey and Ohio, aghast at Republican tyranny, rescinded their previous ratifications of the mendment. Even with the fictional consent of the Southern states, the republicans needed New Jersey and Ohio to put the amendment over the top. No matter; by joint resolution, Congress declared the amendment valid. Thus it – you’ll excuse the phrasing– “passed into law.”

    • tpt says:

      “No it can’t. It was never allowed to do that:”

      “The Congress shall have Power… To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof”

      • Major_Freedom says:

        I guess now is the time to point out that a contract cannot legitimately be enforced on people who are not even alive yet. The constitution died with its signers.

  5. Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

    Hell, let’s mint enough of ‘em to pay for all public spending for all eternity, that way we don’t have to worry about things like debt and taxes. I mean, I don’t see anything obviously wrong with the idea. It’s not like it’s seigniorage or anything.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Hey, let’s not make this about fiscal policy, JMFC.

      • Chris P says:

        “Hey, let’s not make this about fiscal policy, JMFC.”

        Classic.

    • xgsmmy says:

      You still have to worry about debt and taxes because of inflation. This is exactly what the MMT types who popularized this idea say. You’re beating up a strawman.

      • Tel says:

        And in order to prevent inflation, tax and spending must balance out, but that’s something the MMTers never admit.

        One pea, three walnut shells.

        Pick any shell you like, the pea is always somewhere else.

        • xgsmmy says:

          And in order to prevent inflation, tax and spending must balance out, but that’s something the MMTers never admit.

          Maybe in the long run, but that is another argument, and not obviously true.

          MMT types certainly don’t say that no taxes are necessary, they actually say the ability to tax is essential.

          The point is they do admit that there are constraints on government spending and to say otherwise is a strawman.

        • tpt says:

          “in order to prevent inflation, tax and spending must balance out”

          You just made that up didn’t you. Admit it.

          • Tel says:

            Errr, I think I might have got it from Mises or Rothbard or one of those guys.

            Then again, perhaps basic arithmetic might have influenced my position.

            If productivity is increasing at the same rate that money supply is increasing then you will have monetary inflation, without price inflation (because more money is spread over more products). That’s not a constraint your typical MMTer would be interested in considering.

            http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?cat=24

            Read some of those, every year there is CPI price inflation, every year he either says, “That’s nothing!” or “Not enough!”.

            Mind you, CPI is a tricky metric, it does not measure all prices by any means, just a selected basket of prices. These are the things are the very end of the investment/production process. Changes happening higher up in the production process are invisible to CPI.

            Bill Mitchell is your classic Keynesian ZIRP man, and proud of it. An inflationist if ever there was one. IMHO he makes an excellent fruit loop to demonstrate the evils of MMT.

            • tpt says:

              “basic arithmetic might have influenced my position”

              Doubtful.

  6. guest says:

    Uh oh …

    Fed Exit Plan May Be Redrawn as Assets Near $3 Trillion
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-07/fed-exit-plan-may-be-redrawn-as-assets-near-3-trillion.html

    Under the exit strategy, the Fed would start selling bonds in mid-2015 in a bid to return its holdings to pre-crisis proportions in two to three years.

    “There is certainly an issue about unwinding the balance sheet” in a way that “is effective and continues to support the recovery without creating inflation,” St. Louis Fed Bank President James Bullard said in an interview in October.

    The bigger the balance sheet, “the riskier the exit becomes,” Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said during a Nov. 20 speech in New York. “That is something we need to think carefully about.”

    … Looks like Peter Schiff was right, again:

    Stress Tests No Sweat
    http://www.businessinsider.com/stress-tests-no-sweat-2012-5

    The Federal Reserve ran another “stress test” on major financial institutions …

    The problem is that the most important factor that will determine these banks’ long-term viability was purposefully overlooked – interest rates.

    The truth is that higher rates are the biggest threat to the banking system and the Fed knows it. These institutions remain leveraged to the hilt and dependent upon short-term financing to stay afloat.

    Despite endorsing phony economic data that shows the US is in recovery, the Fed knows full well that the American economy cannot move forward without its low interest-rate crutches. Ben Bernanke is trying desperately to pretend that he can keep rates low forever, which is why that variable was deliberately left out of the stress tests.

    Unless the Fed expects us to live with steadily increasing prices for basic goods and services, it will eventually be forced to allow interest rates to rise. However, if it does so, it will quickly bankrupt the US Treasury, the banking system, and any Americans left with flexible-rate debt.

    • Tel says:

      FIRST the US government must get its budget into surplus, THEN the Fed can start thinking about an exit strategy.

      • guest says:

        The government can do that by selling off assets and shrinking to its Constitutionally allowed functions.

        No taxes necessary.

    • skylien says:

      Right, the Exit strategy. It is about Flow not Stock. The Bernanke put cannot allow for an “exit”.

      http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2012-12-08/what-fed-exit

  7. Max says:

    It’s a fake solution to a fake problem, very fitting.

  8. Tel says:

    Based on the stuff that has got through the Supreme Court in the past, I would expect the platinum coin plan would sail through without a problem. That’s the definition of what is Constitutional so reason be damned.

    However, how to find someone who would accept one of those two coins?

    The legal problems are surmountable… but the economic problems would be massive, equivalent to outright default. I doubt such an action would “defuse” anything.

    • guest says:

      That’s another thing: The Constitution doesn’t allow the Supreme Court to reinterpret the ratifiers’ intent.

      The Supreme Court can wrongfully interpret the Constitution, and everyone has a responsibility to nullify laws that are based on such interpretations.

      • Matt Tanous says:

        I like how the Supreme Court gave themselves that power, and no one but Jackson ever did anything about it. Kind of proves that the checks and balances are just a myth….

  9. Tom E. Snyder says:

    Why stop with 2? Mint 16 and wipe out the US debt! Then mint 3 per year and eliminate all taxes. What a splendid idea!

  10. Rob says:

    Wasn’t it Charles the First who – literally – lost his head when he tried to finance his government and wars without the permission of the Parliament?

    Silly question – has anyone verified whether this alleged law, which the Washington Times claims allows this kind of royal shenanigan, actually exists?

    • ThomasL says:

      FWIW, in those days parliament served at Charles’ pleasure, and served only at his pleasure. They had no legal right to indict him; it was basically thuggery. It wasn’t until William and Mary were invited over from Holland (chasing away James II) that the constitutional monarchy began, since they did so under specified terms. Of course, parliament didn’t have the right to invite a foreign king to take over the country either, but…

      • Matt Tanous says:

        Ironically, now that our Congress could actually take legal action against the executive heads of state that overstep their bounds, we can be virtually assured they won’t.

  11. Gamble says:

    Do it! Do it! Do it!

    Not only will this forever discredit American government and destroy its socialistic monetary system, it will also make the catalytic converter in my Camry worth 4 trillion dollars!

    • Matt Tanous says:

      Nah, that’s still only worth about $8,000. The face value is all the government cares about.

  12. Ken B says:

    Isn’t the point, the joke, about the debt ceiling being arbitrary?
    The coins could not be circulated or exchanged for anything. Its like changing the law to say “less than x minus two trillion” rather than less than x. A loophole to obviate the need for a congresional vote, a dodge.

  13. Bill Woolsey says:

    In my view, the U.S. Constitution fully allows Congress complete authority to debase coins and use the very
    traditional approach to inflation finance (as opposed to being vague about the then new fangled printing paper
    money.)

    But the point of this exercise is the avoid the debt ceiling. If the Treasury funded next years deficit by writing checks against a trillion dollar platinum coin, the Fed would likely need to undertake open market sales of the government bonds it owns. And if it didn’t really need to do that next year, it would have too sooner or later. In the long run, it would hold $1 trillion less in government bonds than otherwise.

    If the Fed needed to reduce the quantity of money at some future time, and it ran out of government bonds, and its only asset was the platinum coin, then the Fed would be in trouble.

    It would need to ask the Treasury to take back part of the coin in return for interest bearing bonds which the Fed could sell, causing the quantity of base money to fall below $1 trillion.

    Anyway, Congress is supposed to have the authority to coin money. And it has the authority to raise taxes. And it has the authority to borrow money.

    I think it would be contrary to the Constitution for the President to start funding government programs with newly coined money. A program allowing the Treasury to mint coins and sell them on the market for a profit, isn’t quite the same thing as minting them and spending them.

    In my view, Congress is supposed to be approving particular bond issues to fund particular government programs. Instead, they came up with this scheme where they let the President (the Treasury) sell whatever bonds they want, subject to the limit that it be no higher than some specific debt limit.

    • JP Koning says:

      “If the Fed needed to reduce the quantity of money at some future time, and it ran out of government bonds, and its only asset was the platinum coin, then the Fed would be in trouble.”

      Yep. Backing is important too… you may have to suck the stuff back up later.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Bill:

      If the Fed needed to reduce the quantity of money at some future time, and it ran out of government bonds, and its only asset was the platinum coin, then the Fed would be in trouble.

      What if the Fed wanted to reduce the quantity of money at some future time by X, and the prevailing prices of the assets on its balance sheet was insufficient?

  14. Bob Roddis says:

    1. There is no question that a constitutional “dollar” means “three hundred and seventy-one grains and four sixteenth parts of a grain of pure silver”. A platinum coin denominated in dollars today should approximate the current value of that amount of platinum stated in constitutional dollars.

    http://www.fame.org/HTM/Vieira_Edwin_What_is_a_Dollar_EV-002.HTM

    I’m really not in the mood for a statist to show up here with: Nyaa Nyaa Nyaa, you’d lose your case in the Supreme Court.

    2. I went to law school in the late seventies. We were instructed on the first day of constitutional law class that we were not in class to debate changes to the historic meaning of the constitution. We were there to memorize the minutiae of post New Deal Supreme Court cases so that we could pass the final exam and then win cases for our clients. Neither the law professors nor the students know anything of the historical meaning of the Constitution or any alternative historical narratives like those of Gabriel Kolko. They don’t know and they don’t want to know. In fact, they think you are crazy if you might concern yourself with such subjects. The fact that a court rules a certain way today on a constitutional question says nothing about whether the Constitution actually means what the court says it means.

    • nanute says:

      Bob, You said: “The fact that a court rules a certain way today on a constitutional question says nothing about whether the Constitution actually means what the court says it means.” Ever heard of Marbury v. Madison?

      • Mike T says:

        ” Ever heard of Marbury v. Madison?”

        >> So, the Supreme Court decided that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter on Constitutional interpretation? If we ever had a dispute, would you take any issue if my brother were the arbitrator?

        • Ken B says:

          You got a good structural argument for it? ‘Cause Marshall did.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Jefferson responded to Marshall’s argument with the quip:

            “Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps [...] The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.”

      • guest says:

        Ever heard of Marbury v. Madison?

        The Federalist No. 78
        http://constitution.org/fed/federa78.htm

        There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

        If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

        Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.

        The Federalist No. 83
        http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa83.htm

        The rules of legal interpretation are rules of common sense, adopted by the courts in the construction of the laws. The true test, therefore, of a just application of them is its conformity to the source from which they are derived.

        • Tel says:

          But the power of the people is superior — if enough people insist that things must change then things would change. If greater than 50% of the US population decides that some law is unconstitutional then they can get rid of that law in one election cycle (it wouldn’t even take that many given how few Americans bother to vote).

          Thing is, most of the US population is cool with it, so the people have spoken, they are OK to give their power to the court system.

      • Bob Roddis says:

        I made a very limited statement:

        The fact that a court rules a certain way today on a constitutional question says nothing about whether the Constitution actually means what the court says it means.

        I’ve been an attorney for 32 years. I’m aware that, as a practical matter, what the Supreme Court says is law. However, based upon the prior authority of Congress to “emit bills of credit” under the Articles of Confederation which was purposefully omitted under the Constitution, plus the statements of people like Hamilton and the provisions of the first coinage act, there is little doubt as to the meaning of the power to “coin money”. It is also clear that the judges ruling on these matters today are clueless about the history of the matter and could care less.I would think judicial hostility and obliviousness to the meaning of the Constitution might matter to someone. But I could be wrong.

        • Tel says:

          Well you obviously do care, otherwise you wouldn’t come out with, “I’m really not in the mood…”

          If it is any consolation, almost the same thing happened in Australia. Canberra got hold of wartime powers and demanded not only income tax powers but full monopoly over income tax powers. The states tried to fight it but lost in court, because it was war and Canberra needed the money for the war effort.

          More than 60 years later, they still have their wartime powers, they don’t spend the money on national defence they spend it on every other thing you care to name, and no one cares. People just want to get their share of the goodies. In fact, most people will tell you it couldn’t possibly be any other way. They teach the young kids in law school that the states handed over their powers voluntarily (even though multiple court cases went through where the states tried hard not to hand those powers over).

  15. geogavino says:

    This is so absurd that even the scientific community is catching on. Here is a blog post from someone in the Skeptic community, who senses that something is wrong here, but admits not knowing much about economics: http://theness.com/roguesgallery/index.php/skepticism/trillions-and-trillions/

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