If Barack Obama can “solve” the debt ceiling crisis by printing up some trillion dollar coins, then why does the federal government need our money? As another debt ceiling showdown approaches, many in the liberal media are suggesting that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling that Obama should just have the U.S. Treasury create a trillion dollar platinum coin and use it to pay our bills. It sounds crazy, but many notable voices (including Paul Krugman of the New York Times) are supporting this idea. But if the federal government has had the power to create trillion dollar coins out of thin air all this time, then why do we have to pay taxes? Not only that, why do we have a national debt? If the federal government can just create money whenever it wants, then why does the federal government ever have to borrow it from others? The U.S. Constitution actually grants Congress the power to “coin money”, so why is the Federal Reserve doing it? Those are some very important questions. Most Americans don’t even realize that the U.S. government never actually needed to borrow a single penny from anyone else. The U.S. Congress has the authority to create debt-free money whenever it wants to. Conceivably, the entire federal government could be funded without ever borrowing a single dollar and without ever receiving a single dollar from any of us in taxes. Just imagine that – a nation without a single penny of national debt, no income tax and no IRS. What a wonderful world that would be. Of course there would be other potential dangers under such a system (such as runaway inflation), and those dangers would have to be addressed. But the truth is that we don’t have to have an income tax or 16 trillion dollars of government debt. We only have those things because we have chosen to have those things.
Sometimes, a crisis can illuminate options that most people had not considered previously. As another debt ceiling crisis draws closer, many are looking for ways for the U.S. government to be able to continue to pay its bills if Congress does not authorize an increase in the debt ceiling.
If a debt ceiling agreement is not worked out, the U.S. government will soon only be able to pay about half the bills that are coming due after interest payments on the national debt (which will almost certainly be prioritized) are made.
That is why a lot of people on the left are pushing the “trillion dollar coin” alternative. So how would this work exactly? The mechanics were recently explained by Jim Pethokoukis on his American Enterprise Institute blog…
There are limits on how much paper money the U.S. can circulate and rules that govern coinage on gold, silver, and copper. BUT, the Treasury has broad discretion on coins made from platinum. The theory goes that the U.S. Mint would create a handful of trillion dollar (or more) platinum coins. The President would then order the coins deposited at the Fed, who would then put the coin(s) in the Treasury who now can pay all their bills and a default is removed from the equation. The effects on the currency market and inflation are unclear, to say the least.