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Global Economic Intersection article of the week
The debt limit crisis is upon us. Treasury Secretary Geithner says the U.S. Government will not be able to meet all its obligations on August 3, unless the debt ceiling is increased by Congress. The Secretary says he is out of moves to extend this date. I don't think that's true. I think he can use proof platinum coin seigniorage to supply all the money needed to spend Congressional Appropriations. I do not know if the Administration knows about this idea yet. It may, and it may simply have been unwilling to mention it for its own reasons. But just in case it doesn't know, and also for the sake of the rest of us, I'm making another attempt to state the case for using coin seigniorage, so that as many people as possible know that the President has an alternative to the "shock doctrine", make a deal approach to cutting essential spending and services including the social safety net, in return for getting $2.6 Trillion more in debt issuance authority.
The idea of using coin seigniorage to remove the need for issuing debt, and so to always stay under the debt ceiling is due to a commenter (and occasional blogger) on economics and politics blogs whose screen name is beowulf. He first presented the idea in comments and then posted the seminal blog on coin seigniorage.
Throughout the next six months, a number of other posts appeared at various sites(See here for links) with increasing frequency as the debt limit problem received more attention.
In the last few days, as coin seigniorage itself climbed up the hierarchy of public awareness, Felix Salmon and Matt Yglesias, both well-respected, mainstream, and professional bloggers, have mentioned the proposal while taking issue with it for reasons I'll analyze below. Before, I do that however, here's what's involved in proof platinum coin seigniorage:
Congress provided the authority, in legislation passed in 1996, for the US Mint to create platinum bullion or proof platinum coins with arbitrary fiat face value having no relationship to the value of the platinum used in these coins. These coins are legal tender. So, when the Mint deposits them in its Public Enterprise Fund account at the Fed, the Fed must credit that account with the face value of these coins. This difference between the Mint's costs in producing the coins and the credit provided by the Fed is the US Mint's profit. The US code also provides for the Treasury to periodically "sweep" the Mint's account at the Federal Reserve Bank for profits earned from these coins. Coin seigniorage is just the profits from these coins, which are then booked as miscellaneous receipts (revenue) to the Treasury and go into the Treasury General Account (TGA), narrowing the revenue gap between spending and tax revenues. Platinum coins with huge face values e.g. $2 Trillion, could close the revenue gap entirely, and technically end deficit spending, while still retaining the gap between tax revenues and spending.