Trillion-Dollar Coin: The Joke That’s No Joke

by Categorized: Economy, Politics, Public finance Date:

Ever since Obama said he wouldn’t negotiate over the debt ceiling, talk of the trillion-dollar coin has heated up.  On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to dismiss the ploy as an option, furthering the economic joke that isn’t a joke.

What is the trillion-dollar coin? It’s a technicality that could save Obama from having to cajole Congress into raising the debt ceiling, which must happen in March if the federal government is to pay its bills.


The Trillion-Dollar Coin, envisioned by Wes Rand of The Courant's staff
The Trillion-Dollar Coin, envisioned by Wes Rand of The Courant’s staff

The basic idea is that Congress controls the purse strings and the Federal Reserve controls the printing of paper money, but the president retains the right to mint coins through the U.S. Treasury.

So, if Congress won’t cough up the dough, Obama needs only to crank out a trillion-dollar coin or two, also dubbed a platinum coin or a jumbo coin, deposit it at the Fed, and presto! The reserves are in place and he can write checks against the asset.

Constitutional scholars say the idea is sound, sort of — coins of this nature are meant to be commemorative but that rule is not explicit. Some experts believe Obama would be in constitutional violation either way, if he couldn’t reach a deal with Congress and failed to spend money that was already allocated.

Naturally, we want to know whose face would adorn the coin — and there’s no shortage of suggestions, from Obama (our pick) to Paul Krugman to Charles Ponzi, as one coin designer told Marketplace radio.

Jack Balkin, the Knight Professor at Yale Law School, wrote that Obama actually has a handful of ways to get around Congress on the debt limit, including selling land options to the Fed for $1 trillion and letting them expire.

And Greg Ip, economics blogger for the Economist, showed why the transaction works without expanding the money supply and risking inflation.

As March approaches, this bit of silliness will grow less and less silly. Krugman explains it best in the New York Times: It’s an artifice that allows for business as usual. It is, as he says, undignified but at least it would avoid economic disaster.


The Courant is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

5 thoughts on “Trillion-Dollar Coin: The Joke That’s No Joke

  1. DaTroof

    So this is where we are: unabated spending, money printing and monetizing debt, and gimmicks to keep the game going until the next crisis.

    We’re broken and no one has the courage to do what we all know needs to be done. Its pathetic and not unexpected in the Obamanation. Thanks voters.

    1. Get Real

      Wow this country is dumb. What an absolute disaster this administration continues to show and the people who support this backwards way of thinking. The last person I want dictating our Economy is Paul Krugman or any Keynesian dolt.

    1. Nelson Guedes

      “Doctor: Alright, Forrest. Open your eyes now. Let’s take a little walk around. How do they feel? His legs are strong, Mrs. Gump. As strong as I’ve ever seen. But his back is as crooked as a politician. But we’re going to straighten him right up now, aren’t we, Forrest?”

  2. JM

    $15 per person, per day, working or not – that is how much debt is being added to each individual’s federal debt burden, including yours Mr. Haar. All this, without our permission…Adding more debt is not the solution, living within our means is!

Comments are closed.