Trillion dollar coins

Apparently, the US Treasury, though they don't have the authority to print money, do have the authority to mint whatever denomination of coins they want, in platinum.  The law was designed to allow the treasury to issue collectible coins, but that law clearly states that those coins are legal tender. The reason we can't just print money to solve the debt problem outside of this weird scenario is that the federal government doesn't actually print money, the Federal Reserve does.  The Federal Reserve isn't a branch of the US government, it's a private bank that prints money, which it then lends to the government at interest, which the government then distributes into the economy.[1. There are a lot of economic premises in this post that I don't really understand.  One of them is the fact that all the money that the US has is created paired with an identical debt, but the debt accrues interest while the money doesn't.  It seems like this guarantees that debt will never, ever be settled entirely -- which is probably a good thing, because complex mutual debt is a good way to stop people murdering each other -- but it still seems like a weird system.]

The Debt Ceiling, the thing we hear almost constantly debated lately, is the number Congress says is the most that the President is allowed to borrow in a term.  If the government needs to spend more money than they have, and the Debt Ceiling prevents them from borrowing new money to pay off old money[2. I'm certain it must be better to owe lots of money to the Fed than to default on loans to other countries.], the US government defaults on its loans, which could be really, really bad for us.

So if we buy loads of debt back from the Fed, we can borrow as much as we need from them and keep everything running smoothly.

Apparently there are no good economic or legal reasons this wouldn't work.  I'm having trouble finding sources that can explain why, because it seems catastrophically irresponsible to me, but I guess all the commentators agree that it wouldn't damage the economy and isn't against the law.

On the other hand, I agree with all the reasons Felix Salmon at Reuters offers that printing a platinum coin would be psychotic on the political level.

Granted, my opinion is formed based on a bunch of late-night googling, so I'm not exactly a well-informed expert.

Still, a lot of people seem weirdly serious.  I first heard of this when I was scrolling through the Daily Kos, which actually has a petition asking President Obama to order the minting of the coin.  There's also a petition on We the People, at about 7 thousand out of 25 thousand necessary signatures to demand a response from the Obama adminsitration.

One of the first articles I saw when I started googling, Trillion dollar coin: The new nuclear option, by Aaron Blake, described the coin like this:

Just as with reforming the filibuster, the trillion-dollar coin idea presents all kinds of potential unintended consequences, including opening the door to other practices that have thus far been off the table. And while that would benefit the Democrats in this particular instance, there will be a day when the roles are reversed (the filibuster being case-in-point).

“It isn’t just a nuclear option, it is opening up the Book of Revelation,” GOP consultant Dan Hazelwood said of the trillion dollar coin. “Laws, Constitution and common sense merely cease to exist.”

And regardless of whether you think it’s a good idea, the trillion dollar coin would undoubtedly further poison the political well of a federal government whose well is already downright toxic.

At this point in our political climate, I don't feel like the trillion dollar coin is an entirely implausible event.  I do think, however, that if we mint it, we are even closer than I would have guessed to the end of America as established by the founding fathers around the time of the American Revolution.

Which, I mean, good riddance.  This is a country founded upon the central value "We don't want to pay our taxes."  As a world power,[3. Which we probably wouldn't be anymore, anyway.] we can do better.

Slate on the Fiscal Cliff

Honestly, I don't really know how to follow this whole fiscal cliff thing.  It's big and complicated and I can't get a straight answer from anywhere about whether it's really likely to happen or if this is just chest-thumping. But Slate's coverage, if it's accurate, cleared at least one thing up for me.

Our government is run by fracking children.

 [...I]f there is ever going to be a deal, it will only happen if Boehner looks like he has dragged the president somewhere President Obama doesn’t want to go. Each time the speaker makes a public display, as he did today, it shows that he is fighting the good fight and holding the president's feet to the fire. Now, if there is a deal, he can say, "I beat on the president about cutting spending, and he gave in." Members are going to look closely at the math above the theatrics, but if Boehner were unable to point to moments of peril and stalemate, his rank-and-file will just assume he got rolled. Therefore, this statement that seems to be about frustration—which would suggest we're farther than ever from a deal—can actually be seen as a necessary prerequisite for a deal.

The one trick for Boehner is that he can’t appear to be too effective. He doesn’t want to stir his members into such a fevered pitch that they don’t accept any deal. Perhaps that’s why Boehner described his meeting with the president this weekend as “nice” and “cordial.”

Emphasis mine.

What the hell?  Why is it okay for our government to balance our economic stability on the possibility of bruised egos? It's like we elected a bunch of eight year olds, and a few of them have started to notice that they can't keep throwing tantrums without blowing everything up -- but now the atmosphere of the political dialogue is "I want my toys and my candy and I want to get to stay up late and I don't want to clean my room."

John Scalzi on What it means to be a self-made man

(via Boing Boing) Sci Fi writer John Scalzi has written an excellent post on his blog called A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It.  It's a great read, and a great breakdown of the nearly limitless supply of gaps in the "Self-made man" myth.  He starts right up from the point of his birth, and makes it all the way up to now, when he really is on top of his life, secure, and comfortable.

A lot of the criticisms of the self-made man argument start at that point.  Those criticisms are valid -- he still uses public roads, relies on the fire department, the police force, and the electrical grid -- and Scalzi doesn't deny that.  But he doesn't say he ought to pay taxes now.  He says he's glad to, because he feels it's the good and right thing to do, to keep giving other people the opportunities he had.

My favorite part is this one, near the end:

I know what I have been given and what I have taken. I know to whom I owe. I know that what work I have done and what I have achieved doesn’t exist in a vacuum or outside of a larger context, or without the work and investment of other people, both within the immediate scope of my life and outside of it. I like the idea that I pay it forward, both with the people I can help personally and with those who will never know that some small portion of their own hopefully good fortune is made possible by me.

Read the whole post.  It's worth the reminders.