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Krugman’s Trillion Dollar Coin Is Not Real Wealth

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Published : January 23rd, 2013
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Last week President Obama bluntly warned Congress that he will not negotiate when it comes to raising the statutory debt limit. If Republicans attempt to use a debt ceiling vote to win concessions on spending from the White House, Mr. Obama threatens simply to raise the limit by executive order or other unilateral action.

This is business as usual in Washington. Democrats literally do not believe we have a deficit and debt problem, and reliably propose greater borrowing and spending. Republicans talk a good game when it comes to government debt, but have no credibility to argue against deficits or abuses of executive power. Brinksmanship ensues, and ugly compromises are reached at the 11th hour. We all lose as the endless borrowing and money printing further erode our dollar and our economy.

Keep in mind that the federal government relentlessly spends about $100 billion more each month than it collects in taxes. This means roughly 40% of every dollar Washington spends is borrowed, to be “paid back” only in highly devalued, newly created money. Ultimately this can only lead to the destruction of the US dollar, as history plainly teaches. But in the face of this reality Obama just shrugs, turning to demagoguery and talk of little old ladies’ Social Security checks . Like Obama, far too many Americans view federal debt as a nonissue. Consider Paul Krugman, America’s most reliable Keynesian economist and a beloved figure among mainstream journalists. He recently wrote an article about the debt limit issue, in which he discussed a controversial proposal to have the federal government simply create a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion:

“Here’s how it would work: The Treasury would mint a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion (or many coins with smaller values; it doesn’t really matter). This coin would immediately be deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would credit the sum to the government’s account. And the government could then write checks against that account, continuing normal operations without issuing new debt.”

To be fair, Mr. Krugman acknowledges that minting such a coin would be an accounting “trick,” but he is dead serious about this option for the Obama administration. This then is the state of modern economics discourse in America, where a respected New York Times economist literally can propose creating “money for nothing” and have the idea taken seriously.

Krugman’s suggestion is just another variant of the endless stimulus proposals, which purport to create greater aggregate demand in the economy by creating more money. Whether this is done by the Fed or the Treasury is of little importance, as long as government is creating demand-side “growth,” however artificial.

But in just a few short sentences Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe eviscerates the Krugmans of the world by pointing out the obvious: If governments or central banks really can create wealth simply by creating money, why does poverty exist anywhere on earth? Why haven’t successive rounds of quantitative easing by the US Fed solved our economic recession? And if Fed money creation really works, and doesn’t create inflation, why haven’t Americans gotten richer as the money supply has grown?

The truth is obvious to everyone. Fiat currency is not wealth, and the creation of more fiat dollars does not mean that more rice, steel, soybeans, Ipads, or Honda Accords suddenly come into existence. The creation of new fiat currency simply strengthens a fantasy balance sheet, either by adding to cash reserves or servicing debt. But this balance sheet wealth is an illusion, just as the notion we can continue to raise the debt limit and borrow money forever is an illusion.


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