Jan 17, 2013 - Issue 500

Cover Story

The Platinum Trillion Dollar Coin, the

Deficit, and Tricksters

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Did you listen to the public discussion about the platinum trillion dollar coin as a way that Obama could avoid the debt ceiling debacle? The tone put forward by most of the perpetrators of this talk was “tongue in cheek.” Yet, almost all knowledgeable spokespersons ended up “copping” to the fact that the procedure is constitutional, legal, and that it would work. The U.S. government could manufacture this coin, deposit it in the Federal Reserve and pay bills based on its chosen value. Nobel economist, Paul Krugman, was an outright proponent of the idea. What’s to be laughed at?


I was intrigued by the example the tone of this discussion presents of the social psychological archetype called “the trickster.” This archetype exists in some form in most human cultures. In Native American cultures it is often known as the “Coyote” or the “Raven.” In West African cultures it is “Anansi,” the spider. Old time African American folklore has “Brer Rabbit.” Henry Louis Gates writes about the phenomenon in our culture today of “signifying.” Carl Jung, a contemporary and corrector of Freud, did some of the original work uncovering the universality of this phenomenon. Medieval royal courts privileged the position of “the court jester” who artfully employed trickster stories about the happenings of the day, including laughing at the king in such stories as “the emperor has no clothes.” Jesters were considered divinely inspired. Usually with positive results, tricksters translate deadly serious human questions into matters that are memorable and knowable at psychic levels other than the forebrain. Negative tricksters can cast doubt and ridicule on honorable people and turn folks away from good choices.


I “smelled” negative trickster energy from most discussants of the platinum trillion dollar coin. Some hoped that the discussion would never have arisen because it exposes just how manufactured this crisis is. Bankers and capitalists use our ignorance to abuse us. So it is useful to them to ridicule or deem amusing alternative solutions that expose their chicanery or that are outside of their control. Reluctant “tongue in cheek” comments were often accompanied by visual images of the coin, such as one with Obama’s head stamped on it. John Stewart, the premiere positive political trickster of our day, did a funny bit on the Daily Show last week that turned the trick around and spoke to the fact that we could have multi-trillion dollar, government manufactured coins that could eliminate all of our federal debt. I was delighted because, if we can penetrate the trickster energy, we will have the opportunity to show many how the currency and public debt systems in the U.S. really work and we will be obligated to change them.


In Forbes magazine, Donald Marron wrote: “Here’s what you should know about this crazy-sounding idea…Treasury is forbidden [by Congressional legislation not by the constitution] from printing (paper) money to cover government deficits. Treasury must issue debt, while the Federal Reserve independently controls our nation’s monetary printing press… [But Treasury is not prohibited from minting platinum coins.] By depositing (the trillion dollar coin) at the Federal Reserve, Treasury could keep paying bills after we’ve fully exhausted our borrowing limit….I’m no lawyer, but the legal arguments [against it] seem wholly unconvincing. The language of the statute is clear, and in any case, the executive branch gets away with expansive actions in extreme times. During the financial crisis...If default became a real possibility, the same expansiveness could easily justify a platinum coin…”


Guess what! Due to this growing interest in a viable alternative, even though the debt ceiling crisis still looms, both the Feds and the Treasury have preempted this viable option which would avoid the imminent disaster. “Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit,” said Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley in a statement on Saturday. Obama had already stepped back from the use of The Fourteenth Amendment which gives him the authority and the responsibility to pay U.S. debts, regardless.

Again the Administration gives up options before the struggle has even begun. Man alive! This has become a typical Obama move. It is the height of foolishness to throw away legitimate options hoping that your opponents – who believe themselves to be in an existential struggle after the election loss and the virtual draw over the “fiscal cliff” – will come to their senses and voluntarily admit defeat. Such a strategy is stupid and incomprehensible! Doesn’t anyone in this Administration believe in fighting with all tools available for the wellbeing of the country? Oh! Of course! Fools are another name for tricksters. They are positive and negative and they stand on all sides. The paradigm is both/and not either/or. 

[Note: Nafsi ya Jamii is the Swahili phrase that translates in English to “The Soul Community”]

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.