The latest fight to raise the debt limit in the United States is over. As Washington prepares to continue the battle in December, there are more calls to the charmantly cranky trillion-dollar coin. It can mint platinum coins of $1 trillion or more if it doesn’t have the money necessary to pay its debts. Although the law restricts the number of copper, gold or silver coins that can be circulated, Congress has passed legislation since the mid-1990s which appears to allow the Treasury to issue platinum coins with much greater freedom. It was not a bill. It is supposedIt was intended to be used for commemorative coins. However, the actual language of the document isn’t as narrow. Therefore, the forces assembled under the #MintTheCoin#Hashtag believes they have found a loophole.
The idea is well-known in liberal circles and dates back about 10 years, to the Tea Party debt-ceiling battles. However, the idea is not new. This concept is even more old than the 1998 movie “The Trouble With Trillions”. SimpsonsThe classic story in which the U.S. government creates a trillion-dollar bill. Mr. Burns then steals the bill. Homer and Homer run to establish a freer, more prosperous country. They end up in Cuba. It’s actually been around for longer than the commemorative coin bill. It goes back at least as far as 1992, when Lt. Col. James “Bo” Gritz—forefather of the militia movement, self-proclaimed “real-life Rambo,” and presidential candidate of the America First Coalition—promoted a strikingly similar idea on the campaign trail, alongside his promises to rescue POWs from Vietnam, withdraw from the United Nations, and prohibit foreign ownership of American land.
This is him laying the foundation for San Diego’s plan on September 14, 1992.
Here’s the crucial quote from 1:47: “As president, the United States will have, the very first days in office, a copper coin. It will read ‘Four trillion Dollars’ and ‘Debt Of The United States Paid In Full’.” The crowd cheers and laughs.
Gritz did not win the 1992 election. However, my former boss Bill Bradford told me that he saw more Gritz campaign signs than any other candidate after he took a bike trip through Idaho in that year. The man wound up getting 10,281 votes in Idaho, which isn’t bad by third-party standards—not enough to carry the state, or even to come close, but you can see how it could translate into a lot of yard signs. Gritz narrowly beat Bill Clinton to third in Franklin County. Ross Perot had the highest total, and Gritz got within 23 votes. This probably speaks more to Clinton’s popularity in the area than Gritz’s. However, Gritz can still claim this victory as moral.
This year, the Treasury does not appear to be likely to produce any trillion-dollar coin. But if it does—and hey, we live in weird times—then Gritz can call that a victory too. He’d probably be happier if his entire monetary agenda was implemented by the government, which would supplant America’s Federal Reserve Notes with an interest-free currency. But the times aren’t so strange. No.
(For more information about Gritz, see chapter 10 in my book. Paranoia in the United StatesAvailable here. You can view more from his San Diego speech by clicking here. You can also find past Friday A/V Club editions here.