The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

January 12, 2013

$1 trillion for your thoughts

ENID, Okla. — Do you ever take a good look at the coins in your pants pocket or purse?

Do you look at that handful of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters before you chuck them into a jar or feed them into a piggy bank?

Most of us likely would answer no. We take change for granted.

Heck, most people won’t even take the time to bend over and pick up a nickel these days, much less a lowly penny.

There has been talk for quite some time about doing away with the penny, given that it costs more than two cents to produce each one.

There’s even a group advocating putting the penny out to pasture, Citizens to Retire the U.S. Penny.

But the right pennies, now those are worth something, which is why it might not be a bad idea to go through your change once in a while.

Should you come across a 1943 copper wheat penny, for instance, you could sell it for a cool $100,000, according to the web site CoinTrackers.com.

That puts it right up there with the most valuable bill ever printed by the U.S. government.

In 1933, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Americans to surrender their gold because people were hoarding and bartering gold, rather than paying for items with cash.

The federal government took control of the Federal Reserve’s gold as part of its plans to devalue the dollar and jump-start the economy.

Congress passed a measure valuing the dollar at 59.06 cents, pricing gold at $35 an ounce and allowing the Treasury to print bills to pay for the Federal Reserve’s gold.

One such note was worth $100,000, the bill bearing the likeness of Woodrow Wilson.

The move worked, as prices rose, thus putting money back into the economy.

In case you haven’t noticed, our economy has not been so hot the last few years, and our country owes a whole lot more money than it takes in.

To date, the federal debt is greater than $16.4 trillion and, in fact, has increased by several hundred thousand dollars in the time it has taken me to type this sentence.

The nation’s debt limit is about $16.39 trillion, a number we surpassed Dec. 31.

At that time, outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he could, through “extraordinary measures,” avoid putting the country in default for several weeks.

One extraordinary measure that has been proposed is roughly akin to the $100,000 bill of the 1930s — a $1 trillion coin.

Advocates, led by New York congressman Jerrold Nadler, have suggested the Treasury mint a $1 trillion coin.

Under a 1997 law that allows the Treasury to mint and issue coins made of platinum.

Of course, the coin would not contain $1 trillion worth of platinum. If it did, it would weigh more than 20,000 tons, which would really be tough to fit into a coin purse.

But not to worry, there isn’t enough platinum in the world to mint a $1 trillion coin. So it could be a blend of platinum and some other metal, much as the nickel is only one-quarter nickel.

Said $1 trillion coin, which could be as small as a dime, would then be deposited with the Federal Reserve, giving the government enough cash to slide back under the debt ceiling.

The move would not spark a spate of new government spending, Washington could only use the $1 trillion deposit to write checks to cover expenses already authorized by Congress.

That means Congress couldn’t use the money to give themselves a pay raise or anything, which is probably good, given that a recent poll found our senators and representatives are less popular than head lice, colonoscopies and cockroaches.

The $1 trillion coin idea might sound crazy (which is par for the course in La La Land on the Potomac), but it has its proponents, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

White House spokesman Jay Carney would not put the $1 trillion coin rumors to rest during a press briefing the other day. So maybe it will happen.

Which brings us to the burning question, who would be charged with carrying the $1 trillion coin from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1.2 miles north and west to the Federal Reserve?

I don’t want the job. I remember summer evenings during my childhood when the familiar strains of the music from the ice cream truck could be heard over the sound of the TV in the front room.

I would ask (and beg and plead) my dad for some change to get an ice cream. More often than not he gave me some, and out the front door I’d run to await the truck’s approach.

Being the nervous type (and not overly bright), I would jingle the coins in my hand as I waited, rather than just standing by calmly or, better yet, stuffing the change in my pocket.

More times than I care to remember I would then drop the coins onto the grass, then frantically search for them as the truck drew near. Sometimes I’d find them, sometimes not, and my ice cream craving would go unfulfilled.

I can imagine having to explain dropping a $1 trillion coin down a sewer grate, or plugging it into a parking meter by mistake.

I can almost hear my father laughing.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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