07 January 2013

Why Paul Krugman Should Not Be Treasury Secretary

As you may have heard, there is a petition making the rounds to suggest to Obama that he appoint Paul Krugman to be Treasury Secretary. As if. Obama is a CEO president, and no idealistic progressive.

I wanted to memorialize this column by Paul Krugman because I have the feeling that five years from now he will have forgotten that he wrote it, or handwave it away, suggesting that it was merely a sarcastic fancy or some clever political ploy.

To me this speaks to the silliness, careerism, and political immaturity that infests the heart of the economics profession. There are no politics so petty, and yet so vicious and yet silly, as those that often infest academic departments.

What Krugman suggests here is that in response to the Republicans taking the nation's credit rating and debt hostage, that Obama should take the nation's currency hostage and threaten to use seignorage to erase the debt and thereby render the debt ceiling moot. If this were a pickup football game, it is the equivalent of calling 'Statue of Liberty play!'

While I feel his pain and frustration at the current political climate in Washington, this is not some minor league blogger spinning their latest fantasy, but a Nobel prize winning economist writing in the NY Times who is using his bully pulpit to endorse extreme economic nonsense.

For him to say that it is 'silly but benign' to threaten to take the step of overtly monetizing the nation's debt without market involvement to evade the debt ceiling, and to institutionalize the notion that the currency is nothing more than the squeaky toy of the Treasury, is almost as incredible as it is reckless and immature.

But it does demonstrate that all too often we tend to become what we despise.

Be Ready To Mint That Coin
By Paul Krugman
January 7, 2013

Should President Obama be willing to print a $1 trillion platinum coin if Republicans try to force America into default? Yes, absolutely. He will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that’s silly but benign, the other that’s equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.

For those new to this, here’s the story. First of all, we have the weird and destructive institution of the debt ceiling; this lets Congress approve tax and spending bills that imply a large budget deficit — tax and spending bills the president is legally required to implement — and then lets Congress refuse to grant the president authority to borrow, preventing him from carrying out his legal duties and provoking a possibly catastrophic default.

And Republicans are openly threatening to use that potential for catastrophe to blackmail the president into implementing policies they can’t pass through normal constitutional processes.

Enter the platinum coin. There’s a legal loophole allowing the Treasury to mint platinum coins in any denomination the secretary chooses. Yes, it was intended to allow commemorative collector’s items — but that’s not what the letter of the law says. And by minting a $1 trillion coin, then depositing it at the Fed, the Treasury could acquire enough cash to sidestep the debt ceiling — while doing no economic harm at all...

Read the rest here.