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Bernie: YOU Stop Caving to Peterson/Obama/#supercommittee

11:42 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Dear Bernie,

Today, you told the “Democrats stop caving in . . . ” to the interests of corporations, the tea party, wealthy individuals, and the Republicans in Congress. The only problem with your fiery statement is that you began it by “caving in” to them yourself. You did this by immediately legitimizing their frame of reference by saying:

“Here is something we all can agree on: Federal deficits are a serious problem.”

I’m sorry Bernie, we can’t all agree on that, because it’s just not true, and it’s what the Republicans, the Blue Dogs, most Democrats and the Administration are all using to try to bully you and us into agreeing to spending cuts in key discretionary programs and programs like Social Security and Medicare, and also into not moving for more spending on jobs, better entitlement programs, including Medicare for All, and better discretionary programs we need to solve our many national problems.

The idea that Federal deficit spending is a serious problem is the idea, that along with the belief that the Federal debt is getting to be some kind of irresolvable problem, is in back of the whole anti-deficit/debt thrust of the deficit terrorists like Pete Peterson, David Walker, Alice Rivlin, and all the others in Washington including the President. In turn, this thrust has led to the Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission, and the current so-called supercommittee that you’ve been fighting so hard ‘lo these past months, and the constant drum beat that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) to deficit cutting.

So, when are you going to learn that the only way for you and us to end this fight and to win it, is to deny their basic premises and particularly their foundational idea that the United States of America, the issuer of its own non-convertible floating fiat currency, with no external debt payable in anyone else’s currency, and the ultimate source of all US Dollars existing in the world, can run out of the money needed to continue to deficit spend, and to pay all its bills including the principal and interest on all its debts, as well as all Congressional appropriations you and your colleagues may choose to legislate?

You say that the deficit is a serious problem. But I think it’s not a real problem at all for at least three reasons that refute TINA.

– First, because nothing bad needs to happen if we continue to run deficits, as long as we don’t do so after our economy is operating at full capacity. But we are very far from that state right now with between 25 – 30 million people wanting full time employment and not being able to get it. So, we can’t have demand-pull inflation now. It’s impossible.

– Second, because it’s the Congress that is constraining the Government from generating money for its debt repayment, or appropriated deficit spending using means other than taxing or borrowing, because Congress prohibits the Treasury from freely issuing Treasury Notes and also requires that it issue debt before it deficit spends, while at the same time imposing debt ceilings that interfere with borrowing to spend appropriations Congress has already made. So, there is no real problem because the constraints were made by Congress and can be lifted by it in a single afternoon, if it wants to.

There Is An Alternative (TIAA). And it is for Congress to stop requiring the Treasury to issue debt when it deficit spends, and to allow it instead to “mark up” its own accounts at the Fed when it needs to spend an already legislated Congressional appropriation, or to repay past debt and interest.

You should be making the truth of TIAA clear to the American people, Bernie, so that everyone knows that any shortage of money to spend is Congress’s own fault, and that there is no debt/deficit problem in the sense of an inability to pay, or a need for China, Japan, or the bankers to lend the Government back the money the Government created in the first place, or a need to cut spending, or a need to raise taxes on anyone, or both, to avoid impending or future solvency.

But instead you’re reinforcing their message that there is a serious deficit problem. Now that’s what I call “loser liberalism,” Bernie.

– And Third, there is no problem because even under current law, with its constraints on the Treasury’s ability to spend what’s required to repay debt or spend Congressional appropriations, it has been legal since 1996 for the Executive Branch to issue 1 oz. proof platinum coins having arbitrary face value in the amount of many Trillions of Dollars, deposit those coins at the Fed, and force the Fed to use its money-creating authority to credit Mint and Treasury Accounts with electronic credits equal to the value of the coin. The money placed in Treasury’s accounts as a result of this action need not be spent. In fact, if the Executive minted a $60 T coin, then it could not all be spent because the authority for spending by the Treasury would not extend further than repayment of debt subject to the ceiling as it falls due, and payment implementing Congressional appropriations approved up to now.

So, even if such a coin were issued, spending by the end of the year would be limited to repayment of all intra-governmental debt, including all debt held by the Fed itself, and the Federal spending appropriated by Congress for the remainder of this calendar year. Most of the $60 Trillion would still remain unspent to be used for future debt repayment as the securities fall due, and payment for future Congressional appropriations that would not be covered by tax revenues.

As long as those appropriations don’t outrun tax revenues more than is necessary to enable a full employment, full capacity utilization economy, no one has to worry about demand-pull inflation resulting from excessive Government spending. It won’t happen. And if there is any inflation from other causes, which is possible, and even probable, if we don’t prevent excessive commodity speculation through appropriate laws and their faithful enforcement, any cost-push inflation, won’t have anything to do with Government spending.

You can find a more detailed explanation of this coin seigniorage idea and its implications here, here, here, and here. Without going into detail in this open letter, I’ll just say that if the President uses coin seigniorage in the way I’ve outlined, he can fill the public purse with such a large volume of USD electronic credits that no one will be able to say, ever again, that the US has a deficit/debt problem because it is running out of money. And, additionally, in a very few years, the Treasury’s payment of the Government’s debts as they fall due, without any further debt issuance, to spend Congressional appropriations not covered by tax revenues or other sales, will result in most of the debt subject to the ceiling, except for long-term debt, being paid. There will be very low levels of debt subject to the ceiling and eventually no debt of this kind at all.

So, to summarize, it is not true that “. . . Federal deficits are a serious problem.” And it is not true that we have to do anything to reduce deficits defined as a gap between Federal spending and Federal tax revenues. The whole exercise in deficit reduction that the president and the other deficit terrorists have put this country through has been an immensely wasteful distraction.

As you say in your HuffPo piece:

“This is a pivotal moment in American history. The rich and large corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. Now is the time to answer the question that the Woody Guthrie song poignantly asked, “Which side are you on?” The Democrats must answer boldly that they are on the side of working families and the middle class and that they will fight to protect their interests.”

And you, Bernie, must also answer boldly with the truth. People who are on the side of working families and the middle class, like yourself, cannot continue to say that “we can all agree that there is a serious deficit problem”, because that has been the continuing most important element in the case the deficit terrorists are making.

To defend our ground, and the 99%, we need to deny and defeat that false framing. We cannot reinforce it! We need an alternative framing.

And that framing is, the Federal Government needs no money from anyone to pay its debts and to spend what Congress has appropriated. We are a fully sovereign nation, and as long at we retain that full sovereignty, including its fiscal aspects, the Government can spend/create any money it needs in accordance with the authority given to it by the Constitution of the United States. It is up to the Congress and to the Executive to use that authority as necessary to create and maintain full employment AND price stability, as well as all other aspects of the Public Purpose, as that purpose is defined and specified by the people of the United States of America.

Best,

Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D.
(Letsgetitdone)

President Obama: Stop Breaking the Law; Use Coin Seigniorage

9:52 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Yesterday, The United States actually ran over the debt ceiling of $14.294 Trillion by $50 Billion or so, which means that the Treasury has issued $52 Billion more in debt instruments than is allowed by Congress’s debt ceiling, which, in turn, means that the current Administration stands in violation of the Law. In reply to this, some will say that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional so the President doesn’t need to observe it. However, in the present context, I don’t think that’s true. Here’s my argument.

1) Congress mandates a debt ceiling that Treasury has now exceeded by $52 Billion. So Treasury is currently in violation of the law unless the law in question is unconstitutional.

2) Congress also mandates that all deficit spending must occur after bonds are issued to “make room” for the spending.

3) Congress also prohibits the Federal Reserve from letting Treasury run a negative balance in its account, which is probably just a function of 2).

4) The Constitution (14th Amendment section 4) prohibits anyone from questioning the validity of debts of the United States. In Perry v. United States (1935) the Supreme Court ruled, based on section 4, that voiding a United States government bond is beyond the power of Congress.

Yet another argument that might be applied in this case is based on the idea that the Congressional appropriations providing for Treasury’s spending were passed after the current debt ceiling. Since later laws supercede earlier ones, it follows that legislation appropriating Treasury spending supercedes Congress’s earlier passage of the debt ceiling.

5) If only 1-4 applied, then 1) would be either unconstitutional or supercede by later law, and the Executive could ignore 1), continue issuing debt and wait for the Courts to tell Congress that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional or superceded.

6) However, the context includes more than 1) — 4). It also includes the authority for the Executive to employ jumbo coin seigniorage to replenish the Treasury General Account at the Fed and pay all of the obligations of the United States without issuing more debt or even, technically, any more “deficit spending.” As beowulf puts it:

The Secretary has rather broad authority to mint coins, Congress was apparently feeling generous when it authorized platinum coins in 31 USC 5112(k) (“with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe…”). If deficit spending was paid for (eliminated actually) with miscellaneous receipts revenue generated by selling the Fed jumbo denomination coins, and since the Federal Fund Rate can now be pegged with Interest on Reserve payments in lieu selling Treasuries to drain excess reserves, Tsy could fund govt operations indefinitely without ever raising the statutory debt limit.

Beowulf might also have pointed out that national debt can eventually reduced to near zero with the constant use of coin seigniorage. Details of how coin seigniorage would work with citations to legal issues involved are in beowulf’s post; and an outline of steps in a procedure is in my recent post.

7) So, since the Executive has a way of paying all obligations without deficit spending by using coin seigniorage and its Constitutional duty is to uphold both the Constitution and the laws of the United States, it follows that the Executive must immediately end its violation of the law, and use coin seigniorage to replenish the TGA as necessary to implement all the spending appropriations passed by Congress and all the previous obligations of the United States.

What else is there to say? The President has no choice in this matter. Congress has appropriated money for particular purposes. It has also passed a debt ceiling, and passed a law providing the Administration authority to engage in jumbo coin seigniorage to get revenue necessary to spend appropriations in the presence of the debt limit. The President is also bound to uphold the Constitutional prescription that no one may question the validity of the debts of the United States, which certainly also implies, in the context of the debt ceiling, that it is the obligation of the President to remove any basis for such questioning by using the authority granted to him to raise all revenue necessary to spend Congressional appropriations. So, what is he waiting for? He should move back into compliance with the Law by immediately using jumbo coin seigniorage, while ignoring the inevitable teeth gnashing by those holding the nation hostage!

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Bernie Says: “. . . We’re Tired of Bullying . . .”

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Bernie Sanders is really tired of Republican bullying on the debt ceiling. And he expressed how fed up he is about it on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. Here’s an open letter to Bernie, telling him what he and anybody else who’s fed up with that can do about it.

An Open Letter to Bernie

Dear Bernie,

If you’re really tired of the bullying then I think you need to stop believing in and start denying the basic premise the Republicans, the Blue Dogs, most Democrats and the Administration are all using to bully you and us into agreeing to spending cuts in key discretionary programs and entitlement programs, and also into not moving for more spending on jobs, better entitlement programs, including Medicare for All, and better discretionary programs we need to solve our many national problems. That premise is that the United States of America, the issuer of its own fiat currency, and the ultimate source of all US Dollars can run out of the money needed to continue to deficit spend and to pay its bills.

Of course, this can’t happen Bernie, as long as the Congress doesn’t constrain its own constitutional authority to spend by committing to legislation that limits its scope. Right now, Congress is doing that, however.

The requirement that Treasury issue debt before it deficit spends is mandated by Congress, and conflicts somewhat with previous Congressional appropriations creating spending authority. The debt ceiling is another mandate of Congress that conflicts with previously passed spending authority in a very direct way. Making the Federal Reserve Board of Governors an independent agency, rather than an agency under the Treasury Department, constrains the spending power of the Treasury beyond the limits provided by Congressional appropriations themselves.

These constraints, however, are political, not economic. If Congress removes even one of them, then the Federal Government can never run out of money already appropriated by Congress. Even with all three limitations, the Federal Government still cannot run out of money, if the Administration is willing to uphold the Constitution and exercise the full authority to coin money that Congress has granted to the Executive. Where the constitution comes in is that Section 4 of the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow the US Government to default on any of its obligations. So, constitutionally, Congress should not be playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

Apart from that however, the Executive has sworn to uphold the Constitution, and the Treasury has authority, granted by Congress in the 1990s, to mint platinum jumbo coins with arbitrarily large face values. So, rather than run out of money when it reaches the debt limit the Government can mint however much it needs to implement Congressional appropriations without either taxing or borrowing. You can find a more detailed explanation of this coin seigniorage idea here and here. Without going into detail in this open letter, I’ll just say that if the President uses coin seigniorage to meet the debt ceiling crisis, all the Republican’s power to bully and hold the Government hostage will be gone outside of the context of the appropriations process itself. We would have “an end to bullying.”

So, if you really want to end it, please call the President’s attention to this post and the links I’ve provided, and point out to him and anyone else who will listen, that he can make the bullying stop, anytime he wants to

Best,

Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Gallup Scores Another for the Plutocracy

11:10 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

I don’t really mean to single out Gallup here. Well, I guess I do; but they’re certainly not the only guilty party in the polling industry of doing what I’m about to rail against. Let’s begin by stipulating that public polls cannot escape ideological and selection biases in how they frame questions and alternative closed end response choices. Nevertheless, if poll results are to be considered even minimally descriptive of public opinion, they must make a concerted effort to include multiple frames and not exclude response choices that go beyond the dominant ideology. After all what good are polls that channel opinion in pre-determined directions compared to those that allow respondents to express their own tendencies?

Gallup provides a great illustration of illegitimate channeling and ideological bias in its recent poll (April 20-23. 2011). The poll included two questions:

Which do you think is more to blame for the federal budget deficit—[ROTATED: spending too much money on federal programs that are either not needed or wasteful, (or) not raising enough money in taxes to pay for needed federal programs]?

There were three response choices associated with this question:

– Spending too much on programs;

– Not raising enough money on taxes

– No opinion

Of course, the word “blame” in the question assumes that the Federal deficit is a negative and a problem that something should be “blamed” for. Not everyone feels that way. I, for example, think that the deficit is no problem at all, but simply a consequence of the Crash of 2008, and that most of it will go away when we fully recover, which we do not have a large or effective enough deficit to do (yes, I’m assuming that deficits if comprised of effective spending do cause recoveries).

How many people don’t think the deficit is a problem? 5%, 20%, 40% Well, probably not 40%; but, if you began polling on the deficit by asking whether people thought it was a serious problem, compared to others that will require deficit spending to solve, you’d probably find that only a minority felt that cutting the deficit was more important than solving the problems that will require continuing or expanding the deficit. When Gallup failed to ask this question first, it destroyed much of the value of its polling results, since, for example, if only 15% of people prioritize doing something about the deficit over solving other problems, then it’s not very important whether they, hypothetically, prefer to raise taxes or cut spending in order to cut that deficit?

So, the framing of Gallup’s question immediately reduces the usefulness of the results and also channels the reporting in a fictitious context where everyone believes that we must cut the deficit as our highest priority. Apart from the initial framing however, the response choices of raising taxes or cutting spending, simply reinforce the conventional wisdom about the choices available to reduce the deficit, and they ignore another choice, but that Gallup and most of the public has never heard of. That choice is using coin seigniorage to either reduce or eliminate the deficit and the national debt. Coin seigniorage could have been included in the question in this way: “Not using minting of jumbo platinum coins, as authorized by Congress to create enough revenue to reduce or eliminate the deficit.” That’s all it would have taken to have given the public another choice in order to find out whether people would be willing to place “the blame” on something else apart from the conventional two options.

There’s still another framing issue present in Gallup’s formulation of the first question. The question asks people what is more to blame for the Federal deficit. It could have asked what is more to blame for “the national debt.” Which would have been more relevant? Do people care more about the deficit or do they really just care about the national debt, or neither?

Had the question been asked about the national debt, then the alternatives would have been different. In addition to the raising taxes, cutting spending, and coin seigniorage, explanations, there’s a fourth explanation: namely that Congress requires the Treasury to issue debt when it deficit spends. Perhaps, we might have had a poll that looked entirely different if the question had focused on the national debt and also included these four things for people “to blame.”

Gallup’s second polling question on the deficit reads:

As you may know, Congress can reduce the federal budget deficit by cutting spending, raising taxes, or a combination of the two. Ideally, how would you prefer to see Congress attempt to reduce the federal budget deficit – [ROTATED: only with spending cuts, mostly with spending cuts, equally with spending cuts and tax increases, mostly with tax increases, (or) only with tax increases]?

and the response choices were:

– Only with spending cuts;
– Mostly with spending cuts;
– Equally with spending cuts and tax increases;
– Mostly with tax increases;
– Only with tax increases;
– Other (vol.)
– No opinion

Of course analogous objections apply to this question and its associated response options as the ones I’ve already given for the first question. The question implies that only two things can be done about the deficit. But there are at least three. In excluding the third, coin seigniorage, Gallup has biased the results toward alternatives that fit the frames of neo-liberal economics, a paradigm that has resulted in increasing economic and political inequality over the past 40 years.

Notice that so far I’ve refrained from talking about the results of this poll. That’s because I think the results are so biased that they provide no guide to divining the true state of American opinion on these subjects. The questions reflect only the neo-liberal elite perspectives that are rapidly marching us toward plutocracy. They don’t tell us how people would feel if they were presented with a more objective framing associated with the policy choices that are possible rather than just the ones that the Congress and the MSM are talking about today.

Imagine, finally, if Gallup’s poll had been focused on the national debt and had asked, first of all, if people felt that the national debt was a problem, and then offered all four of the “blame” and policy options for reducing the debt. I think the result of such a poll would have been far more illuminating and had much less ideological bias than we see in this poll. It’s too bad that Gallup didn’t incorporate the critical perspective and small amount of imagination necessary to take such a poll, because we badly need polling organizations like Gallup to serve us better, by not simply reflecting the frames of conventional wisdom, but also including options in its polls that reflect multiple perspectives.

This is a general problem. The MSM these days are locked into neo-liberal perspectives which provide none except painful solutions to our current problems. The polling organizations should be better than this. They should not reinforce the ideological shackles that have been forged for the American people. But should be more respectful of their founding notions about “a science of public opinion” and do what they can to reflect the true state of opinion in American.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Brinksmanship On the Debt Ceiling

3:49 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

As the United States Government approaches “running of money” to pay its bills, news articles and pronouncements by politicians about the debt ceiling dispute focus on several things. First, they talk about the dire consequences of defaulting on our obligations. Second, they talk about the need for spending cuts that will put us on a long-term path to balancing the budget, getting a Government surplus, and improving the debt-to-GDP ratio. Third, they talk about the debt ceiling preventing the Government from issuing further debt instruments to “fund” paying for its obligations. Fourth, they talk about the Republicans holding the economy hostage to force the Democrats into accepting spending cuts in very popular domestic programs, while excluding the possibility of closing the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Fifth, they talk about the brinksmanship and game-playing by both major parties, and the expectation that the debt ceiling will be raised in the end because failing to raise it will subject Wall Street and the banks to very real consequences. And sixth, they talk about the many little ad hoc things Timothy Geithner can do to put off the date when the Government “runs out of money” (now projected as August 2nd).

Geithner’s expedients for putting off the day of reckoning include: draining a special $200 Billion cash management account held at the Federal reserve; borrowing money from a pension fund for Federal workers; postponing scheduled auctions selling Federal debt instruments; raising revenue by selling Federal property; raising revenue by selling the almost $600 Billion in gold held by the Federal Government, any other tricks he can think of to squeeze a few more pennies of revenue out for the Treasury General Account (TGA) at the Fed.

Amidst all this talk and writing, there’s a notable absence of talk about two things that can easily be done to remove the need to raise the debt ceiling: one by Congress and one by the Obama Administration. Let’s talk about Congress first.

What Congress can do to end the debt ceiling crisis, other than raising the debt ceiling, is to allow the Executive to deficit spend Congressional appropriations without issuing any additional debt. Congress can do this at any time, and the Treasury will never have to issue debt instruments again in order to deficit spend.

I know, I know, some of you reading this will think, “Is he crazy? If Congress does that there’ll be runaway inflation.” Of course, I think this is just a false theory, not a fact. There won’t be any more inflation resulting from deficit spending without issuing debt than there will be from deficit spending with dollar-for-dollar debt issuance as currently mandated, because deficit spending without debt, produces no more net financial assets for the private sector than deficit spending accomapnied by new debt.

But my point here is not to argue the inflation/hyperinflation issue. It is to simply point out that this way out of the debt ceiling isn’t being discussed by any politicians or MSM writers or broadcasters. Their field of vision is restricted to the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling, and they’re not debating the pros and cons of what Congress can do to both keep the debt ceiling where it is, while at the same time it allows the Executive to deficit spend that part of its Congressional appropriation that exceeds its revenue. Everyone seems to love the brinksmanship, and the drama, and the risk, and won’t even take the trouble to compare the consequences of repealing the requirement to issue debt prior to deficit spending, with the consequences of default, increases in the debt, or cutting of popular programs.

So, why won’t the MSM explain that the very existence of the national debt is most directly caused by Congress’s own appropriations, coupled with their mandate that debt must be issued when the Government deficit spends? Why won’t they write about the alternative of Congress just repealing that mandate and point out that it may be a way out of the brinksmanship, while, of course, being “objective” and pointing out the downside of Congress doing that, compared to the downside of Congress raising the debt limit, or raising taxes, or cutting popular programs in order to seek smaller deficits and even budget surpluses?

In general, why is it that the MSM, in case after case, filters out some solutions to problems and arrives at a small number of alternatives that from a broader perspective seem inadequate to solve the problems they’re directed at. Take the stimulus program. There were many ways to pursue it. Why did the MSM focus in on President Obama’s “trickle down” program and negotiations surrounding it, without ever writing about more direct stimulus measures like State revenue sharing, payroll tax holidays for employers and employees, and direct Federal job creation in the context of a Federal Job Guarantee Program?

In the area of credit card reform, why did the MSM say hardly a word about limiting Federal Card Interest rates to roughly 5 points over the credit card companies’ cost of borrowing? Why didn’t they say anything about the importance of immediate implementation of the reform, so the companies would not be able to raise rates and impose new fees before reforms went into effect? In the area of health care reform, why did they stop talking about Medicare for All so early in the reform process, when surveys showed that a majority of people wanted just that? More recently, in the face of many polls that show that a majority of people are against deep cuts in entitlements, or specific discretionary spending programs like Head Start, or in social safety net programs, while they also favor much heavier taxation of people with higher incomes and corporations, why isn’t the MSM running stories about how much revenue would be forthcoming from these sources, if only the politicians would stop taking fair share taxation off the table?

The MSM is failing the American people. It’s interpreting its job as being one of tracking the thinking of elites on policy issues and as only discussing the ins and outs of alternatives the politicians view as “serious.” MSM reporters claim that this is objective reporting because alternatives “taken off the table” are not news. But this kind of thinking means that the politicians and their paymasters determine what is news and what is not, rather than the problems we all face and alternative solutions that might best solve those problems. So, the MSM is not doing its duty in “telling the people” what’s really going on.

And when it comes to the debt ceiling, it won’t tell the people that the very existence of the debt isn’t caused by deficit spending alone, but by deficit spending coupled with Congressional rules forcing the Government to issue debt when it deficit spends. The continuing very existence of the national debt is Congress’s fault, since with no more debt issuance, the national debt would be largely extinguished within 5 years, and mostly extinguished within 10. Why don’t we hear about that in The Washington Post amidst all the writing we’ve seen warning America about the unsustainable deficits and debt-to-GDP ratio?

Getting to what the Executive branch can do to end the debt ceiling crisis, here too, we have politicians and the MSM unable, or unwilling, to talk or write about anything the Treasury can do about the debt ceiling that goes beyond temporary expedients. The MSM is willing to talk about all kinds of Rube Goldberg schemes that Geithner might use to put off the day of reckoning implied by the debt ceiling, but they won’t report on, discuss, and evaluate, the one thing that Treasury already has authority from Congress to do, that would render the debt ceiling irrelevant, and enable Treasury to deficit spend all of the appropriations that Congress has already approved for this fiscal year.

That one thing is to use coin seigniorage to generate revenue without either increased taxation or increasing debt by borrowing. In fact, coin seigniorage, can be used to extinguish the national debt, without either reclaiming currency from the private sector by taxing, or, technically, even running a Federal deficit (provided “deficit” is defined as spending – Federal revenue raised from all sources, including, but not limited to, tax revenues.) Here’s how a coin seigniorage initiative by the Executive might work to end the brinksmanship on the debt ceiling, and any risk of Government default proceeding from it. The President would:

– Direct the mint to create a jumbo platinum coin with face value $500 Billion.

– Direct the mint to deposit the coin in its account at the New York Federal Reserve.

– Direct the Treasury to “sweep” the mint’s account to collect profits from coinage (this would result in marking up Treasury’s General Account at the New York Fed by $500 Billion).

– Inform Congress and the public that the previous actions were taken to head off any possibility of default or Government shutdown due to the House’s possible refusal to raise the debt limit in the course of implementing its strategy of extracting severe budget cuts from the Administration. The President should also mention that increasing the size of Treasury’s account balance at the Federal Reserve will not be inflationary because Government spending will remain exactly the same as it would have been if the coin had not been minted.

– Wait for reactions to this move. The ensuing uproar from many quarters including the business community, many economists, and the Federal Reserve, will focus on fears of inflation, and it’s likely that top economists, and some Federal Reserve officials such as Ben Bernanke will claim that spending without issuing debt to absorb the new money placed into the private economy is inflationary, because the quantity of money in the economy will increase. It’s likely that this view will create quite a stir in the media, and even that the value of the dollar will go down in international markets briefly, because the expectations of people will be affected by this argument, and a limited period of “self-fulfilling prophecy” will occur.

– Respond to this reaction by pointing out that it was forced on the Administration, which could not stand idly by while the full faith and credit of the United States was threatened by irresponsible Congressional partisans whose purpose was to take the economy hostage to force an agreement on spending cuts that are against the wishes of a substantial majority of the American people, as indicated by every public opinion poll appearing in recent weeks. The President should also point out, that even though he doesn’t believe that the minting of jumbo coins to pay for spending is inflationary, for reasons he previously stated, he is willing to work with Congresspeople who think there’s a possibility of inflation enduring beyond the initial psychological reaction to minting jumbo coins, and then he can suggest two proposals that Congress may want to consider to remove the need for the Executive Branch to issue jumbo coins to meet debt ceiling crises.

1) Congress could eliminate the debt ceiling so that the US has no more crises of this sort again. Congress can still cut/control spending through the appropriations process, even in the absence of a debt ceiling, and this is the appropriate way for Congress to do it so that individual Congresspeople must go on record for any cuts in Federal programs they want to make.

2) Congress could eliminate the requirement that Federal deficit spending must be matched by issuance of new debt dollar-for-dollar. The President could emphasize here that if this was done, not only would there be no more debt ceiling crises, but the Federal Government could pay off most of the national debt, except for very long-term instruments, within ten years, because the only thing that is maintaining that debt is Congress’s requirement that new debt be issued in response to deficit spending.

He can also point out here that he doesn’t think that the rollover of Federal Government debt is any problem for the long run because of the way the US’s fiat currency system works. But for those who do think it is either a short or long-term problem, this option will eliminate any possible generational debt problem because it will eliminate the national debt which we will not then have to hand on to our grandchildren. He can then add that he knows that many will react to this proposal by saying that it will be inflationary to try to eliminate the national debt this way. But he thinks that since the amount of Government spending won’t change if we implement this proposal; and the amount of Net Financial Assets Government is injecting into the economy also won’t change, he doesn’t think so. But if it should turn out that inflation results from this effort to pay off the national debt; then the Treasury will simply begin to issue debt again, and also adopt other measures to control inflation.

– The President, after making these proposals, should add that the $500 Billion in revenue from coin seigniorage will probably take the Government through August or September without its having to issue new debt, and that if Congress can’t come to agreement on what to do about the debt ceiling before then, he will issue a new jumbo coin, this time one having $1.5 Trillion in face value, and that he will use the new coin for program spending and also to pay off $1 Trillion of the national debt. He can also say that he hopes he doesn’t have to do that, but like institutions in the private sector, the Government can’t operate well in an atmosphere of psychological uncertainty. Government workers have to know that their work and family lives will not be placed under stress by partisan conflict in Washington. In addition, private sector businesses and workers are greatly impacted by any freeze in Government spending caused by attempts at hostage-taking by Congress.

I think that Mr. Obama is a winner in the scenario I’ve outlined. He will be much more popular than he is now by virtue of rendering the debt ceiling threat impotent, and because he will be perceived as acting strongly and cleverly to get around the Republican House to avoid a shut-down of the Government and the possibility of default. He will even be perceived as more “adult” than the other participants in the “debt ceiling crisis” because he will be implementing a technical solution to the problem that prevents the “hostage-taking” temper-tantrum foot-stamping element in the Congress from inflicting real damage on the American people.

The Republicans will come back for another bite at the shut-down apple when they take up the Omnibus spending bill. But here they will find that they won’t be able to use the ballooning deficit/national debt rationalization to justify their attempts to hold the Government hostage to get cuts in discretionary spending and the social safety net. President Obama will have, by then, demonstrated that by using coin seigniorage he can take the deficit and debt issues completely off the table, and that Congress can’t simply force Government to shut down by hostage-taking as long as coin seigniorage is there.

This lesson won’t be as clear in the case of the $500 Billion coin, even though some of that money will be used to pay off debt. But, once people see that the national debt doesn’t need to rise if seigniorage is used; it will be easy to explain that if it is used more, the national debt can actually be paid down or paid off. Of course, if the President ends up having to use the $1.5 Trillion coin, then there will be a very graphic demonstration that having a national debt is a matter of a policy choice which Congress is now making, not a matter of necessity.

After that, objections to Government spending based on the idea that it will increase the deficit and the debt will be “off the table.” And then we can move on to handle the many real problems of the American people without worrying about the purely political and psychological, but non-financial and no-economic, problems of the debt, and the deficit.

In considering either the Congressional or Executive options for defusing the debt ceiling issue, our politicians and the MSM writers who track our political games ought to keep in mind and in their many broadcasts and writings on this subject the juxtaposition of two aspects of US law, and thanks to beowulf for pointing out the juxtaposition. First, there is Sect. 4 of the 14th Amendment. It reads in part:

”. . . .the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned”

I think that office holders and others who through their brinksmanship create conditions that may cause the US to default certainly are questioning the validity of that debt.

And second, there is this Criminal Mischief statute

18 US 1361. Government property or contracts

“Whoever willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States, or of any department or agency thereof, or any property which has been or is being manufactured or constructed for the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or attempts to commit any of the foregoing offenses, shall be punished as follows:

If the damage or attempted damage to such property exceeds the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both; if the damage or attempted damage to such property does not exceed the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.”

Members of Congress and the Executive Branch have all taken oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States, so they are all obligated to end the debt ceiling crisis and the brinksmanship surrounding it. Congress should end the crisis now by ending debt issuance and the welfare stream it provides to the rich and foreign nations.

And, if Congress fails to do so, the President should quickly implement coin seigniorage to end the debt ceiling crisis, and also make it clear that there will be no more opportunities for hostage-taking and blackmail arising from other debt ceiling crises in the future. If members of Congress want to cut Federal programs, they would no longer be able to hide behind the deficit or debt ceiling excuses while doing it. Instead, they’ll have to stand up like honest men and women and say that they’re against unemployment insurance, or Medicare, or Jobs programs, or Social Security and admit that while they’ll support subsidies and tax cuts for big business, and debt issuance welfare for the rich and foreign nations all day long, they’re just against assistance programs for the poor and middle class because working people, unlike their privileged friends and campaign, must stand on their own two feet, subject to the vagaries of their manipulated markets, or the moral character of the nation will be a thing of the past.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests — Part III. Why and How Congressional Elections Can Be Won By Transpartisan Voting Blocs in 2012

9:15 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

[Author's note: This series has been re-posted by Joe Firestone (a.k.a. letsgetitdone) on behalf of author Nancy Bordier with her express permission.]

By Nancy Bordier

See the series introduction here.

All U.S. House of Representatives seats and one third of Senate seats in Congress will be up for re-election in 2012. The U.S. House of Representatives holds the "power of the purse" because it initiates all revenue bills. Electing a majority of representatives to this body who are untainted by special interest money is the fastest and most direct way for U.S. voters to get their policy priorities enacted into law and stop the passage of legislation that serves special interests.

With 80% of Americans wanting most Congressional representatives to be defeated, and the two major parties attracting little more than half of all of registered voters combined, there are likely to be enough discontented voters in most Congressional districts to oust their incumbents — provided they have a mechanism for putting House candidates on the ballot that elicit the votes of a plurality of voters. (U.S. election laws permit candidates to be elected without a majority of all votes cast; they just need to get more votes than any other candidate, referred to as a "plurality").

This mechanism is provided by the web application described in Part II, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), which enables voters to take advantage of the large scale collective action power of the Internet to win Congressional elections in the electoral districts where they live. The efforts of voters to use the Internet and the application to oust incumbents will be furthered by the fact that incumbent Democrats and Republicans in Congress are often elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with less than 100,000 votes in non-presidential election years. (Each district comprises a total population of approximately 600,000.)

Moreover, while many state election laws are designed to thwart candidacies not backed by the major parties, the rules governing primary elections for the U.S. House of Representatives require the signatures of only a small percentage of registered voters to put a candidate on the ballot on an existing political party’s line. While the rules vary widely among the 50 states, it is only 5% in states like New York State.

In a hypothetical New York State Congressional election district with 300,000 registered voters, of whom 150,000 are Democrats and 150,000 are Republicans, all that the 80% of dissatisfied voters have to do, in order to put a candidate on the primary ballot of either party, is to collect valid signatures from 7500 registered voters in that primary.

Not only are the signatures of only a fraction of registered voters required to put a candidate on an existing party’s ballot line, but there is no minimum number of party voters required to actually vote for the candidate to get him/her elected in the party’s primary election. Moreover, only a small minority of a party’s registered voters actually turn out to vote in primary elections and this minority actually determines the party’s general election slate of candidates.

Recent Tea Party victories in electing unknown party candidates in primary elections against establishment Republican incumbents show how easy it is to take advantage of the low number of signatures and primary voters required — especially when the candidates are backed by irate, aggrieved voters who can be mobilized to vote in larger numbers than dispirited, apathetic or over-confident mainstream voters.

These statistics and requirements show that grassroots voters do not face insurmountable obstacles to ousting incumbents in their Congressional districts in 2012 — provided they can agree on who they want to run, and can get candidates on the primary and general election ballot that can attract a plurality of votes cast. This is no small matter given the two major parties’ pre-eminence in electoral politics and the surging special interest-backed Tea Party movement, but the IVCS web application makes attaining this goal entirely feasible in most election districts that have a majority of irate mainstream voters who want to replace their representatives.

What has prevented the majority of dissatisfied voters in the past from running and electing insurgent candidates against those run by the two major political parties with special interest funding is that they lacked a mechanism for building voting blocs whose members can agree on a set of priorities and slates of candidates, and attract enough voters away from special interest-backed candidates to cast a plurality of votes for bloc candidates.

Third parties like the Green party and the Libertarian party, for example, have not sought to create a hybrid voting bloc, even for the tactical goal of defeating major party candidates, because they have been striving to differentiate themselves from each other and from the two major parties. (Moreover, both have been handicapped in developing substantial electoral bases by federal and state "winner-take-all" election laws that favor the two major parties.)

In contrast, the IVCS web application empowers voters, existing political parties and new parties focused on winning Congressional elections to build transpartisan voting blocs without large sums of money. IVCS enables them to bring together virtually unlimited numbers of voters across the political spectrum to set shared transpartisan policy agendas and select common slates of candidates willing to run on their agendas. With 80% of the electorate wanting to oust most Congressional representatives, the application enables these blocs to easily acquire the voting strength they need to outflank and outmaneuver existing stand-alone political parties that are running special interest-backed candidates. In fact, they can pre-empt these parties from running such candidates by building voting blocs that run winning candidates on their ballot lines in party primaries.

The application makes the formation of these blocs, agendas and slates possible by providing free web-based tools and services to individual voters across the political spectrum on a single website. These tools allow them to set their policy agendas and contact voters who share their policy priorities so they can join forces to create voting blocs in their local Congressional election districts dedicated to electing representatives who will enact their priorities into law. (To view a prototype of the website, click here.)

The application provides an easy-to-use repertory of bottom-up collaboration and consensus-building tools designed to enable grassroots voters to organize and run autonomous voting blocs in their Congressional districts free of unwanted outside influence. They can operate their voting blocs inside or across party lines, or in new parties they or others create. Although the tools also help voters use their voting blocs to build electoral coalitions and even new parties on a local, state and even national level, individual voting blocs will always be the building blocks and driving forces of these relationships.

Voting bloc members can adopt whatever rules they think they need to manage themselves internally and negotiate external relationships, including electoral coalitions, agendas and slates of candidates with other voting blocs, political parties, unions, etc. If they function in ways their members find objectionable, with or without formal rules, dissatisfied members can leave the bloc and join or start other voting blocs with modes of operation more to their liking. The competition among voting blocs for members will enhance the prospects for democratic decision-making.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Restoring the Balance in US Governance: Another Reply to Bill Egnor

9:44 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Hi Bill, Thanks for your kind words, your support of my post, and your help in calling Jason’s attention to it. It’s great to be writing in a community where people support one another even when they disagree.

I take your point that the presidency should be less powerful than it is, and I generally agree with it. I too, have been very concerned at the abuse of power by the Executive Branch, and about the dangers of concentrating power in a unitary executive, and I have thought quite a bit about how to put a stop to it. However, I don’t think it’s useful to either appeal to the viewpoint of the founders to solve the problem, or to think about the solution in terms of simply reducing the President’s power.

The reason for this is the question of the President’s power within our present system is a very complex one, and I think we have to think about that power in four of its aspects and also in terms of the distinction between the domestic and foreign policy/national security domains. The four aspects I have in mind are the power of the President to: 1) get legislation that he or she wants through Congress in more or less the form that he or she wants to see it; 2) avoid enforcing legislation passed by the Congress, and engaging in behavior that breaks duly enacted laws; 3) block legislation that he or she is against; and 4) get his or her appointees considered and confirmed or rejected within a reasonable time frame. Read the rest of this entry →

Do We Expect Too Much From the President? A Reply To Bill Egnor

8:45 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Bill Egnor blogs about whether or not we’ve been expecting too much from President Obama. He says:

“If you look at the Presidency from the point of view of the Constitution, it really is not a powerful office except in terms of what it prevents. It is really and primarily a check on the powers of other areas of our government and military. The president proposes no legislation, none. He can only do one of two things with a piece of legislation; he can sign it and make it law, or he can veto it. This is intended to be the final check to prevent the Congress from making a big mistake. They can override a veto, it is true, but when a veto happens it requires a reexamination of the bill by both Houses and a two thirds majority in each in order to overrule the President.”

I don’t think we’ve been expecting too much from the President, and I do think he’s been letting us down. Bill’s contrary view is based on the idea that the written constitution makes the Presidency a relatively weak office, and that, under it, it is not the President’s job to legislate or to take the lead in helping us to meet America’s social, economic other problems. But, I think this is a very anachronistic interpretation of the constitution which the United States has left far behind long years ago. Read the rest of this entry →