Sunday mornings represent prime time for political dicussions. Let’s limit ours to silly policy, platinum and The Simpsons.
First off, let’s get this out of the way: The $1 trillion platinum coin will not happen. “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,” says a Treasury spokesman.
Now, speculation and chatter swirled for weeks about the possibility, and more importantly, the fiscal feasibility, behind the trillion-dollar coin. Some very smart folks—right down to a former U.S. mint chief—suggested the Treasury could take advantage of a loophole, mint a $1 trillion platinum coin and ship it to the Federal Reserve. In theory it would then allow the U.S. to keep paying its bills, even though the country surpassed its $16.4 trillion debt limit. Another solution: Perhaps the government can issue IOU’s that we redeem at our local Wells Fargo or Bank of America.
The coin thing sounded great, though, right? Well, it sounded a bit far-fetched…even more so when you consider that fiscal theorem originated in Los Angeles, not Washington D.C. It is, in fact, ripped right from the halcyon days of the late 1990s—when Butterfinger BB’s still existed, and The Simpsons was in its ninth season. In that stretch of episodes, there was one called The Trouble With Trillions, an amusing romp that alluded to Stark Trek and included Fidel Castro.
The Trouble with Trillions
Johnson sends Homer on a secret mission. They reveal that in 1945, President Harry Truman printed a one trillion-dollar bill (with his photo on it) to help reconstruct post-war Europe.
Here’s a succinct episode synopsis from Ed Yardeni, a widely followed economist, that my colleague, Chris Helman, unsurfaced for us from a Yardeni client note:
In 1945, President Harry Truman secretly printed a one-trillion-dollar bill with his photo on it. He did so to help pay for the post-war reconstruction of Europe. He entrusted Montgomery Burns with the mission of transporting the large denomination to the Europeans. However, the money never arrived, and the FBI suspects Burns kept the money. That’s the premise of an episode of The Simpsons, first aired on April 5, 1998 titled, “The Trouble with Trillions.” Homer Simpson is caught cheating on his taxes and is turned into an informant by the FBI. Along the way, the bill is stolen by Fidel Castro.
I looked for the episode on YouTube. Alas, Fox and News Corp. keep a tight lid on copyright content. I found only this, the bit in which Castro makes off with the $1 trillion bill:
That Yardeni included it in his daily market musings reflects how ridiculous the whole thing became. A discussion over an idea dreamt up more than a decade earlier as a Simpsons plot device.