The Trillion Dollar Coin: The Hot New Atonement Metaphor

Here's the hot new atonement metaphor of the season.

We, as sinners, have wracked up a debt we cannot pay. But God, in God's great mercy, mints a coin of infinite value. Not a a trillion-dollar coin, but a coin of infinite value! This coin is Jesus Christ. And God deposits this Coin in the Treasury of Heaven which can now--because of its infinite value--cover all our sin-debts.

Praise be to God!

Silliness aside, this metaphor is actually closer to Anselm's substitutionary thinking than the penal substitutionary model that later eclipsed it. Specifically, the trillion dollar coin metaphor doesn't hinge on God's wrath--a crime and punishment trope--but on the infinite value of Jesus that can cover any and all debts.

(And apologies to all my Non-USA readers if you've not kept up with our trillion dollar coin debate. A quick Google search of "trillion dollar coin" should catch you up.)

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19 thoughts on “The Trillion Dollar Coin: The Hot New Atonement Metaphor”

  1. I love this discussion. I've been following MMT for about a year now. Jubilee. It's great, it's unmasking money's power over us. Money is just a public utility. It can be created or destroyed with keystrokes, it's no longer something we need to worship or hold on to.
    This is maybe the best MMT blog out there, that's been discussing the trillion dollar coin idea for a long time.
    Yes, the 1% got their atonement/jubilee, their debts forgiven with the bailouts and the endless quantitative easings I, II, III are we up to IV yet. It's time for a jubilee/atonement of the 99%, we need our debts forgiven. Heck we could even mint a $60 trillion dollar coin and designate most to middle class debt repayment and still not have to worry about inflation.

  2. It's not much of a metaphor if we are legally allowed to mint a new Jesus anytime we want :)

  3. Ah, the Bail-Out model of atonement (though I'm sure it doesn't cover the "undeserving" poor).  As our Lord said, "It's the economy, stupid!"

  4. The trillion dollar coin is nothing more than a cutesy accounting fribble.  It has no more actual value as currency than does most of the so-called debt owed to the imaginary banking system (Federal Reserve).  It is just a way to make a balance sheet of meaningless numbers look actually balanced.  

    As such, the trillion dollar coin makes perfect sense to me as a metaphor for the death of Jesus.  According to most of the various Sin doctrines that I've heard of, God made up a debt we owe (or a reason to be violently and mortally angry with us) and Jesus was nothing more than God's excuse to write off the made-up/imputed debt we own (or just quit being angry about us).

  5. This is a good example of what happens when good theology runs into bad economics. Do we need a Jubilee? Yes. Can we just print up a bunch of money to do it? Of course not. Money isn't just a public utility, though it is commonly manipulated by states as if it were, and we see the results in the form of inflation, shortages, and bubbles.

    I sympathize with you, but I think you're analyzing this all wrong. Money deserves a modicum of respect. When we believe that we have the intelligence to manipulate it and bring about God's kingdom, that's when it becomes a demonic power. The salvation of the poor will not come from places of centralized political power.

  6. It is the function of the government to control and issue the currency. Money is just a tool, a lubricant for social relations. It's not commonly manipulated by states, it's always manipulated by states and banks. That's what the Fed does, it manipulates the market. I guess it's just a matter of who you want manipulating the currency, bankers who want to put everyone in the poor house, or more justice/jubilee minded folks.
    New Economic Perspectives has another post today regarding this.

  7. There's no obvious reason that "It is the function of the government to control and issue the currency."  Fundamentally, government need not be involved in minting currency at all, in fact, as Rothbard has shown.  It's just that people that gain political power rightly determine that they can increase their power immeasurably and further their parochial agendas more fully if they successfully assert control over the minting and distribution of coinage.  We need look no further than BHO for a prime example, which is one way of affirming that Lord Acton was right on the money.

  8. This is why I think more Jubille-minded people ought to read F. A. Hayek. 1) Just because governments (the Fed, etc.) presently manipulate money, doesn't mean it's always been that way, or always has to be that way, (or is the best way). 2) It's not just a matter of greedy bankers vs. high-minded political leaders. That's a false dichotomy built on a blind faith in the power of economic planning. Scientism wrapped in moralism is still scientism.

    Christianity needs more anarchists, and anarchism needs more Christians.

  9. Brandon, if money isn't made by Governments, where does it come from? And is it possible to have too little money in circulation, or only too much? For example, would $10 in circulation be too little, or is it always better to have less?

  10. There's some very good scholarship on your first question. The short answer is that it arises in the voluntary market, naturally, as people run into the problems inherent in a barter economy. Gold and silver are historically the most common examples of money because they are marketable, they transport easily, they're relatively scarce, relatively imperishable, easy to store, easy to divide, and are of uniform quality. But even cigarettes can fill the need, as they did in POW camps in WW2. Other examples include salt, feathers, stones, and shells.

    I don't feel like I'm qualified to answer your second question. I could speculate, but I don't actually know.

  11. I think anarchist David Graeber would disagree with you regarding the origin of money. This is an extremely good interview.

  12. Hey, you guys are pushing me over my physical cliff! Here I am trying to dirt out atonement theories and now I have to become an economist! Talk about an eclectic overview...whew!

  13. Great link. I think the key observation is found in this passage:

    "What’s been happening since Nixon went off the gold standard in 1971
    has just been another turn of the wheel – though of course it never
    happens the same way twice. However, in one sense, I think we’ve been
    going about things backwards. In the past, periods dominated by virtual
    credit money have also been periods where there have been social
    protections for debtors. Once you recognize that money is just a social
    construct, a credit, an IOU, then first of all what is to stop people
    from generating it endlessly? And how do you prevent the poor from
    falling into debt traps and becoming effectively enslaved to the rich?
    That’s why you had Mesopotamian clean slates, Biblical Jubilees,
    Medieval laws against usury in both Christianity and Islam and so on and
    so forth.

    Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead
    to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people
    would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population
    that they would start selling family members into slavery, or
    eventually, even themselves.

    Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort
    of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these
    grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect
    creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional
    economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default.
    Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing
    something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients
    were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of

    And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt
    he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members
    of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your
    family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that
    most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves."

    I recently wrote about the relationship between debt and increasing income inequality here:

  14. Your second/third questions you can probably answer for yourself pretty well by thinking about Brandon's answer to the first one.

    Anything can serve as currency, in principle; gold and silver are just two of the billyuns and billyuns of possibilities.  But they are highly *divisible*, unlike (for instance) cattle or goats.  Divisibility is a key attribute:  if I cannot afford an entire beef, perhaps I can afford a third of a beef, but as a seller I dare not sell a third of a beef until I am prepared to sell the whole beef (for obvious reasons).  So beef animals would be a suitable currency only for those who are relatively wealthy, who make transactions valued at multiples of beeves rather than fractions of them.

    Gold, however, is almost infinitely divisible.  And a lot of people want it for a lot of reasons.  So gold can be accessed as a currency by both rich and poor, the rich in the form of bars, the poor in the form of flakes or small coins etc.

    What that means for the amount of money in circulation is therefore just sort of a practical consideration.  There needs to be enough money in circulation that the smallest widely-needed denomination of that currency is practical to handle.

    Run through some thought experiments using a population of, say, ten people and the currency of your choice.  It becomes clear pretty quickly, at least in semi-quantitative terms, what the attributes of a good currency are.

    Incidentally, the mutual fund is a prime example of creating divisibility for the sake of engaging the middle class in equity markets.  I can't really afford to buy a share of Apple stock ($600 or so per share), but I can buy a share in a mutual fund that owns Apple stock as part of its portfolio.  When I buy that MF share, I'm actually buying a tiny fraction of an Apple share.

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