Coin vs. Bill wasn't set up as a podcast to demonstrate the inevitability of money being injected into politics and the weird ways that money gets in there -- ways not imagined by Citizens United and far harder to root out and know about than millionaires putting up vanity candidates like Santorum and Gingrich, such candidates being the primary result (puns always intended) of that decision so far: Corporations continue to act rationally, for the most part, funding both parties because they believe money buys access, not elections (it does, in ways that I'll talk about in the future) while millionaires and billionaires throw money at each other in an attempt to prove... something?
(For those who continue to fret about the role of money in politics based on SuperPACs and Stephen Colbert ratings stunts, consider this: Neither Santorum nor Gingrich has a viable candidacy anymore, Romney trails in the polls, and 13 corporations have pulled out of ALEC this year.)
Back to Coin vs. Bill, a podcast ostensibly about whether the US should adopt a dollar coin, which to me would be a spectacularly stupid move for many reasons beyond the fiscal, including that my own personal prediction is that we won't have cash at all in 10 years. I recently used some cash -- Sweetie gave me $60 to go to the store and get some stuff, and I found it awkward to not simply swipe a card, and to worry about whether the kid was counting my change correctly, and then having coins jingling in my pocket.
But this isn't about that. This is about the fact that the shift from a dollar bill to a dollar coin is being fought, on both sides, for reasons of money -- but not money from Billionaires For Losers, or whatever SuperPAC people are worried about now.
The Government Accountability Office recommends switching from paper to metal -- doing so even though producing the coins would cost more than producing the bills. The GAO is honest about why they think the government should spend more money making more money: Because it makes money for the government, through "seignorage." Says Planet Money:
In its most recent report, the GAO recommends switching to coins, which could make $4.4 billion for the government over 30 years. But the report says the government benefit does not come from the fact that coins are more cost effective. Instead the benefit comes from something called "seigniorage."
Seigniorage is the profit the government makes from having money out in the economy. More money out there means more profit for the government.
Over time, coins earn more seigniorage for the government, but only because we don't like using them.
A lot more money. That number, in case you glossed over it, was $4,400,000,000, described by people in the know as essentially a tax on change jars. There are 311,591,917 people in the US as I write this, so that's a tax hike of $14.12 on every man, woman, and child in America. Mr F and Mr Bunches, my 5-year-old twins, would pay a tax of nearly $30 on their piggy banks if this plan passes.
The charge for dollar coins is being led by John McCain, whose only remaining principle is "please keep electing me." McCain is joined by Tom Harkin, of Iowa, in that fight, making it a bipartisan plan to tax you. Harkin says it's more efficient to make dollar coins (leaving aside the inefficiency of you not wanting to use them.) NPR suggests it's more than that: McCain's state, Arizona, is home to lots of copper mines, and copper is what's used to produce dollar coins. McCain wouldn't comment on the story. Harkin, meanwhile, has PMX Industries in Cedar Rapids, Iowa - -which makes the sheets used to make the dollar coins. Efficiency indeed!
On the other side is a more traditional lobbying effort: Crane & Co., which makes the paper for dollar bills, invested $70,000 in a lobbying effort and created "Americans For George," a group that mostly exists to have people sign a petition to keep the dollar bill, and to provide links to pro-dollar-bill stories.
The real point is, though, that the fight over SuperPACs and unlimited contributions misses the real point. McCain has a long history of vigorously fighting to protect the copper industry, including fighting Obama when the current president reversed George Worst President Ever Bush's decision to let a copper company mine a national forest, and siding with miners over Apaches in a water dispute.
People concerned about Citzens United should take note: McCain doesn't seem to get a lot of contributions from mining interests. What's at work here is simple self-interest; as many as 20,000 people make their living directly from mining, according to Arizona's state government. That's about 1 in 100 Arizonans who make their living that way, and representing those constituents is generally viewed as a Senator's job.
PMX Industries, meanwhile, may employ as many as 1000 people in Iowa, a not insignificant number.
So two Senators are backing a bill that would tax every American $14.12, doing so despite the fact that it's an unpopular bill that might end up raising prices and creating a modest amount of inflation, and doing so because that bill directly benefits their states (and their re-election) -- and doing so despite the fact that there are no SuperPACs dominating that fight, that campaign contributions about the issue have mostly been limited to some posters in the Washington, D.C., subway. One can argue about whether or not the bill is a good idea; one can argue about whether Senators have a greater duty to their country or their state (both would be above their re-election, right?)(I know. I'm dreaming.)
But nobody can argue that Citizens United and Vanity Candidates are impacting the fight over a $4,400,000,000 bipartisan tax increase currently being debated.