Coin of the Realm of Madness
Deep in the bowels of the US Mint in Philadelphia are coin presses which run constantly, producing millions of one-dollar coins, day after day, day in and day out. The mechanized beasts are more productive than the god Vulcan, sweating away in his forge beneath Mt. Aetna, and they certainly require less upkeep than the legendary Norse dwarves mining gold in the dark, dank recesses of the earth.
The relentlessly efficient seven machines run nonstop, pouring out 1,800,000 presidential coins per diem, each coin costing 32 cents to produce, adding up to a total cost of $600,000 each day.
It all started when the Congress in session in 2005, led by Delaware's Mike Castle, among others, got the golden idea of commemorating every dead president by imprinting the images of the deceased leaders on coins. Promoters of the cause thought the coins would instantly be put into circulation or snapped up by eager professional and amateur numismatists.
But it has turned out that nobody wants the coins.
Even the coins stamped with the visage of James K. Polk haven't seen much demand.
So the coins have been put in storage at the Federal Reserve in Baltimore, which since has run out of storage capacity, its underground vaults stuffed with shelf after shelf of so many plastic money bags that even Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn't be able to count the monies. Now, 650,000 dollars are being allocated to build a new vault in Dallas, Texas. The cost to ship the billion or so coins? A cool $3,000,000. The full story, as related by Diane Sawyer of ABC News, can be found here.
There's a lesson here.
Ms. Sawyer suggests that the insanity of the non-ending production of the orphan coins resembles a sci-fi story, but perhaps there's another tale that better illustrates the government's folly.
The ancient legend of King Midas relates how the wealthy king of Phrygia prayed that everything he touched would turn to gold. Of course, it turned out he couldn't eat any food and began to starve to death because when he touched his vittles, strange things happened, like grapes turning into gold nuggets. As some tell the story, even his beloved daughter turned into a gold statue when he hugged her.
Desperate, Midas petitioned the gods to rid him of the curse. Instructed to bathe in the river Paktolos, he came out of the current a sane man again.
Our government, addicted to creating "gold," has yet to learn that the Midas touch to which it is addicted is actually a curse. It persists in the fantastical belief that money can be created willy-nilly by a mere wish for more. Ben Bernanke, the entire Federal Reserve board, our Congress, and our current administration apparently believe that gold can be created by decree.
Time was, the phrases "sound as a dollar" and "coin of the realm" meant something. The value of money was at one time attached to actual goods and services. It even was at one time attached to the value of gold itself. The concepts seem almost quaint, considering the behavior of the current administration, which doesn't seem to realize that machines pumping out millions of useless coins and the Federal Reserve "monetizing" debt by feverishly printing more and more money are indicators that the government has embarked on a mad quest for mere fool's gold.
The Congress which started this coinage madness and decreed that it continue until 2016 persists in its fool's errand even though the program has been a manifest failure from the get-go. The coin presses it authorized to mint the coins, like the Sorcerer's apprentice who couldn't stop the magic he started, continue to pound out the dollars nonstop.
Money irrationally detached from reality just may be an ominous sign of the future. For if the presses continue spewing dollars, the resultant devaluation of currency will in fact mean that no one wants any dollars at all, paper or coin, as both will be worthless.
Just as serious, government Monopoly money is by government fiat equal to and easily spent right along with hard-earned but devalued tax dollars taken from the citizens. Those same citizens will pay yet more taxes in the form of inflation. Further, and just as ominously, citizens may be tempted to scuttle the fool's-gold dollars in all sorts of ways, developing underground trade/barter economies and their own ad hoc currencies in order to survive the government's foolishness.
Our feckless leaders are continuing to believe in the Midas touch, which, along with the ancient alchemists' belief that lead could be turned to gold, is delusional to the point of insanity. More and more they seem to resemble the king of legend, who persisted in his foolishness and finally was inflicted with a permanent pair of ass's ears.
How appropriate. One can only hope.
But at this point, it seems that all we can hope is that someone -- anyone -- in charge will stand athwart destiny and yell, "Stop the presses!"
But don't count on it.