Thank a comments section guy for the trillion-dollar coin
While political cliques fight for credit, all roads end in one man: Carlos Mucha.
Another Democratic president means another round of debt-ceiling brinksmanship, which means of course that we’re reviving one of the funniest political proposals of the past several decades: the trillion dollar coin. This is going to be an extremely niche post, but over the past few days there’s been some debate about where the coin proposal actually came from. And as often happens, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) guys are making a play for ideas that they did not in fact come up with themselves. So worth walking through the facts:
The idea for the trillion dollar coin came from a guy named Carlos Mucha, who posted about it under the handle Beowulf more than a decade ago. Mucha does not endorse MMT.
Americans generally became aware of the idea during a surge of media coverage during Dec 2012 / Jan 2013:
Again, as Mucha puts it himself, “in terms of popularizing the idea I’d say Cullen Roche (got the Wall Street media guys like Weisenthal interested) & Jamie Galbraith (put the bug in the ear of economists like Krugman) took the leading oar.” Mucha adds that “neither Roche and Galbraith really then identified as MMTers,” and that “to be fair I did discuss it at [Brad DeLong’s] blog comments as well.”
So what’s the actual MMT connection here? You can certainly say that the coin is compatible with their ideas, though this hardly makes them unique among widespread endorsers like Krugman, DeLong, and Tribe. You could argue as Weisenthal does that they were the “first people to really take it seriously”, though this is a bit like saying that people in a group chat with Matt Bruenig were the first to take his Family Fun Pack proposal seriously: it doesn’t tell us anything about how the idea was popularized. But the fairest description, I think, is that Carlos Mucha coined the trillion dollar coin, and then while a wide swath of liberals and lefties latched onto the idea — not just MMTers, but folks at Brad DeLong’s blog, writers like Ryan Cooper, and so on — it was brought to the mainstream as Mucha describes.
For his part, Mucha has been generous with appreciation for people who promoted his idea, but uncomfortable with attempts by various intellectual circles to take credit for it. “It feels like someone is attempting a posthumous Mormon baptism on me while I’m still alive,” he writes. “You have to respect the hustle.”
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