“Weird Gold Trick” Could End Debt Ceiling Showdown

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by Jim Rickards, Daily Reckoning:

The phrase “X-Date” may remind readers of the TV drama The X-Files or the superhero X-Men. It actually refers to the date when the U.S. Treasury goes broke.

The problem arises from the fact that issuing U.S. Treasury debt beyond a certain ceiling requires approval from the U.S. Congress. The amount of outstanding debt today is at the current debt ceiling.

The Treasury is allowed to issue new debt to roll over maturing debt as long as the ceiling is not breached. Since the U.S. is running large budget deficits, the Treasury has to increase the total amount of debt outstanding in order to pay the government’s bills for everything from F-35 fighter jets to food stamps.

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Treasury has already hit the debt ceiling but has been able to scrape by with some positive cash flow (due to tax payments around April 15) and some other revenue sources including excise taxes and tariffs.

The Treasury also has a slush fund called the Exchange Stabilization Fund (created with the profits made in 1933–34 when FDR confiscated gold and raised the price from $20.67 per ounce to $35.00 per ounce – one of the great insider trades of all time).

Still, the Exchange Stabilization Fund has been used lately to prop up the FDIC insurance fund that has been depleted by the bailout of Silicon Valley Bank. You get the picture.

X-Date Could Be Just Three Weeks Away

The government can shuck and jive and scrape the bottom of the barrel, but the bottom line is there comes a time when the Treasury is actually broke. That’s the X-Date. And the X-Date could be June 1, just three weeks away. The source for this date is Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Of course, Yellen cannot be completely trusted. She could just be trying to scare Republicans into raising the debt ceiling without getting spending cuts in return. Yellen actually doesn’t know much about fiscal policy or a number of legitimate and previously used techniques to create additional spending power for the Treasury without violating the debt ceiling. She’s really just a flunky for the White House so she says what they tell her to say.

Still, there is an X-Date out there somewhere. Right now, the House of Representatives and the White House are playing a game of fiscal chicken to see who blinks first. Maybe we’ll find out the hard way when the bond market and the U.S. economy drive over a cliff.

But it can all be avoided with just one simple phone call. How? One phone call from the Treasury to the Federal Reserve could reprice the Treasury’s gold from $42.22 per ounce (historic cost) to a market level of $2,042 per ounce (today’s price).

That would pull over $550 billion of new spending power out of thin air — without issuing any debt. This was actually done by the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s under similar circumstances.

That’s right. Most people don’t realize that there’s a way gold can be used to work around the debt ceiling crisis. I call it the weird gold trick, and it’s never seen discussed anywhere outside of some very technical academic circles.

It may sound weird, but it actually works. Here’s how…

The Weird Gold Trick, Explained

When the Treasury took control of all the nation’s gold during the Depression under the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, it also took control of the Federal Reserve’s gold.

But we have a Fifth Amendment in this country that says the government can’t just seize private property without just compensation. And despite its name, the Federal Reserve is not technically a government institution.

So the Treasury gave the Federal Reserve a gold certificate as compensation under the Fifth Amendment (to this day, that gold certificate is still on the Fed’s balance sheet).

Now come forward to 1953.

The Eisenhower administration was up against the debt ceiling. And Congress didn’t raise the debt ceiling in time. Eisenhower and his Treasury secretary realized they couldn’t pay the bills. What happened?

They turned to the weird gold trick to get the money. It turned out that the gold certificate the Treasury gave the Fed in 1934 did not account for all the gold the Treasury had. It did not account for all the gold in the Treasury’s possession.

The Treasury calculated the difference, sent the Fed a new certificate for the difference and said, “Fed, give me the money.” It did. So the government got the money it needed from the Treasury gold until Congress increased the debt ceiling.

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