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There Are No Debt-Based Solutions to the Debt Problem

President Joe Biden will meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday to hold high-stakes talks on the still-unresolved debt ceiling standoff.

Both sides agree that the government will need to take on more debt in order to pay its bills. Republicans are trying to leverage some concessions on discretionary spending. But even if they were to get everything they want, the budget won’t come close to balancing.

Whatever agreement is ultimately reached to raise the government’s borrowing limit, the debt problem itself won’t be solved. It will only get bigger.

At root, the debt problem is a monetary phenomenon. The currency in which debts are owed is itself a debt instrument.

U.S. Federal Reserve notes are backed by nothing but faith and credit. Since they do not represent anything tangible, such as a particular quantity of gold or silver, they can be issued in unlimited quantities.

In theory, the amount of debt the government can take on is unlimited since the debt doesn’t represent anything real. It only represents an obligation to generate a quantity of currency in the future. New currency can always be generated by borrowing more of it into existence and, if necessary, tapping the lender of last resort – the Federal Reserve.

Even as the financial media and the U.S. Treasury Secretary herself play up the threat of a potential debt default and the economic calamities it would bring, the reality is that the federal government has already defaulted. It defaulted decades ago – on August 15, 1971 to be exact – when President Richard Nixon declared the United States would no longer redeem dollars held by foreign governments for gold.

Since then, the national debt has exploded from a mere $400 billion to $32 trillion. In the process, the dollar has defaulted on its purchasing power by 87%. It takes $7.50 today to buy what $1.00 could buy in 1971.

By contrast, an ounce of gold retains much the same purchasing power today as it did 50 years ago, even centuries ago, despite nominal fluctuations in price (dramatically to the upside overall).

Unlike debt-based fiat currency, gold isn’t an IOU. It doesn’t have an issuer and cannot be issued in whatever quantity is convenient for debtors. It is honest money.

Reintroducing honesty to the nation’s monetary system is the only real solution to the debt problem.

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