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Can the Federal Reserve Really Refuse To Accept and To Credit A Platinum Coin Deposited By the US Mint?

letsgetitdone's picture

The issue of whether the Fed can really refuse to accept and credit a deposit of a platinum coin with its face value, is being raised frequently on blog posts about Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) and the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC). In the past, I've argued that the Fed cannot; and the final decision on taking the TDC off the table was actually made by the President, and not by Chairman Bernanke.

Ellen Brown, the well-known author of The Web of Debt, and also of this recent post on fiat money, direct financing of federal spending, and using platinum coin seigniorage made this comment in a discussion thread at Monetary Realism:

Per the Fed’s website (or maybe it was the Treasury’s), a gas station can reject a $100 bill before the gas has been pumped. You only have to accept legal tender after the service has been rendered or good delivered. The Van Nuys Flyaway won’t take dollar bills. Apparently then the Fed can reject a tender before it has rendered the banking services involved. It’s a privately-owned bank, after all!

Here's my reply to this comment.

The coin being presented to the Fed isn’t tendered as payment for services, or for a product. It’s a coin being tendered as a deposit into the Treasury General Account (TGA). Also, note these three considerations.

First, the Treasury Department is mandated to deposit its money into Fed accounts if it wants to enter the banking system. So unlike the gas station; the Treasury can’t find another bank; and it needs a bank to spend and implement Congressional appropriations. A Fed regiional bank, such as the New York Fed, in turning down a coin, would be refusing to perform a duty it contracted for to serve as the depository of the funds of the Treasury Department and the US Mint. I don’t think it can do that and remain a regional Fed bank.

Second, even though the regional Feds are privately owned banks; they cannot behave in ways that contravene the policy of the Board of Governors, a Federal Agency, and they are very tightly regulated by that Board. So, the regional NY Fed, the bank that has the Treasury General Account (TGA) will not be making any such decisions on its own authority. Additionally, in agreeing to house the TGA, the New York Fed has contracted to serve as the sole banking agent of the Treasury Department with respect to its spending account.

Somehow I don’t think the sole banking agent of the United States Treasury Department has the legal right to turn down a deposit of legal tender, and refuse to credit its face value in the Treasury’s own checking account. Imagine what the liability of that “private” bank would be to the US Government, if as a result of any such action, the US would be forced into defaulting on some of its payments and decided to sue the NY Fed for consequential damages. Not a pretty picture, and not a risk that the NY Fed would want to take w/o an explicit and specific instruction from the Board of Governors.

And third, consider the Board of Governors and the Chairperson of the Fed. What would they do? Well, they’ll tell the Secretary that they don’t want to do it. But if they say no; and the Treasury Secretary orders them to accept and credit the coin; then what? Then this:

12 USC § 246 – Powers of Secretary of the Treasury as affected by chapter
Nothing in this chapter contained shall be construed as taking away any powers heretofore vested by law in the Secretary of the Treasury which relate to the supervision, management, and control of the Treasury Department and bureaus under such department, and wherever any power vested by this Act in the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System or the Federal reserve agent appears to conflict with the powers of the Secretary of the Treasury, such powers shall be exercised subject to the supervision and control of the Secretary.”

So, one of the powers vested in the Secretary of the Treasury before creation of the Federal Reserve system was certainly to spend its legal tender into the economy. But to do that under an arrangement where the Fed is its bank, requires that the Fed deposit and credit its legal tender into its spending account, the TGA. So, I think it follows that under 12 USC 246 the Secretary has the authority to order the Federal Reserve to credit that coin so Federal spending can proceed. If the Fed Chair still refuses, then the President can remove the Fed Chair for cause (12 USC 242)

And as beowulf has pointed out, the Fed really doesn’t want to go to Court over this because they risk a Supreme Court finding of unconstitutionality due to the Unitary Executive theory, which, in this case, may well have the support of some of the most conservative justices. My own view here, is that the Fed would not even make it to the Court because they’d be denied standing under 12 USC 246, if the Treasury Secretary also ordered them not to contest his order legally.

If you read through the discussion thread where Ellen Brown left her comment, you’ll see that both Philip Diehl, former Director of the US Mint under President Clinton, and Carlos Mucha (beowulf, or beo), the lawyer who first proposed the use of PCS and the TDC, and the author of the blog post, believe that no Secretary would treat the Fed this way. But what if the Secretary were ordered by the President to do it? And what if the President were somebody like FDR or LBJ? Then I think it could happen; and depending on how tough things get in the next few years who knows what Obama will do?

After all he’s the guy with the drones. And the guy who throws people under the bus when he thinks he has to. So, why wouldn’t he throw Bernanke under the bus too, if he thought he needed to? Just sayin'!

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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