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A trillion-dollar coin sounds unbelievable. Here’s what it could look like

Four designers offer their take on what we could put on a trillion-dollar coin—if we ever need it.

A trillion-dollar coin sounds unbelievable. Here’s what it could look like
[Source photo: FC]

As the Senate was moving toward passage of a federal budget bill, the preceding months of wrangling and brinksmanship had already helped bring the most famous coin on the planet (after Batman’s Giant Penny) back into the public consciousness. When achieving some sort of compromise between Congress and the Biden administration seemed unlikely, the concept of the trillion-dollar coin reemerged from an obscure subsection of the United States Commemorative Coin Act of 1996, with the help of the same creative economists who birthed it into our collective imagination back in 2011.

That subsection was originally intended to allow the U.S. Mint to design and produce collectible coins. More importantly, it contains a provision that permits the Treasury to mint platinum coins of any denomination. This means President Joe Biden can tell Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to mint a coin with enough value—say, $1,000,000,000,000—to fix the country’s deficit problems, thus eliminating the need to raise the debt ceiling.

The coin, which would essentially be unusable in regular commerce, could be deposited with the Federal Reserve, effectively creating a trillion dollars of liquidity to cover government bills that would otherwise require borrowing. While this tactic seems stolen straight from a 6-year-old’s Monopoly game rule book, some economists actually believe that the Treasury could exploit the provision to mint a platinum coin worth a trillion dollars and fix everything.

Philip N. Diehl, former director of the mint, thinks it can work; so does Paul KrugmanNew York Times columnist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. They and other proponents argue that the coin could avert a catastrophic default on U.S. debt obligations. Critics argue that such a move is an uncons titutional gimmick, and even if it weren’t it would exacerbate inflation, undermine the credibility of U.S. monetary policy, and merely serve as a temporary Band-Aid for deeper fiscal issues.

Now that a deal is near conclusion, the trillion-dollar coin may fade from memory. But the debt ceiling still exists, and Congress will be negotiating over it again in a few years. It’s likely the idea will reemerge as a possible work-around, picking up a new group of adherents.

Because what really matters now is that the trillion-dollar coin has gone from the esoteric corners of finance-based internet to become a mythical beast imprinted in the minds of all policymakers. But given that it’s still just a figment of the populace’s imagination, there are as many different mental images of the coin as there are minds in the country.

So we asked some of the best designers around—Fay DesignOrderAthletics, and Buck—to come up with some real designs. In a way, these are more than blueprints for a physical coin—they are the symbol of a creative, if controversial, approach to resolving an ever-returning financial dilemma.


A play on Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card, the Get Out of Debt Free coin questions: What even is money?! Does it hold any actual value? Is it just a political bargaining token? What’s another trillion when the U.S. is already (somehow) pushing up against its $34.1 trillion debt limit? The value of this coin is not displayed, as who actually knows what it’s worth, what it’s paying for, or how the U.S. has such a massive deficit to begin with.


[Image: Fay]


This imagined trillion-dollar coin, a testament to financial ingenuity in harsh times, emerges as a symbol challenging the status quo. Crafted with rare earth metals, the coin embraces contemporary ideas of scarcity, value, technology, and our planetary impact on resources and the global economy. It is a beacon of hope and a call to embrace innovation. It encourages us to shape a resilient future and surpass the limitations of the expected. As we push the boundaries of our ability to borrow against our future, we must disrupt traditions, inspiring a metamorphosis in our economic landscape. (Copy assistance courtesy of ChatGPT. Texture assist courtesy of Midjourney.)


[Image: Athletics]


The trillion-dollar coin serves as a visionary solution to the challenges posed by America’s debt ceiling. The design portrays a majestic bald eagle soaring above clouds and mountains. It symbolizes abundance, and a commitment to responsible stewardship of our wealth. It serves as inspiration to implement fiscal policies that safeguard our prosperity. The mountains give way to a recursive pattern, reinforcing the notion of growth and abundance. In the background, god rays evoke hope for a prosperous future.


[Image: Buck]


An absurdly unimaginable and unfathomable number distilled into a single coin deserves an absurdly grotesque design, which Order is proposing with this trillion-dollar “coin.” It doesn’t go in your pocket, or purse, or any place that can slip down a drain, so its form is annoyingly chunky—a cube—an empty vessel of the economic construct we all live in.


[Image: Jesse Reed, Order (design)/Jacques Laramie (modeling)]

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Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company. More

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