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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — A growing number of states are seeking shiny new currencies made of silver and gold.
Worried that the Federal Reserve and the U.S. dollar are on the brink of collapse, lawmakers from 13 states, including Minnesota, Tennessee, Iowa, South Carolina and Georgia, are seeking approval from their state governments to either issue their own alternative currency or explore it as an option. Just three years ago, only three states had similar proposals in place.
“In the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System … the State’s governmental finances and private economy will be thrown into chaos,” said North Carolina Republican Representative Glen Bradley in a currency bill he introduced last year.
Unlike individual communities, which are allowed to create their own currency — as long as it is easily distinguishable from U.S. dollars — the Constitution bans states from printing their own paper money or issuing their own currency. But it allows the states to make “gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”
To the state legislators who are proposing state-issued currencies, that means gold and silver are fair game, said Edwin Vieira, an alternative currency proponent and attorney specializing in Constitutional law. And since gold has grown exponentially more valuable, while the U.S. dollar continues to lose ground, the notion has become increasingly appealing to state lawmakers, he said.
The state gold rush: Utah became the first state to introduce its own alternative currency when Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law last March that recognized gold and silver coins issued by the U.S. Mint as an acceptable form of payment. Under the law, the coins — which include American Gold and Silver Eagles — are treated the same as U.S. dollars for tax purposes, eliminating capital gains taxes.
Since the face value of some U.S.-minted gold and silver coins — like the one-ounce, $50 American Gold Eagle coin — is so much less than the metal value (one ounce of gold is now worth more than $1,700), the new law allows the coins to be exchanged at their market value, based on weight and fineness.
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“A Utah citizen, for example, could contract with another to sell his car for 10 one-ounce gold coins (approximately $17,000), or an independent contractor could arrange to be compensated in gold coins,” said Rich Danker, a project director at the American Principles Project, a conservative public policy group in Washington, D.C.
South Carolina Republican Representative Mike Pitts proposed a currency system that would allow people to use any kind of silver or gold coin — whether it’s a Philippine Peso or a South African Krugerrand — based on weight and fineness. Pitts said in the bill, which currently has 12 co-sponsors, that the state is facing “an economic crisis of severe magnitude.”
Republican representatives from Washington State followed suit in January, introducing a bill that would also allow any gold and silver coins to be considered legal tender based on metal values. Minnesota, Iowa, Georgia, Idaho and Indiana are also considering similar proposals.
Many of the bills would make it possible for residents to exchange the physical coins for goods and services, so you could use coins to buy anything from groceries to a car as long as the store chooses to accept them.
However, most people aren’t going to walk around with such valuable coins in their pockets, said Vieira. Plus, calculating the value of the coins — especially if they come from different parts of the globe and are of different sizes and shapes — will get tricky.
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It’s more likely that the states will create electronic depositories and accounts for the coins to make transactions easier, when and if the initial bills are passed, he said.
Utah Gold & Silver Depository is already developing a system where customers could use debit cards linked to their gold holdings. When customers swipe their debit cards to make transactions, physical gold and silver coins would be transferred between accounts in privately-owned depositories (or vaults) based on the market value of the metals.
Before deciding on a specific form of currency, some states — including Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina — are considering proposals that would first require a committee to review their alternative currency plan.
The future of U.S. currency: The states’ proposals have been gaining steam among Tea Partyers and Republicans, many of whom also endorse a nationwide return to the gold standard, which would require the U.S. dollar to be backed by gold reserves.
Tea Party “father” Ron Paul is sponsoring the “Free Competition in Currency Act,” which would allow states to introduce their own currencies, and rival Newt Gingrich is calling for a commission to look at how the country can get back to the gold standard.
But it will be the individual states that could really get the ball rolling, said Vieira. Even if several of the current proposals get killed, the introduction of so many bills at the state level is drawing national attention to the issue, he said.
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Of all the state proposals circulating right now, Republican-controlled states including South Carolina, Georgia, Idaho and Indiana have the best chance of passing their proposed bills this year, said American Principles Project’s Danker. If just one or two states implement an alternative currency, it could have a Domino effect, he said.
“I think we could get a couple passed in this legislative session, and that would show this is mainstream, popular and it would be a justification for more of the risk-averse states for doing this,” he said.
There are, of course, many people who think the recent push for alternative state currencies should be stopped in its tracks. David Parsley, a professor of economics and finance at Vanderbilt University, said he thinks state-issued currencies are a “terrible” idea.
“Having 50 Feds” could debase the U.S. dollar and even potentially lead the country into default, he said. “The single currency in the United States is working just fine,” said Parsley. “I have no idea why anyone would want to destroy something so successful — unless they actually wanted to destroy the country.”
By Blake Ellis @CNNMoney
In 1976 I was managing an American subsidiary of a successful large US Company in Mexico. It had been a financial turnaround for our team. Cash flow had accumulated in our bank in Mexico and corporate didn’t want the money repatriated to the US. Although we had already paid a 35% income tax to the Mexican government, we would have to pay an additional 30% exit tax to repatriate the money. In addition, we would have to pay high fees for the peso/dollar exchange, in order to make the transfer. The company wanted to expand our successful business and so we decided to keep the money in Mexican pesos to be used for further expansion.
One morning, as my wife and I were on a trip driving on the highway, we heard a national message from the President of Mexico, Luis Echevarria, one of the most corrupt presidents in Mexican history. “It is a lie that we are going to devaluate the peso,” he said. I stopped at the nearest motel to make a collect call to the US headquarters and I asked my boss, the head of the International Division, to allow me to immediately open a new US dollar account in Mexico. I wanted to convert the pesos into dollars for deposit. My boss, laughing, asked me why I wanted to do that and I responded that the peso was going to devalue. He asked me how I knew this and I told him that the President of Mexico had gone on the radio and announced that rumors of a devaluation of the peso were false, which meant they were true. He continued to laugh but allowed me to do it.
I then called my CFO and directed him to go to the bank and get everything ready for me to sign leaving only the necessary funds to continue to operate. We immediately returned to Mexico City in time before the bank closed. Everything was ready for my signature, but the bank manager was rather bewildered and probably thought I might be overreacting.
One week later the peso was devalued from 12.50 pesos to $1 USD, where it had been for decades, to 26.00 pesos to $1 USD. A few days later it improved to 24.50 pesos to $1 USD. The reason for the devaluation of the peso was simply that it had been pegged to the USD for too long and they rose and fell in unison. Because of better economic conditions in the US, the dollar continued to go up in value and the peso increased in value artificially. Mexican goods were too expensive to trade with other countries and hence the devaluation, which allowed exports to increase. For the first time in decades the peso was allowed to float and since then it has been allowed to freely rise and fall against the dollar. The decision to devaluate the peso was made by the president, which made him unpopular, as well as his economic advisors, which included the Secretary of the Treasury and Chief of the Central Bank of Mexico.
Everyone in the country was in shock. People’s net worth had devalued more than 53% overnight. The value in savings accounts dropped in half and neither merchants nor consumers knew how to react because they had never been through something like it before. Luckily for me, I had also exchanged my money and my salary had been set in US Dollars when I signed my contract with the company to work in Mexico. For me, it was like getting a 100% raise, since for a long while; my house rent remained the same as well as utilities, clothing etc. I remember that on my boss’s next trip, he bought himself a couple of nice suits at a nice discount.
Businesses were unable to immediately raise their prices. They had to do it slowly, and through many sacrifices. The positive side was that the company had a loan in Mexican pesos for an expensive property and was able pay it off with the new dollars at, practically a 50% discount. Before the devaluation, we had been leasing other properties, some of which had expired and had been on a month to month basis. Thankfully, immediately before the devaluation, I renegotiated and signed some of the leases with modest increases for a term of 5 years. After the devaluation occurred, the landlords wanted to renegotiate these leases, but because of the terms, we enjoyed low rents for that period. Later, as we leased new properties, the owners introduced clauses tying the annual increases to the value of the US dollar, which appreciated every year until the recent fall of the dollar in the exchange rate.
Our attorney in his 50s, of German descent, who spoke English and Spanish with a German accent didn’t take my advice on the oncoming devaluation. After the devaluation, he was so desperate that he came into my office one day, accompanied by another attorney that worked for him, carrying an old-fashioned suitcase, which he placed on my conference table. He opened the suitcase, which was completely filled with high denomination peso bills. I had never seen that much cash in my life and I was completely surprised. He pleaded with me to accept the money right then and allow him to purchase shares in our company. I told him that this was not the proper procedure, but he asked me to consult with corporate headquarters and insisted I put the money in our safe. As I expected, corporate said no and much to his distress, I returned the money to him.
People were so desperate to exchange their pesos into dollars that the supply of dollars dried up and some, who had them, sold them at a premium in the black market. The situation was so dire that a presidential order was passed banning the banks from allowing customers to open US dollar bank accounts. A few years later, when the peso stabilized, this practice was reversed.
Of course, on my next trip to corporate headquarters, I was received like a conquering Roman hero. My boss kept asking me to tell other executives why I decided that the peso was going to be devalued. My answer was simply that I didn’t trust politicians and had decided that the president was telling a lie in his address to the nation. This, of course, was very funny to them after seeing the results.
Today, Mexico’s financial situation is very much improved and the peso has been appreciating against the USD. Mexico holds more than $120 billion in USD reserves.
As I am writing this, the USD index is at 75.71. This means the USD is already devalued 24.29% and most people don’t know what this means. At the latest G7 and G20 meetings, countries have been arguing that the USD must be dropped as the international currency because its decline in value is making the price of all commodities too expensive.
Commodities are priced in dollars worldwide and this doesn’t fare well for other countries where there is a growing unrest amongst the population. The world governments blame this on the US government for passing laws allowing the Federal Reserve to print trillions of dollars out of thin air. This money has been used to bail out the banks and to purchase US bonds that countries like China, Japan, Russia, etc. are refusing to continue to buy. The money received by the federal government is spent in the expanded military wars and countless pork barrel programs. The government is unable to control the budget deficits by cutting expenditures because of poor presidential leadership and irresponsible and politicized congress.
The US has agreed that something needs to be done. One of the most favored proposals at these meetings is to use a basket of currencies which is to include the USD and backed partly with gold to serve as a new world currency. This proposal would mean a devaluation of the USD of 50% for the US to be able to participate in the program. It is not clear if it is 50% off the current value or if it will be 100% of face value.
As long as we don’t repay our national debt, cut government spending, increase interest rates or stop the Federal Reserve from printing more dollars out of thin air, the plan to change the dollar from being the international currency will become a reality. Some countries are already using their currencies to trade with each other, especially in oil purchases, to bypassing the present purchase of US dollars to make the payments. Several countries are buying gold and silver to replace some of the dollar reserves and hedge the value of their dollar reserves. Mexico recently purchased nearly 100 tons of gold to replace some of their dollar reserves. We still don’t know how much American gold is in Fort Knox as no audits have been completed since the 1950′s. The rumors are that there are no gold reserves remaining. We know that the US mint is purchasing gold blanks from Australia to make American gold coins. Either way, this is bad news for the US dollar and also for any of us living in the US.
My experience with the peso devaluation makes it necessary for me to move my investments away from paper into physical gold and silver. I am doing this more as a defense mechanism to ensure my net worth is not devalued. Economic think tanks are already undergoing feasibility studies to predict the ramifications of the devaluation both domestically and internationally.
It is going to be a very tough time for the US and I anticipate the Mexican devaluation will pale in comparison to our dollar devaluation, not only to this country, but worldwide. What is the answer for Americans? Many feel that owning physical silver and gold in coins and bullion will serve as an increasing source of value with which to barter. In Mexico, the US Dollar was the logical answer since it was stable and had appreciating value at the time.
May 19, 2011
by Lone Ranger Silver