Earlier this month economist Paul Krugman proposed that President Obama adopt an unorthodox solution to the interminable debt-ceiling crisis: rather than default on the national debt or cave in to Republican lawmakers' demands, the president could use his statutory authority to mint platinum coins to issue a single one-trillion-dollar coin, deposit it with the Federal Reserve, and "thereby avoid...the need to issue debt" to pay the federal government's bills. This sounds like a crackpot idea, but it is less cracked than threatening a sovereign default to force the Democrats to dismantle what's left of the American social safety-net. The main defects in Krugman's plan, it seems to me, are twofold: 1) he only proposes minting one coin in one very high denomination, eliminating the possibility of selling a few slightly smaller high-denomination coins to eccentric billionaires, and 2) he doesn't indicate whose image(s) these coins should display. Politically, it might be wise for the president to exploit Republicans' obsession with Ronald Reagan by stamping his image on the anti-debt-ceiling coins. But that's no fun. Coins, after all, provide an opportunity for nation-states to express their values and celebrate their people's achievements, and there are an awful lot of obscure American leaders, artists, and heroes one could take this opportunity to celebrate.
My own proposal for new high-value platinum coin denominations, and whose visages they should display, follows. Feel free to propose your own, bearing in mind that U.S. coins should display persons who are a) more or less American, and b) more or less deceased.
$1 million: Emily Dickinson, poet (1)
$5 million: Eugene Debs, presidential candidate
$10 million: Mercy Otis Warren, historian
$20 million: Percy Julian, inventor (2)
$50 million: Jeannette Rankin, pacifist Congresswoman
$100 million: Duke Ellington, musician and composer
$1 billion: Jane Addams, social activist
$5 billion: Carl Sagan, astronomer (3)
$10 billion: Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee chief
$20 billion: William S. Burroughs, author (4)
$50 billion:Victoria Woodhull, activist, presidential candidate
$100 billion: Herman Husband, populist and pacifist
$1 trillion: Lori Ann Piestewa, soldier
(1) Obverse: something with feathers.
(2) Of synthetic steroids.
(3) For obvious reasons, given the denomination.
(4) Warning: coin may contain heroin.