5 min read

Why not the coin?

Should the US Treasury mint a coin to avoid having to cut spending, deal with Republicans, or default; embrace your new virtual assistant; inflation in Lebanon; and how educators can integrate AI into the classroom.
Why not the coin?

1—Why not the coin?

The US has entered yet another debt ceiling crisis. Despite what's often reported in the media, this is a recurring political – not economic – crisis. Treasury is threatening default in an attempt to persuade Congress to raise the arbitrary debt limit, which it's rapidly approaching. Not because there's a legal requirement for it to pay for things like social security before the principal and interest on its debt, but because the government doesn't want to cut any spending (see: Washington Monument Syndrome).

Whenever the debt ceiling approaches, so too does the call for it to mint a platinum coin. While "Treasury is prohibited from simply printing money to pay the government's bills",  it can still mint coins thanks to "a legislative drafting error", so just... mint one trillion-dollar coin, problem solved, right? Not quite:

"The coin strategy depends on the Fed agreeing to accept the coin for deposit. Back in 2013, when the Obama administration was seeking to squash talk about the coin — they thought it undermined their ultimately successful efforts to get Congress to agree to raise the debt limit — a Treasury spokesperson told the Washington Post that the Fed had told them it would be unwilling to accept the coin. The Fed, they said, did not believe the coin's issuance would be legal."

That's from Josh Barro, who thinks that even if it were legal to force the Fed to accept the coin at the 11th hour, it would spook financial markets to such an extent that it's no better than any of the alternatives. As for the economic consequences:

"...the Fed's ability to manage inflation could be severely impaired by taking on the fiscal responsibilities required by the coin approach. In 2013, this was somewhat less of a worry because inflation was, if anything, too low. Right now, the Fed's efforts to tame inflation without putting the economy into a recession are the most important part of the federal government's economic policy, and undermining its resources there — both political resources and operational ones — would be a big mistake.

Finally, it's important to note these challenges would increase the government's cost to borrow through several channels: interest costs would rise due to greater uncertainty over future inflation; interest costs would rise if the Fed had to raise rates in order to address inflation fears; and interest costs would rise to the extent the process fails to allay concerns about potential future debt defaults."

You can read Barro's full essay here (~9 minute read).

2—Your new virtual assistant

The latest in artificial intelligence – ChatGPT and other large language models – may not be anywhere close to what we might consider artificial general intelligence, but they do make good personal assistants. Earlier this month Mark McNeilly listed a few ways he's using it to improve his workflow:

General Office Tasks, such as drafting emails, and laying out slide presentation, spreadsheets and processes.

Writing Tasks, such as outlining and drafting an article or composing poetry.

Learning by asking questions to get facts or gain insights.

Teaching by developing a syllabus, learning outcomes or test questions and more.

Advice, both on how to do things all the way up to offering therapy.

Brainstorming all kinds of things, like generating lists of names for organizations and products or ideas for blogs.

Check out McNeilly's full post here (~4 minute read), in which he provides plenty of example uses that can "give you a quantum leap of productivity, creativity and learning". But be sure to check its work – ChatGPT is often confidently wrong.

3—Now that's inflation!


4—Integrating AI

Many educators have kicked up a stink about the emergence of ChatGPT – New York City's education department went as far as banning it entirely (good luck with that). But the correct approach is to embrace our new AI personal assistants:

"All of my students have tremendous skills (seriously, one of the best parts of teaching is being amazed by the people you have in class), but not all of my students are good writers. Some may have recently arrived in the country and know English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, or never had an education that emphasized writing, or are simply not particularly talented in this particular way.

But being a bad writer is a problem. Often, people who write badly are penalized, including in academia. Many people get around this in elaborate and risky ways. They may do it by hiring editors, or they may cross the line into plagiarism and cheating by paying people to write essays for them (this is very widespread: 20,000 people in Kenya alone make a living writing essays).

ChatGPT levels the playing field. Everyone can now produce credible writing."

That's from Ethan Mollick, who teaches "three classes to undergraduates and MBAs". While ChatGPT won't be for everyone – it "is a problem for writing classes (which will likely have to return to blue books and longhand essays)" – for most educators, the benefits far outweigh the costs:

"When students hear you explain and discuss a concept, they often feel that they understand what you mean, but that feeling isn't always accurate. One powerful way to turn concepts from theory into practice is to teach someone else, to evaluate their work, and to give concrete and timely advice about how to improve. As any teacher knows, the act of assessing and evaluating someone else’s work and teaching someone else improves our own knowledge of a topic.

By acting as a 'student,' the AI can provide essays about a topic for students to critique and improve. The goal of this exercise is to have the AI produce an essay based on a prompt and then to 'work with the student' as they steadily improve the essay, by adding new information, clarifying points, adding insight and analysis, and providing evidence. It takes advantage of the AI's proneness to simplify complex topics and its lack of insightful analysis as a backdrop for the student to provide evidence of understanding."

You can read Mollick's full post here (~5 minute read).

5—Further reading...

🐟 James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water has become the sixth movie ever to cross the $2B mark worldwide.

☢️ So, free ride on other countries. Bill Gates said that because of the "political challenge... Australia should watch over the next 15 years and see what the progress is on nuclear fission and fusion."

👴 Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said due to an aging population: "Our nation is on the cusp of whether it can maintain its societal functions. It is now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing - it is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer."