WaPoBy Ylan Q. Mui, February 5
Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall fears that a financial apocalypse is coming and only one thing can save the Commonwealth: its own currency.
The idea that Virginia should consider issuing its own money was dismissed as just another quixotic quest by one of the most conservative members of the state legislature when Marshall introduced it three years ago. But it has since gained traction not only in Virginia, but also in states across the country as Americans have grown increasingly suspicious of the institutions entrusted with safeguarding the economy.
This week, the proposal by the Prince William Republican sailed through the House of Delegates with a two-to-one majority.
“This is a serious study about a serious topic,” Marshall said Tuesday. “We’re not completely powerless.”
So far, only Utah has approved a law recognizing nontraditional currency. Four other states have bills pending this year. Marshall said he is unsure of his proposal’s prospects in the Virginia Senate. One Democrat derided it as a descent into “la-la land.”
But the fact that the debate is happening at all reflects a deep-seated distrust in the very foundation of the country’s economic system — the dollar.
Much of the anger is directed at the Federal Reserve, which controls the nation’s supply of money. Since the financial crisis, the Fed has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy to help avert what Chairman Ben S. Bernanke believed could have been the next Great Depression. Critics worry the Fed won’t ever stop.
Marshall believes that the result could resemble the Weimar Republic of Germany after World War I: a worthless currency, skyrocketing inflation and a crumbling government.
And those are only the problems that the Fed might create. Who knows what other threats may be lurking in the shadowy world of cyberattacks, Marshall said. The Fed acknowledged Tuesday that its computer systems were recently compromised, although the problems did not affect critical operations and have since been fixed.
“This is a lifeboat study; what happens if?” Marshall said.
Mainstream economics maintains that America is in little danger of turning into postwar Germany. Inflation is below 2 percent even though the Fed has tripled the amount of money in circulation since the 2008 financial crisis. Investors view the dollar as a safe haven, buying up greenbacks when turmoil strikes around the globe. A single currency is one of the bedrock assumptions of modern economics.
But that doesn’t mean Virginia shouldn’t be ready, Marshall and his supporters believe. His proposal would create a 10-member commission to study “the need, means, and schedule for establishing a metallic-based monetary unit to serve as a contingency currency for the Commonwealth.” The study would cost $17,440.
“The resolution is pretty modest,” said Lawrence H. White, a George Mason University economics professor who said he supports the proposal as a private citizen. “It’s ‘consider the idea.’?”
White doesn’t subscribe to the doomsday scenario, but he’s no optimist, either. He predicted that the inflation rate would rise to 5 percent before the end of the decade and eventually reach 10 percent.