Doomsayers say minting a $1 trillion coin or defaulting on debt would do it. But it all depends how you define "banana republic."
There's a fruity phrase on many pundits' lips these days, and it has nothing to do with high-quality sweaters and slacks. Henry Blodget wants to know if the United States has become a banana republic. Ezra Klein thinks we probably are: "The fact that we wish we were not a banana republic witnessing a full-blown meltdown of our treasured system of governance does not mean we are not, in fact, a banana republic witnessing a full-blown meltdown of our treasured system of governance." The foreign press agrees, and so does Andrew Sullivan. Neil Irwin isn't ready to say so yet, but he thinks that minting a $1 trillion platinum coin might do it.
So are they right? Well, it depends how you define the term. So let's go back to the beginning. The term might not exist at all if William Sydney Porter hadn't been a drunk, a gambler, and an embezzler. Porter was better known by his pen name: O. Henry, the pioneering late-19th-century short-story writer. You probably read his "The Gift of the Magi" -- the heartbreaking story about a couple who each sell their most prized possessions to buy the other a Christmas gift -- in middle-school English class.