I Have Become Patron of Positive Money, New Zealand – Here’s Why
The truth about money is now being told, and more and more people are listening. Among the most persuasive and authoritative of those truth-tellers is a British-based organisation called Positive Money. I am delighted to say that there is now a New Zealand branch, run by Don Richards and Sue Hamill. I have agreed to become patron of Positive Money, New Zealand.
One of the most difficult issues for the average person to grasp is that a country’s economy operates quite differently from the economy of an individual person or company. One of the main reasons for this is the government’s ability to create money. Whereas the individual or firm must accept that money has, at any given moment, a more or less fixed value, and the quantity in the individual’s hands will be limited by what he, she or it can earn, sell, borrow and so on, a government can overcome a shortage of money by itself creating, or directing the banking system to create, more of it.
One of Keynes’ most often quoted statements is that “there may be intrinsic reasons for the shortage of land but there are no intrinsic reasons for the shortage of capital.” This undeniable truth is often obscured by governments’ reluctance to acknowledge it. The confusion has been compounded by the doctrine of monetarism, which maintains that the quantity of money must be held at a stable level in the interests of controlling inflation; indeed, it is argued that any other intervention by government would be ineffectual, if not dangerous.
The Global Financial Crisis, though, was so terrifying in its threat of financial meltdown that a number of western governments abandoned their ideological prejudices. They followed instead a deliberate policy of “printing money” in a desperate attempt to ward off a crisis of illiquidity as the banking system threatened to implode.
In the US, the Federal Reserve pumped trillions of dollars into the US economy, at a rate as high as $85 billion per month; the result has been that the Federal Reserve’s assets have more than quadrupled to more than $4 trillion. Some of that money helped to increase the pace of recovery, and even to make some impression on unemployment, but much of it found its way more or less directly into the accounts of banks and other major corporations and thence into stock markets, which have accordingly enjoyed a substantial boom.
The UK government, too, undertook a programme of printing money, though on a smaller scale; the programme aimed at a total of £375 billion. Again, the major beneficiaries were the banks. In neither case was there any perceptible impact on inflation from governments using their power to create money through so-called “quantitative easing”.
It is not just governments, though, that create money out of nothing. The banks do so on a much greater scale. The truth of this matter is gradually becoming accepted. A significant milestone was achieved in the first quarter of 2014 with the publication of an important paper in the Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin. In that paper, three Bank of England economists acknowledged that the overwhelmingly greatest proportion of money in the economy – they estimate that it amounts to 97% – is created by the banks out of nothing.
It is widely believed that the banks lend out to borrowers the money that is deposited with them by savers; they are simply intermediaries, it is thought, which charge for the service they provide in bringing savers and borrowers together. The truth, however, is very different.
When a bank lends you money, it simply makes a book entry that credits you with an agreed sum; that sum represents nothing more than the bank’s willingness create money to lend to you. The debt you thereby owe the bank does not represent in any sense money that was actually deposited with the bank or the capital held by the bank. The money that banks lend has very little to do with the savings deposited with them and is many times greater than their total. As John Kenneth Galbraith said in 1976 ‘”The process by which banks create money is so simple that the mind is repelled”.
There are of course many, including a former Governor of our Reserve Bank, who scoff at the proposition that banks create money out of nothing. If they could do so, the argument goes, why would any bank ever go bankrupt? But, as the Bank of England paper points out, when bank loans on mortgage are repaid, they cease to be money. They are no longer available to the borrowers and they are no longer assets in the bank’s books. That is why banks cannot just create money for their own use; the money they create is available only to the borrower. The banks make their profits not by writing cheques to themselves but by charging interest on the money they create to lend to others.
But, for the lifetime of those loans (which could be decades), they will have added to the money supply and to the spending power enjoyed by the borrower. And, by the time the loans are repaid, they will have been replaced many times over by new loans created for new borrowers over years, if not decades and generations. It is no accident that there is a strong correlation between new bank lending and rapid growth in the money supply.
The astonishing aspect of this creation of new money, and to make billions from doing so, is that it is a monopoly power of private profit-seekers – the banks, especially after they moved into the mortgage market and took over from the building societies – and it is directly contrary to the public interest. It means that a huge proportion of the new money in our economy goes into asset speculation, mainly housing, and not into productive investment. The consequent asset inflation has meant that industry has suffered high interest rates and an overvalued dollar and we have all endured a poorer–performing economy, all in the attempt to control a problem created by the banks.
Positive Money aims to ensure that these matters are properly understood and that the power to create money is no longer used on a huge scale to make profits for banks but instead serves the public interest in securing a stronger and better balanced economy.
28 March 2016