How Private Banks (Not Government) Create Money
Australian economist Steve Keen (author of Debunking Economics) has an excellent 2009 article on his Debtwatch site explaining how Fractional Reserving Banking (FSB) supposedly works. The major premise of the article is that true FSB only exists in the minds of academic economists. Keen begins with a quote from Karl Marx (and a prominent photo) that was featured in a January 2009 article Investors Shortchanged in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralisation, and gives this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner— and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it.” (Das Kapital, Volume 3, chapter 33).
Although Marx was totally off base in predicting the imminent downfall of capitalism, he sure got it right about banks.
The Fiction of Fractional Reserve Banking
In the academic model of Fractional Reserve Banking, a retail bank establishes reserves (with depositors’ money and funds borrowed from the Federal Reserve). They then create $90 in new money for every $10 they hold in reserve. Only it never works this way in real life. The Federal Reserve has abolished reserve requirements for business loans, and the 10% reserve requirement for personal loans is full of loopholes.
Keen’s article goes on to present M0/M1 and M2 data showing that what academic economists are calling Fractional Reserve Banking is actually a Pure Credit Monetary System. In other words, private banks are totally free to issue as much money, in the form of new loans, as they choose.
M0 (sometimes called M1) refers to the Base Money or fiat money created by the Federal Reserve. M2 refers to M0 plus new money created by banks as loans. The ratio of M2/M0 is called the “money multiplier” ratio.
What Keen’s graphs show is that credit money (M2) is created first and M0 or fiat money (the reserves to cover it) is created up to a year later. In a true FRB system, M0 or Base Money would increase first, and M2 would follow as banks issue new money based on their reserves. The other major problem is that combined public and private debt greatly exceeds M2. Under a true FRB system, total debt could never exceed the amount of fiat and bank money created.
Why Quantitative Easing Won’t Work
Keen’s paper also includes an interesting prediction that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (increasing M0 by electronically “printing” $85 billion in new fiat money every month) will be vastly insufficient to bring about economic recovery.
Keen points out that quantitative easing canl have little effect unless the Federal Reserve pumps enough money into the economy to make a dent in the $42 trillion total (public and private) US debt. Deducting compound interest, he reckons $20 trillion would reduce it by about a quarter.
Six years later his predictions about the ineffectiveness of quantitative easing are spot on.