Money supply versus money demand

According to popular thinking not every increase in the supply of money will have an effect on economic activity. For instance, if an increase in supply is matched by a corresponding increase in the demand for money then there won’t be any effect on the economy. The increase in the supply of money is neutralised so to speak by an increase in the demand for money or the willingness to hold a greater amount of money than before.

What do we mean by demand for money? And how does this demand differ from demand for goods and services?

Now, demand for a good is not a demand for a particular good as such but a demand for the services that the good offers. For instance, individuals’ demand for food is on account of the fact that food provides the necessary elements that sustain an individual’s life and well being. Demand here means that people want to consume the food in order to secure the necessary elements that sustain life and well being.

Also, the demand for money arises on account of the services that money provides. However, instead of consuming money people demand money in order to exchange it for goods and services. With the help of money various goods become more marketable – they can secure more goods than in the barter economy. What enables this is the fact that money is the most marketable commodity.


Demand for money is demand for the medium of exchange

Take for instance a baker, John, who produces ten loaves of bread per day and consumes two loaves. The eight loaves he exchanges for various goods such as fruit and vegetables. Observe that John’s ability to secure fruits and vegetables is on account of the fact that he has produced the means to pay for them, which are eight loaves of bread. The baker pays for fruit and vegetables with the bread he has produced. Also note that the aim of his production of bread, apart of having some of it for himself, is to acquire other consumer goods. Now, an increase in the John’s production of bread, let us say from ten loaves to twenty a day, enables him to acquire a greater quantity and a greater variety of goods than before. As a result of the increase in the production of bread John’s purchasing power has increased. This increase in the purchasing power not always can be translated in securing a greater amount of goods and services in the barter economy.

In the world of barter John may have difficulties to secure by means of bread various goods he wants. It may happen that a vegetable farmer may not want to exchange his vegetables for bread. To overcome this problem John would have to exchange his bread first for some other commodity, which has much wider acceptance than bread. John is now going to exchange his bread for the acceptable commodity and then use that commodity to exchange for goods he really wants.

Note that by exchanging his bread for a more acceptable commodity John in fact raises his demand for this commodity. Also, note that John’s demand for the acceptable commodity is not to hold it as such but to exchange it for the goods he wants. Again the reason why he demands the acceptable commodity is because he knows that with the help of this commodity he can convert the bread he produced more easily into the goods he wants.

Now let us say that an increase in the production of the acceptable commodity has taken place. As a result of a greater amount of the acceptable commodity relative to the quantities of other goods the unitary price of the acceptable commodity in terms of goods has fallen. All this, however, has nothing to do with the production of goods. The increase in the supply of acceptable commodity is not going to disrupt the production of goods and services. Obviously if the purchasing power of the commodity were to continue declining then people are likely to replace it with some other more stable commodity.

Through a process of selection people have settled on gold as the most accepted commodity in exchange. Gold has become money.


Money proper versus money out of “thin air”

Let us now assume that some individual’s demand for money has risen. One way to accommodate this demand is for banks to find willing lenders of money. With the help of the mediation of banks willing lenders can transfer their gold money to borrowers. Obviously such a transaction is not harmful to anyone.

Another way to accommodate the demand is instead of finding willing lenders the bank can create fictitious money – money unbacked by gold – and lend it out.

Note that the increase in the supply of newly created money is given to some individuals. There must always be a first recipient of the newly created money by the banks.

This money, which was created out of “thin air”, is going to be employed in an exchange for goods and services i.e. it will set in motion an exchange of nothing for something. The exchange of nothing for something amounts to the diversion of real wealth from wealth to non-wealth generating activities, which masquerades as economic prosperity. In the process genuine wealth generators are left with fewer resources at their disposal, which in turn weakens the wealth generators’ ability to grow the economy.

Could a corresponding increase in the demand for money prevent the damage that money out of “thin air” inflicts on wealth generators?

Let us say that on account of an increase in the production of goods the demand for money increases to the same extent as the supply of money out of “thin air”. Recall that people demand money in order to exchange it for goods. Hence at some point the holders of money out of “thin air” will exchange their money for goods. Once this happens an exchange of nothing for something emerges, which undermines wealth generators.

We can thus conclude that irrespective of whether the total demand for money is rising or falling what matters here is that individuals employ money in their transactions. As we have seen once money out of ‘thin air’ is introduced into the process of exchange this weakens wealth generators and this in turn undermines potential economic growth. Clearly then the expansion of money out of “thin air” is always bad news for the economy. Hence the view that the increase in money out of “thin air” which is fully backed by demand is harmless doesn’t hold water.

In contrast, an increase in the supply of gold money is not going to set an exchange of nothing for something. Also an increase in the supply of commodity money doesn’t set boom-bust cycles.

We can further infer that it is only the increase in money out of “thin air” that is responsible for the boom-bust cycle menace. This increase sets the boom-bust cycles irrespective of the so-called overall demand for money.


Gold and boom-bust cycles

According to most economists however on the gold standard, an increase in the supply of gold generates similar distortions that money out of “thin air” does. We will argue below that this is not the case.

Let us start with a barter economy. John the miner produces ten ounces of gold. The reason why he mines gold because he believes there is a market for it. Gold contributes to the well being of individuals. He exchanges his ten ounces of gold for various goods such as potatoes and tomatoes.

Now people have discovered that gold apart from being useful in making jewellery is also useful for some other applications. They now assign a much greater exchange value to gold than before. As a result John the miner could exchange his ten ounces of gold for more potatoes and tomatoes.

Should we condemn this as bad news because John is now diverting more resources to himself. This however, is just what is happening all the time in the market. As time goes by people assign greater importance to some goods and diminish the importance of some other goods. Some goods are now considered as more important than other goods in supporting people’s life and well being. Now people have discovered that gold is useful for another use such as to serve as the medium of the exchange. Consequently they lift further the price of gold in terms of tomatoes and potatoes. Gold is now predominantly demanded as a medium of exchange – the demand for other services of gold such as ornaments is now much lower than before.

Let us see what is going to happen if John were to increase the production of gold. The benefit that gold now supplies people is by providing the services of the medium of the exchange. In this sense it is a part of the pool of real wealth and promotes people’s life and well being.One of the attributes for selecting gold as the medium of exchange is that it is relatively scarce.

This means that a producer of a good who has exchanged this good for gold expects the purchasing power of his effort to be preserved over time by holding gold. If for some reason there is a large increase in the production of gold and this trend were to persist the exchange value of the gold would be subject to a persistent decline versus other goods, all other things being equal. Within such conditions people are likely to abandon gold as the medium of the exchange and look for other commodity to fulfil this role.

As the supply of gold starts to increase its role as the medium of exchange diminishes while the demand for it for some other usages is likely to be retained or increase. So in this sense the increase in the production of gold is not a waste and adds to the pool of real wealth. When John the miner exchanges gold for goods he is engaged in an exchange of something for something. He is exchanging wealth for wealth.

Contrast all this with the printing of gold receipts i.e. receipts that are not backed 100% by gold. This is an act of fraud, which is what inflation is all about, it sets a platform for consumption without making any contribution to the pool of real wealth. Empty certificates set in motion an exchange of nothing for something, which in turn leads to boom-bust cycles. The printing of unbacked by gold certificates divert real savings from wealth generating activities to the holders of unbacked certificates. This leads to the so-called economic boom.

The diversion of real savings is done by means of unbacked certificates i.e. unbacked money. Once the printing of unbacked money slows down or stops all together this stops the flow of real savings to various activities that emerged on the back of unbacked money. As a result these activities fall apart – an economic bust emerges. (Note that these activities do not produce real wealth, they only consume. Obviously then without the unbacked money, which diverts real savings to them, they are in trouble. These activities didn’t produce any wealth hence without money given to them they cannot secure the goods they want).

In the case of the increase in the supply of gold no fraud is committed here. The supplier of gold – the gold mine has increased the production of a useful commodity. So in this sense we don’t have here an exchange of nothing for something. Consequently we also don’t have an emergence of bubble activities. Again the wealth producer on account of the fact that he has produced something useful can exchange it for other goods. He doesn’t require empty money to divert real wealth to him. Note that a major factor for the emergence of a boom is the injections into the economy of money out of “thin air”. The disappearance of money out of “thin air” is the major cause of an economic bust. The injection of money out of “thin air” generates bubble activities while the disappearance of money out of “thin air” destroys these bubble activities.

On the gold standard this cannot take place. On a pure gold standard without the central bank money is gold. Consequently on the gold standard money cannot disappear since gold cannot disappear. We can thus conclude that the gold standard, if not abused, is not conducive of boom-bust cycles.


  • If everyone decided they wanted to keep £1,000 under their mattress against a rainy day, and hardly ever touched that money, having the state crank up the printing press and supply everyone with their £1,000 would do harm at all.

    I.e. if the demand for and supply of money rise by the same amount, there’s no effect.

  • Quite right- money that is not in circulation does not inflate prices. But it has to be replaced to ensure that the liquidity needed for transactions is there.

    Also, the writer points out that the first person or entity to get new money gets something for nothing. That also applies to miners of gold and miners of bitcoins, even if that is offset by the rising cost of mining. There must be a marginal free benefit.

    But the story is too simplistic. Economies are more complicated than this.

    What the writer fails to point out is that there are two forms of money which is not backed by gold but which have a value because it can be exchanged for almost anything.

    There is the money in the form of loans which, when repaid goes out of circulation leaving the economy in the ‘bust’ situation that is described by the writer.

    There is also the QE / printed money which should not be confused with printing money just to give it free of charge to some entity such as the central banks as is the case with QE. The first person to get money gets a free gift of a call on the goods and services provided by others.

    That applies to gold miners and banks which are allowed to create new money for lending, and it applies to central banks which just print new money. It applies to ‘miners’ of bitcoins.

    Imagine an Island. Money Island it is called in my tracts. They had no money until some fell out of the sky. Everyone got some. They knew what it was for but had no idea how to value it. Eventually out of frustration with the alternative systems like heaving chunks of gold moving around and having it checked for purity and having it sliced up into bits and instead of using rice and beads as money, people decided to risk making offers. Some paid way too much and others paid way too little. Then they offered their own goods and services and got different offers which gave them some idea about what others thought their goods and services were worth. It took time but people compared notes and gradually the value of money was agreed for the most commonly traded items.

    The convenience of having money cut down the waiting time and inconvenience and it reduced fraud as when impure gold or stale rice was offered as money. The economy prospered and soon twice as many transactions were taking place with the SAME AMOUNT of money. Now people had to wait to be paid. The growth in the economy came to a halt and even slowed because people started to hoard money. It has risen in value.

    On another island called Gold Island, where people used IOUs for so much gold, the same problem arose. The gold miners did well as money rose in value but the economy still slowed.

    Back on Money Island Mr Forger started printing his own money, and like the gold miners he became rich. Of course, he got found out. It was decided to have the creation of new money done by a Money Supply Authority, the MSA. By that time people were paying taxes and they had VAT at 12%.

    When new money was printed everyone got some, so everyone got a free gift of the goods and services of everyone else. And everyone had to give some goods and services free to everyone else as a result. Call it quits.

    They were not given the money directly – it came in the form of a discounted rate of VAT – a rate of 7% was used for three months (a reduction of 5% in the cost of everything), and everyone who spent anything got some free money in that way. It was the money left over after they had spent on the usual things. The elders wanted to make sure that all of the jobs which supplied everything that the people wanted were kept in place because if they had given the money to some special sector or a government that spent nothing on hairdos and vacations and nights out and clothes and food, and and and, those sectors might start losing staff as new jobs were created some other place to benefit government cronies and help to win elections. Later those jobs would disappear.

    Some things did not have to pay VAT so they got a bit of the free money on condition that it was used to reduce their income by 5% and those providing that income got that same benefit: people paying regular savings, loan servicing costs, and charitable donations…

    So yes everyone got something free from everyone else and everyone gave something free to everyone else. The main benefit was that everyone’s jobs were secure and there was more liquidity so that no one had to wait to be paid on account of a shortage of money in circulation.

    Then there was the question of how to finance everything because people did not always save enough and finding money to borrow was a problem at times.

    So the MSA had to create some credit out of thin air and that credit had to be repaid. When it was created, the MSA got the profit of having something for nothing. The profit was sent to the tax people in return for a lowering of the VAT rate, or it was spent as a part of general government revenues to help pay for all of the social services and law and order and defence. It saved increasing taxes.

    The problem with doing this was that it increased the liquidity and the spending in the economy. When people needed to borrow less or when they saved more, there was again a shortage of liquidity.

    The MSA had to balance the amount of printed money created with the amount of credit created so as not to unbalance the spending in the economy and to avoid a liquidity shortage.

    Banks were agents who tapped the money market and lent the money. When a lender went bust, the MSA printed new money so that deposits were 100% guaranteed. That was a bit inflationary but then, unlike in our economies, there were no fixed interest bonds and housing finance did not leap up and down in cost. All prices and values of bonds etc adjusted and people got more income and spent more on the same things. They were basically unaffected. That is until they started importing and exporting. That is another story for another time.

    Please note: if a price or a cost ort a value is able to respond to market forces like more money in circulation and more spending, it will adjust correctly. When mankind says “No” we want to fix the price of bonds or we want to make the cost of housing finance leap up and down, then we have trouble. People are no longer basically unaffected by the devaluation of money. But that, too, is another story.

    This is the Ingram School model for the world’s economies. It is a book, not a page.

  • waramess says:

    And I, a simple country boy who can see no woods for the trees? If the demand exceeds supply then the price goes up. Problem?

    When the supply exceeds demand then the price goes down/ Problem?

    We currently seek an increase in prices(inflation) because we think we can control it (we can’t) and we shun deflation (we can by doing nothing).

    What better than an environment where prices are gradually falling and wages are falling as a consequence and employment is high? All of this is what the politicians, voted in to support us, are denying us in their own best interests.

    Picture a country boy with a strand of wheat hanging on to his lower lip and maybe these are the policies we should be following.

  • Waramess,
    Thanks for your comment.

    Opinion is divided about whether or not an excess of demand is a pre-condition for full employment. People always want more goods and service from others but to get them they need some extra money, perhaps more than they have earned. Creating credit can help but it can lead to a liquidity shortage later. Printing money can help and there is no shortage of liquidity as a result of that.

    What is not in doubt is that if there is not enough liquidity in the system (people can stock their money and not spend it, there can be too many transactions going on…it slows down the transactions which slows the output of the economy.

    If you know how much liquidity is needed then you are a God. If not, it is safer to have a little too much.

    Then you get some inflation.

    Prices adjust and people are basically unaffected as long as the adjustments needed are fairly small and as long as all prices are able to adjust properly.

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