This article was included as an expert submission to Ron Paul’s Monetary Policy Anthology.
“When you’re one step ahead of the crowd you’re a genius. When you’re two steps ahead, you’re a crackpot.”
-Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Lincoln Square Synagogue, February 1998
“I hold all idea of regulating the currency to be an absurdity; the very terms of regulating the currency and managing the currency I look upon to be an absurdity; the currency should regulate itself; it must be regulated by the trade and commerce of the world; I would neither allow the Bank of England nor any private banks to have what is called the management of the currency.
I should never contemplate any remedial measure, which left to the discretion of individuals to regulate the amount of currency by any principle or standard whatever… I should be sorry to trust the Bank of England again, having violated their principle [the Palmer rule]; for I never trust the same parties twice on an affair of such magnitude.”
Report from the Select Committee on Banks of Issue
British Parliament, April 1840
It is a great privilege to write this essay on money and banking reform to mark the retirement of Dr. Paul from Congress. We in the United Kingdom have much to thank Dr. Paul for his tireless campaigning on these issues, especially those raised in the full public glare of two Presidential campaigns, making money and banking reform resonate here as well more than it otherwise would have.
At the Cobden Centre, we have two great parliamentarians, like Dr. Paul also inspired by the Austrian School of Economics: Steve Baker, Member of Parliament (MP) for High Wycombe (my co-founder of the Cobden Centre); and Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton. Taking the idea of full-reserve free banking, currency competition, honest accounting, and full open liability for bankers, they have produced four bills in Parliament which we will discuss next in summary.
The Financial Services (Deposit and Lending) Bill – 2010
Carswell describes the Deposit and Lending bill as follows:
My bill would give account holders legal ownership of their deposits, unless they indicated otherwise when opening the account. In other words, there would henceforth be two categories of bank account: deposit-taking accounts for investment purposes, and deposit-taking accounts for storage purposes. Banks would remain at liberty to lend on money deposited in the investment accounts, but not on money deposited in the storage accounts. As such, the idea is not a million miles away from the idea of 100% gilt-backed storage accounts proposed by other hon. Members and the Governor of the Bank of England.
Currency and Banknotes (Amendment) – 2011
Carswell describes the Currency and Banknotes Amendment as follows:
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Currency and Banknotes Act 1954 to allow banknotes in addition to those issued by the Bank of England to be legal tender; and for connected purposes. … My Bill would amend the Currency and Banknotes Act 1954 to enable a range of different currencies to be used as legal tender in Britain. The idea comes from a 1989 Treasury paper from when John Major was Chancellor. What the Treasury proposed as theoretically possible 22 years ago, the internet now makes practically achievable.
The internet has given people unprecedented choice. We have access to a greater range of music, financial services, groceries and books than ever before, so why do we have legal tender laws that create a monopoly currency?
In an email to me, Carswell expressed the influence Congressman Paul has had on his work:
Reading Ron Paul’s End the Fed gave me the confidence to speak out. I suddenly realised it wasn’t just a few of us Brits who doubted the whole fiat money/candy floss currency scam. He has given hope to those of us throughout the West.
Financial Services (Regulation of Derivatives) Bill
Steve Baker compiled the Regulation of Derivatives Bill with the help of Gordon Kerr, Tim Bush, and Kevin Dowd.  When he introduced the legislation on 15 March 2011, he described the Bill as requiring “certain financial institutions to prepare parallel accounts on the basis of the lower of historic cost and mark to market for their exposure to derivatives; and for connected purposes.” Baker explained how the accounting rules for banks incentivize trading in derivatives by enabling unrealized profits to be booked up-front, leading to large but unjustified bonuses and dividends.
More broadly, banks are producing accounts that grossly inflate their profits and capital in three ways:
(1) Using mark-to-market and mark-to-model accounting, banks record unrealized gains in investments as profits.
(2) International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) prevent banks from making prudent provision for expected loan losses by allowing recognition only of incurred losses.
(3) IFRS encourages banks not to deduct staff compensation from profits.
Taken together, these flaws mean that banks’ accounts under IFRS are at once rule-compliant and dangerously misleading. The Regulation of Derivatives Bill deals with this broad problem. For much more detail, see Gordon Kerr’s Adam Smith Institute pamphlet, “The Law of Opposites.”
Financial Institutions (Reform) Bill
Baker compiled the Financial Institutions Reform Bill with the help of Gordon Kerr and Kevin Dowd. The bill was introduced on Wednesday, 29 February 2012. The key provisions of the bill would:
(1) Enforce strict liability on directors of financial institutions;
(2) Enforce unlimited personal liability on directors of financial institutions;
(3) Require directors of financial institutions to post personal bonds as additional bank capital;
(4) Require personal bonds and bonuses to be treated as additional bank capital;
(5) Make provision for the insolvency of financial institutions; and
(6) Establish a financial crimes investigation unit.
The purpose of this Bill is to minimise moral hazard within the financial system by ensuring that those who take risks are held personally liable for the consequences. Since rules can usually be gamed by financial institutions, a principle underlying this Bill is to minimise scope for evasion.
The public are rightly incensed at the injustices we see across the financial system but our economy must have responsible, innovative and enterprising financial services. It is essential that commercial freedom is maintained while creating a system in which remuneration is a just reward for success, not the unjust product of unrealised profits and bailouts.
My Bill would make directors of financial institutions personally liable for losses. It would ensure that losses came first out of institutions’ bonus pools then directors’ personal bonds before hitting equity. Directors would also be exposed to unlimited personal liability long before any suggestion of taxpayer bailout.
With key decision makers’ own wealth at risk, they would take responsible decisions instead of expecting rewards for failure.
It’s time to tell bankers, “Yes, innovate. By all means earn large rewards for providing valuable financial services. But bear your own commercial risks. Don’t expect the rest of us to bail you out.”
Public Attitudes to Banking: A Survey Commissioned by the Cobden Centre (2010)
When we started the Cobden Centre, we all thought we knew about money and banking and all thought we knew what our fellow Brits thought about it all. To the great credit of Prof. Anthony Evans, he said let’s do some empirical testing. And so the Cobden Centre commissioned a survey. This research formed the basis of much of the work our parliamentary friends have embarked upon.
The survey was conducted by the market research company ICM with 2,000 participants. The results offer us a rather confusing array of views as to what people think banking is about.
- 74% of respondents thought that they were the legal owner of the money in their current account, as opposed to the bank being the legal owner.
- 66% of respondents answered “don’t know” when asked what proportion of their current account was used in various ways by their bank.
- 15% wanted safe-keeping services.
- 67% wanted convenient access.
- 8% knew correctly that they had lent money to the bank.
- 33% think it is wrong that the bank lends out what they view as their money.
- 61% said they would not mind the bank lending if it was done safely.
- 26% wanted reserves to match deposits.
It would seem a sizeable minority percentage would want some form of safe-keeping services. Most would want easy access, which would imply short-term borrowing matched with short-term lending, so as to avoid runs, rather than the current practice of lending long and borrowing short.
The needs of savers and borrowers would be better aligned by requiring depositors to choose, at the time of making a deposit, how much money they wished to put into plain saving (i.e., savings set aside for safe/precautionary holding as opposed to investment purposes — a distinction made by the Austrian scholar Ludwig von Mises) and how much into capitalist saving (i.e., savings set aside for investment gain as opposed to safe/precautionary savings). This would provide the setting for, and lead to, much more stable and substantial growth.
In a modern setting, the ability for banks to distinguish between plain savings, those savings that people want for safe keeping, and savings for capitalistic investment via the normal savings bonds, time deposit accounts, and so on and so forth, would allow the banking system to mediate more accurately the diverse time preferences of all savers and borrowers. (The Manchester/Lancashire system of full reserve banking and private money creation that we will discuss in the last part of this essay is a good historical example of how mediating only capitalistic savings, and not plain savings, created a system of safe credit—until it was interfered with by the Stamp Act.)
The ICM survey showed all of us that there is a need to sort out what people actually think happens with their money and banking and what actually does happen—as the two things are very different.
The Jesus Huerta De Soto Monetary Reform Proposal in Summary
Some three years ago I was fortunate enough to introduce both of our Parliamentarian friends to the greatest of all the living Austrian School economists in the full reserve tradition, Professor Jesus Huerta De Soto. His 1998 book, translated into English in 2006 as Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles, is the seminal treatise on the matter.
In chapter nine, he outlines his reform proposal. (All quotes in this section are taken from chapter nine and the full book can be downloaded at http://www.cobdencentre.org/tag/downloads/.) The aims of the reform, as summarized by Prof. Huerta De Soto himself, are as follows:
[O]ur proposal is based on privatizing money in its current form by replacing it with its metallic equivalent in gold and allowing the market to resume its free development from the time of the transition, either by confirming gold as the generally accepted form of money, or by permitting the spontaneous and gradual entrance of other monetary standards.
This second element of our proposal refers to the necessity of revoking banking legislation and eliminating central banks and in general any government agency devoted to controlling and intervening in the financial or banking market. It should be possible to set up any number of private banks with complete freedom, both in terms of corporate purpose and legal form. …
Nevertheless the defense of free banking does not imply permission for banks to operate with a fractional reserve. At this point it should be perfectly clear that banking should be subject to traditional legal principles and that these demand the maintenance at all times of a 100 percent reserve with respect to demand deposits at banks. Hence free banking must not be viewed as a license to infringe this rule, since its infringement not only constitutes a violation of a traditional legal principle, but it also triggers a chain of consequences which are highly damaging to the economy. 
The crux of his reform proposal is as follows (the description is mine and made UK-specific by me — read chapter nine in full for the complete version in the Professor’s own words):
(1) All demand deposits are immaterial money, and are not the depositor’s money but a liability from the bank they deposit with to pay them back money in the same amount as deposited, on demand.
(2) Let the government back all these demand deposits for physical cash and place them as reserves against the existing demand deposits. This is virtually a costless activity on behalf of the state. It is also not inflationary, as the backing, the physical cash, cannot be spent, as it sits in reserves.
(3) The money supply can neither expand nor contract at this specific point.
(4) The banks, where they had current liabilities, now no longer have them as they are fully reserved.
(5) This generates a one-off gain to the banks in terms of their net worth. In short, so much as they had these current demand liabilities, now they have these backed with paper notes for the same value, so their net worth has gone up by the equivalent amount.
(6) The asset side of the balance sheet, their loan portfolio, stays intact.
(7) As there are over £1 trillion of demand deposits in the UK banking system, the banking system’s net worth would have risen by £1 trillion.
(8) Why give this one-off gift of largesse to the shareholders and bonus-hungry bankers? Well, don’t. Form special purpose vehicles to hold the asset side of the balance sheets of the banks to collect on these outstanding loans and you can contract out the management of this to the existing banks.
(9) By doing this, the banks’ net worth on the day after the reform is still the same as the day before the reform, but the £1 trillion loan repayments are now paying off our national debt obligations. This is a unique one-off gain and is a byproduct of this reform.
(10) The gold price would need to rise to back all the deposits with gold and then you fix all money in one of its historic anchors: gold (you could also use silver or other successful monies). Since gold increases in physical supply at the rate of approximately 2% per year, if productivity gains run at about this rate you will have stable prices; if productivity rates are greater, then a benign price deflation.
(11) Let the people spontaneously discover what their most favoured money actually is.
I have suggested my own reform proposal along this line of reasoning here: http://www.cobdencentre.org/2010/05/the-emperors-new-clothes-how-to-pay-off-the-national-debt-give-a-28-5-tax-cut/.
In short, I would have no-reserve banking, not 100% reserve. By this, I have suggested that all demand deposits should actually be swapped out for physical cash and the current liability of the bank just rubbed out. Then the people would actually own their own money on deposit and not be current creditors, thus I would question the need to perform point number two and substitute along the lines of what I just suggested.
Would 100% Reserve Free Banking be the End of Lending and the End of Commerce as We Know It?
This is the question that gets asked when most people have understood that 100% reserve banking would be the end of bank-created credit. Many credible and distinguished people attribute the creation of bank credit as the source of the Industrial Revolution itself. Such a powerful thing is alleged. The noted Daily Telegraph writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says in his 21 October 2012 column:
One might equally say that this opened the way to England’s agricultural revolution in the early 18th Century, the industrial revolution soon after, and the greatest economic and technological leap ever seen. But let us not quibble.
For those followers of Dr. Paul and those generally interested in monetary reform in this tradition, I did some research into the genesis of the Industrial Revolution to see if this assertion held any merit. I have focused my research into the County of Lancashire and what became the first industrial city of the world, Manchester. In this concluding historical section, I will show that in the first third of the Industrial Revolution, private credit, bills of exchange, backed by the goods and services that were being traded for and by gold and silver, was the preferred modus operandi. The taxation of this private money by the 1815 Stamp Act led to their slow decline in favour of the privileged note issue of, in particular, the Bank of England. However, by late 1874 some 45% of all credit was still private credit in the form of bills of exchange. Private credit was the preferred medium of the Industrial Revolution, and not bank-created fiduciary credit.
Early Banking in Manchester
The historian Arthur Redford in his book about merchants and foreign trade in Manchester described the early bankers of the town:
The first Manchester Bank, that of Byron, Sedgwick, Allen, and Place, was opened in 1771, in combination with an insurance office, and the Mercury welcomed it with the comment that “from the general Approbation the Scheme has met with amongst all Ranks of People, it is not questioned that it will be of infinite Utility to the Trading Part of the Town, and to the County in general.” …. It was not the only Manchester banking business, for in 1772 John Jones and Co. were “Bankers and Tea Dealers” and within thirteen years were to have offices in London from which Jones Lloyds sprang. In Liverpool also most of the early bankers, says their historian, “arose out of general merchants, some few from tea dealers, and one from linen merchants.” Even after declaring themselves bankers, the banking business was usually continued along with trading. But the use of the term banker was late, and until almost the end of our period the commerce of Liverpool, with its complex dealings in foreign exchange, and the internal trade of Lancashire seem to have been carried on mainly through the bill discounting side of the merchants’ and traders’ businesses. In Liverpool marine insurance broking was closely allied.”
The key thing I observe here is that in the first part of the Industrial Revolution the issue of notes (which were the chief means of bank fiduciary credit) was a side issue and bills of exchange were the main mechanism to facilitate this massive explosion in trade. Also, this first bank in the UK’s main industrial area was nearly 100 years behind the establishment of the Bank of England and the Scottish public banks.
Data supplied by Prof. Angus Maddison shows us that from 1700 to 1820 there is 338.38% growth in measured economic activity. The next 130 years saw 960.06% growth when the Industrial Revolution was in full flow. Nevertheless, with the initial explosion of activity in the mid- to late-1700s, to the early 1820s, we see the prime industrial county in the world exist with few or no banks and banks not providing credit services as we know them today, and clearly not to its detriment.
Economic historian T. S. Ashton quotes William Langton (a driving force behind the founding of the Manchester Statistical Society in 1833) writing later in the 19th century:
“It is exceedingly natural,” said Langton, “that those banks which still retain the privilege of issuing their own notes should desire to retain it, since it naturally adds to their profits; but it has always been recognised in the great industrial district of Lancashire that it is no essential condition to the wielding of manufacturing and commercial enterprise, and that the banks not possessing this privilege have not stinted their customers of any legitimate accommodation.”
Langton also notes their usefulness vis-a-vis other modes of money:
My personal memory of trade only extends back to the year 1820; but at that time the Liverpool merchants received nothing but bills in payment from Manchester of their cotton invoices; every such payment, if in what was called promiscuous paper, requiring a calculation of interest to make a settlement per appoint. This practice gradually disappeared with the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England and the lowering of the standard rate of interest; but if economy of interest of money is to be taken as the special recommendation of any particular kind of circulating medium, this one surely ought to bear the palm!
W.T. Crick and J.E. Wadsworth note the significance of Manchester and the nearby City of Liverpool by observing:
Yet, in spite of Lancashire’s advanced industrial organization, banking was rather later to develop than in some other areas. No banks are recorded in Manchester until 1771 or in Liverpool until 1774, and when eventually they were formed, they do not appear to have acquired note circulations except in a few unimportant instances.
Ashton describes the special preference for bills of exchange over notes:
These are reasons explaining the ubiquity of bills of exchange at this period. The special preference of Lancashire for bills rather than notes is a matter deserving of research. It arose, no doubt, out of a high degree of commercial confidence, no less than out of a low degree of trust in note-issuers, and the fact that Lancashire bought raw material from distant places and sold products in distant markets must also have engendered a preference for a document the circulation of which was not confined to the sphere of operations of a local bank. As time went on the domestic bill came to play a smaller part in commercial transactions: the increase of the stamp duties after the Napoleonic War dealt a blow to the system; and the growth of large banks of deposits with many branches, together with the shortening of the customary terms of credit, led to a substitution of cheques for bills in inland trade during the later decades of the nineteenth century. But in the period with which we are concerned cheques were in their infancy and the bill had no serious rival as a medium of exchange between traders.
Ashton also gives us clues as to why they have almost vanished today from the commercial idiom as the stamp duty applied to them was less advantageous vis-a-vis note or chequebook issue as the latter provided quicker redemption in money possibilities.
If we dig a bit further into the historical record we see that these bills arose spontaneously to fulfill a need to be able to facilitate the smooth transmission of trade. A wonderful book written by Alfred P. Wadsworth & Julia De Lacy Mann, The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire 1600-1780, documents this history quite thoroughly:
We have seen Marsden as a manufacturer, putting out cotton and yarn through his agent and debiting the materials and wages against the value of the finished goods. On the other side he maintained a London house, through which he bought his raw materials and sold his fustians, and in connection with which he conducted extensive operations as a bill discounter. Between 1688 and 1690 he was involved in a maze of lawsuits, from which some account of his business may be constructed
Having “constantly great and considerable sums of money in his hands” [Marsden] lent money to other dealers in return for their bills on London; or he “furnished them with bills of exchange for payment of considerable sums of money at London to them or their order, or to such persons as they appointed to receive the same,” either receiving cash, or, generally, giving them credit at an agreed rate of interest. When they failed to pay him for the bills he had given them, he would take an assignment of their goods at Liverpool —cotton or linen yarn, promissory notes, or bills drawn on their London debtors. But apart from his own trading credit, he had “for many years past been intrusted or employed with greate parte of the monies retorned out of the county of Lancaster to London.”
Marsden the industrialist had become the banker as well as the chief remitter of revenues back to Lancashire and the principal collector of taxes. Daniel Defoe, trader, writer, and journalist, remarked in 1727, that:
[A] very great part of the bills drawn out of the several counties in England upon the tradesmen in London, such as factors and warehousekeepers, are made payable to the General Receivers of the several taxes and duties, customs and excise, which are levied in the country in specie, and the money is remitted by those collectors and receivers on account of those duties; this generally appears by the bills or endorsements, which often mention it in these words for his Majesty’s use.
Thus credit was granted and discounted bills accepted and paid with specie, not with notes or other such fiduciary credit. The Crown accepted these bills!
In commenting upon the various inaccuracies with traders being bankers, after an extensive investigation into the disputes listed in the court records, Wadsworth and Mann conclude:
Much might be said of the use of the bill in the general system of credit, but enough, perhaps, has been suggested in earlier pages to indicate its importance. The bill on London, then as a century later the dominant form, entered at every stage, and into every form of transaction, ran from the smallest to the largest sums, and passed even more freely than cash. The financial mechanism which turned on the bill, the promissory note, and other credit instruments, and has here been summarily illustrated, bulks large in all the commercial manuals of the time. … It is apt to be forgotten that the credit machinery of industries like the textile trades was hardly less extensive before the foundation of the country banks than it became after.
Unwin, Hulme, and Taylor did a fantastic investigation into the affairs of Samuel Oldknow and his mill at Mellor. There is also some evidence to show why Lancashire rejected bills vs. notes:
Enough has been said to show the almost desperate condition of Oldknow’s affairs at the beginning of 1793. He had invested an immense capital—for those days—in the fixed forms of land, buildings, and machinery which could not yield any return without the assistance of commercial credit—and owing to the outbreak of war commercial credit had almost ceased for the time being to exist. No fewer than 872 bankruptcies were recorded between November 1792 and July 1793. The problem of credit currency became acute. The country banks, which had multiplied greatly during the previous decade, had produced an over-issue of notes, some of them for such small amounts as to provoke the derisive issue by a Newcastle cobbler of a note for two-pence. But the notes even of the sounder banks were now returned on their hands and many were obliged to close their doors.
The instability that these free banks issuing fiduciary credit afforded the industrialist in the times of crises was very destabilising, as you did not want to become a creditor to a bankrupt banker. This is one way to accelerate your own potential to become bankrupt. So commercial credit, or bills backed by real goods, was sought in preference.
Why did these Lancashire Bills Decline?
Henry Thornton, an economist, banker, and Parliamentarian, commented on the demise of bills to the favour of notes in 1802: “Some Bank of England notes have also been recently employed in the place of small bills on London, the use of which has been discouraged by the late additional duty on bills and notes.”
Redford discusses the response of Manchester merchants to the duties and taxes imposed on bills of exchange:
A much more protracted struggle, extending throughout the second quarter of the nineteenth century, was waged by the Manchester merchants against excessive stamp duties on various kinds of legal documents. … Bills of exchange and promissory notes were first subjected to stamp duties in 1782; a general Stamp Act of 1815 had increased the duties, which thenceforth discriminated between short-dated and long-dated bills. In the post-war period the average duty on all bills of less than £50 was 1/2 per cent.; but this charge was felt to be prohibitive, and had in Manchester caused bills to be almost completely replaced by bank notes. Bank notes, however, were considered to be a much more inconvenient and risky means of payment, since they were payable “to bearer” and not “to order.” The Manchester Chamber of Commerce therefore moved in 1822 for the reduction of the duties, and sent up several petitions on the subject, to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Houses of Parliament. The petitioners described the serious inconvenience to business which had resulted from the virtual extinction of “a description of currency of great convenience and security”; they suggested a greatly reduced scale of duties, and argued that, if this were adopted, not only the business community but also the revenue would benefit greatly, because of the increased use of bills of exchange.
The Bank of England (BoE) was still a private bank at the time. However, as the government’s favoured bank it had certain privileges and was always lobbying for more. The 1815 Stamp Act made the reissue of bills of exchange virtually impossible. Some were taxed up to 460% higher than Bank of England note issue, or subject to great penalty that made the issue of private credit by other banks more expensive than BoE note issue. In 1825 the Bank of England set up a branch in Manchester specifically to take advantage of the terrible taxation placed on private bill issue and make sure that those pioneers of the Industrial Revolution had to take BoE credit.
The significance of Manchester as the prime industrial area of the world at the time does make it a meaningful and worthy study area from which we can extrapolate, hopefully, our findings to the wider canvas of today and I submit that in the absence of bank-created credit we, like our ancestors, have nothing to fear. Indeed, like the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution, we should embrace private money solutions such as bills of exchange and rely on the lending of real savings to provide real capital to entrepreneurs and not bank credit created out of nowhere. Full-reserve systems are not only stable, but growth enhancing. Lending does not die as many advocates of fractional reserve banking dread.
 Arizona Jewish Post, 18 September 1998
 Report from Select Committee on Banks of Issue, Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be printed, 7 August 1840.
 Huerta de Soto, Jesus. Money, Credit, and Economic Cycles. 2nd edition. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009, pp. 739-740.
 Although the City of Manchester is now part of Greater Manchester or the Greater Manchester Urban Area, prior to 1835 it was part of the Salford Hundred of the county of Lancashire. By 1853, it had reached full City status. So for the majority of this essay’s focus, when Lancashire is referred to, it certainly should be read to be synonymous with what is the heart of Manchester City today. Also, you will see Liverpool mentioned as well, often in the same light as Manchester. This is due to their close geographic connection and the Port of Liverpool being often the import and export venue for the Manchester manufacturers.
 Dun, John. British Banking Statistics. London: E. Stanford, 1876, p. 87.
 Redford, Arthur. Manchester Merchants and Foreign Trade. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1934, p. 248.
 Ashton, Thomas Southcliffe. Economic and Social Investigations in Manchester, 1833-1933. London: P.S. King & Son, 1934.
 Langton, William qtd. in Ashton.
 Crick, W.F., and Wadsworth, J.E. A Hundred Years of Joint Stock Banking. London: Holder & Stoughton, 1936, pp. 142-143.
 Ashton, Thomas Southcliffe. An Eighteenth-Century Industrialist: Peter Stubs of Warrington 1756-1806. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1939, p. 139.
Wadsworth, Alfred P., and Mann, Julia De Lacy. The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire, 1600-1780. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1931, pp. 92-93.
 Defoe, Daniel, qtd. in Wadsworth and Mann, p. 93.
 Wadsworth & Mann, p. 96.
 Unwin, George, Hulme, Arthur, and Taylor, George. Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights: the Industrial Revolution at Stockport and Marple. Manchester: Manchester University Press, p. 79.
 Thornton, Henry An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (1802), London: George Allen and Unwin, 1939, note to p. 214.
In a recent email, Sean Corrigan highlighted the following excerpt from Ludwig M. Lachmann‘s essay Austrian Economics in the Age of the Neo-Ricardian Counterrevolution. It was written in 1976.
The best opportunity for the rehabilitation of Austrian economics today is, I regret to say, to be sought in the permanent inflation the Western world has suffered since the Second World War. This is certainly not the fault of Austrian economists; there has been no lack of warnings from their side.
We live in a world in which prices can only rise and never fall, because the public has come to believe that a widespread fall of money wage rates in the face of a falling demand for goods and services would be intolerable. A world, however, in which all relative price adjustments have to be made against a background of continuously rising money prices and wages is one in which money is no longer a store of value: it can only depreciate, never appreciate. The process of inflation must accelerate once everybody understands what is happening.
Faced with this situation neoclassical economists, on the whole, have (predictably?) behaved badly. Some have distinguished between cost-push and demand-pull inflations as though we were dealing with a succession of historical processes of inflation and not one indivisible process. Some would have us believe that there is a choice between a little more unemployment and a little more inflation. The facts of the inflation now accelerating all over the Western world speak for themselves, though the econometricians may not understand the language. A mind for which the economic world is a complex system of given variables seems quite unable to grasp a kaleidic world. The facts of a world of accelerating inflation elude it.
Some neoclassical economists have shown themselves to be rather uninhibited inflationists. According to Kenneth J. Arrow:
The rates of inflation with which we have had to contend impose no insuperable problem or even major difficulty to the operation of the economic system, nothing comparable to the major depressions of the past. Individuals will learn and have learned to deal with inflation making their plans to take expected inflation into account. The economic system and the government will create and are creating methods of mitigating the effects . . . . Some analysts feel that inflation will inevitably accelerate, but others will note that in the past peacetime inflation has tapered off.
Second, we may have some reasonable hope that economic research and experimentation in policymaking, between them, will evolve more sophisticated means of managing the overall economy.
Solow expressed an even more striking view:
In a monetary economy, it is natural to amend the definition of a steady state to require a constant rate of inflation; since everything else is growing exponentially, the price level ought to be no exception. 
Neo-Ricardians have been far more cautious about inflation. Hayek and Joan Robinson not merely agreed on the substance of the matter but actually, though no doubt unwittingly, used the same metaphor:
An inflationary economy is in the situation of a man holding a tiger by the tail.
Faced with this terrible but challenging situation Austrian economists today have a triple duty. They must tell the public that:
1. The real cause of the accelerating inflation lies in a change in the social climate that, engineered by the left intelligentsia, took place about a half-century ago and resulted in a taboo on downward adjustments of money wage rates.
2. A market economy requires a money that can serve as a store of value, a money in terms of which prices are as likely to fall as they may be to rise. (An absolutely stable price level is impossible.) No such money exists today.
3. None of the nostrums peddled by economists in many countries today involving price and wage controls will work, and they may well paralyze the market process.
 Kenneth J. Arrow, “Capitalism, for Better or Worse,” in Capitalism: the Moving Target, ed. Leonard Silk (New York: Quadrangle, 1974), pp. 105–113.
 Robert M. Solow, Growth Theory: An Exposition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 66.
 Joan Robinson, Economic Heresies (London: Macmillan & Co., 1971), p. 95; Friedrich A. Hayek, A Tiger by the Tail, ed. Sudha R. Shenoy, Institute of Economic Affairs, Hobart Paper 4 (London, 1972), p. 112.
Towards the end of last year, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard discovered the IMF working paper “The Chicago Plan Revisited” (PDF), which “revives the scheme first put forward by professors Henry Simons and Irving Fisher in 1936 during the ferment of creative thinking in the late Depression”.
He was perplexed:
Arguably, it would smother freedom and enthrone a Leviathan state. It might be even more irksome in the long run than rule by bankers.
Personally, I am a long way from reaching an conclusion in this extraordinary debate. Let it run, and let us all fight until we flush out the arguments.
One thing is sure. The City of London will have great trouble earning its keep if any variant of the Chicago Plan ever gains wide support.
In the spirit of the second paragraph, I intend in this essay to outline a more accurate history of the antecedents of this plan advocated by the Chicago monetarists. I show the Austrian heritage that predates this, and show how and why the Austrian proposal of Jesus Huerta de Soto is actually freedom-enhancing. On the way, we will also suggest where Ambrose Evans-Prichard may wish to revise his views on the origin of money.
The Austrian School settings of what has become known as the Chicago Plan
I draw to your attention this letter between Prof Jesus Huerta de Soto and the two IMF authors, sent on the 9th of October:
Dear Michael and Jaromir,
After reading the e-mail between my disciple working in the Stability Department of the Bank of Spain Dr. Antonio Pancorbo and Michael Kumhof (August 29 and 31, 2012) I would like to stress the point that the 100 per cent proposal was launched for the first time by Ludwig von Mises in the 1912 first edition of his “Theory of Money and Credit”, as recognized by the Chicago School economists of the 1930’s (see specially Albert G. Hart, “The Chicago Plan of Banking Reform”, Review of Economics Studies 2, 1935, footnote p. 104). Of course, in 1912 the Gold Standard was still in force, but this should not be interpreted as if there should be a necessary link between the 100 per cent proposal and the reintroduction of the Gold Standard. Although Austrian economists generally support both reforms, they would be happy, as a second best, with the 100 per cent proposal for the reasons originally given by Mises in 1912 (specially the need to avoid artificial credit expansions not backed by previous real genuine savings). In my opinion your most interesting paper would be improved in its part dedicated to the history of the 100% proposal with the recognition to the Mises original contribution.
Furthermore, if you should have considered in your model the huge malinvestments induced through each cycle by credit expansions financed by the current fractional reserve banking system (which are analyzed in detail by the Austrian Business Cycle Theory), the introduction of the 100 per cent reserves reform would produce output gains significantly higher than the 10 per cent you mention in your paper.
Finally you probably will be interested to know the growing political and popular debate on the 100 per cent reform that is taking place in Europe. To show this see enclosed the “Hayek Memorial Lecture” I delivered at the London School of Economics in which I mention the piece of legislation proposed by two Tory MP’s at the British Parliament aimed at the establishment of 100 per cent banking for demand deposits, as well as the English version of the movie produced by my department of economics at King Juan Carlos University that was showed at the Spanish TV defending the 100 per cent proposal and which got 7 per cent of total audience (http://www.fraudedocumental.com/#!__english ).
Jesús Huerta de Soto
Catedrático de Economía Política
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos
P.S.: From the methodological point of view I think we should be a little bit more humble regarding both the evaluation of the historical “evidence” (that Michael Kumhof believes shows “unequivocally” a pure fiat money system is far superior to a gold standard) and the “evidence” obtained from your model (that should not be considered more than a “potentially illustrative abstraction”).
A full video and the speech of my 2010 Hayek Lecture at the LSE where Prof Huerta de Soto spoke are available here.
Prof Jesus Huerta de Soto’s 1998 book, translated to English in 2006 as Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles, can be downloaded here (PDF).
Chapter 9 discusses all the 20th Century proposals for reform on these lines and the Nobel winners who have supported proposals in this tradition. Huerta de Soto then discuses his proposal and the implications for a free society. Ambrose Evans-Prichard may learn much from these links to serious scholarship.
In short, Huerta de Soto swaps immaterial demand deposits for physical cash. He does not use bonds. The physical cash is a one-off printing of notes by the state in direct exchange for ownership of these bank liabilities (the demand deposits), which it can promptly destroy, thus leaving the banks and their customers owning what they think they own: their own money. And the banks, being liberated from having these current liabilities, now have the asset side of their balance sheet intact with no demand deposit liability. The increase in bank net worth should be able to pay off the national debt, which of course is simply a byproduct of this reform. The real aim is to fix money to gold and abolish the central bank, which would then remove monetary socialism from our system. With stable and honest money, redeemable in a commodity once more, and with governments nowhere near it, freedom and liberties would be massively boosted. However, it is best to read the actual proposal rather than my quick and dirty summary.
Evans-Pritchard’s Telegraph colleague, Daniel Hannan, MEP, asked me to put forward this proposal in no more than 1200 words and offer a reward for anyone who could refute it. I did, the link is here and no one has refuted it. If you read through the comments thread, you will see various attacks and rebuttals and points of clarification.
Fantastical as this all may sound, in the cold light of day it does stack up and it may well be the only solution left to the authorities should the system collapse again. After all, not much good can come from nationalising an already state-dominated money and banking system.
The origins of money
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has a different view as to the origins of money from myself. He disagrees with the account of Adam Smith and he claims that Aristotle says, in Ethics, that money was fiat and derived its value from the state. I will see if his assertions can withstand scrutiny by going to the texts themselves, and I will take this in chronological order.
Anthropological studies show that social fiat currencies began with the dawn of time. The Spartans banned gold coins, replacing them with iron disks of little intrinsic value. The early Romans used bronze tablets. Their worth was entirely determined by law – a doctrine made explicit by Aristotle in his Ethics – like the dollar, the euro, or sterling today.
In all of the works of Aristotle, at best we may find 20-30 pages of economics. I find nothing on the origins of money in Ethics. I am happy to be proved wrong, but I do find the relevant points in his Politics which I reprint in full from “The Complete Works of Aristotle , Vol 2″ – John Barnes (Princeton / Bollingen Series LXX1.2, 1257 a1, Book 1, 9, line 18 to line 10 of 1257b1, pages 1994-1995)
In the first community, indeed, which is the family, this art is obviously of no use, but it begins to be useful when the society increases. For the members of the family originally had all things in common; later, when the family divided into parts, the parts shared in many things, and different parts in different things, which they had to give in exchange for what they wanted, a kind of barter which is still practiced among barbarous nations who exchange with one another the necessaries of life and nothing more; giving and receiving wine, for example, in exchange for coin, and the like. This sort of barter is not part of the wealth-getting art and is not contrary to nature, but is needed for the satisfaction of men’s natural wants.
The other or more complex form of exchange grew, as might have been inferred, out of the simpler. When the inhabitants of one country became more dependent on those of another, and they imported what they needed, and exported what they had too much of, money necessarily came into use. For the various necessaries of life are not easily carried about, and hence men agreed to employ in their dealings with each other something which was intrinsically useful and easily applicable to the purposes of life, for example, iron, silver, and the like. Of this the value was at first measured simply by size and weight, but in process of time they put a stamp upon it, to save the trouble of weighing and to mark the value.
When the use of coin had once been discovered, out of the barter of necessary articles arose the other art of wealth getting, namely, retail trade; which was at first probably a simple matter, but became more complicated as soon as men learned by experience whence and by what exchanges the greatest profit might be made. Originating in the use of coin, the art of getting wealth is generally thought to be chiefly concerned with it, and to be the art which produces riches and wealth; having to consider how they may be accumulated. Indeed, riches is assumed by many to be only a quantity of coin, because the arts of getting wealth and retail trade are concerned with coin.
The natural and spontaneous discovery by man of money, as the final means for complex exchange, that over and above barter, was seemingly explored by Aristotle in Politics and not in Ethics. Also there is no mention of fiat money. There is also the traditional story of the origin of money as a solution to the double coincidence of wants. Another commodity, the most marketable, called money, was used to facilitate indirect exchange. All of this from Aristotle would seem to be diametrically opposed to Evans-Pritchard’s understanding of the great polymath.
Aristotle can be cited as one of the first economists to talk about the spontaneous origins of money, but he has erroneously been presented as an intellectual ancestor to Georg Friedrich Knapp, author of ‘The State Theory of Money’. The phrase “they put a stamp upon it” has been taken to imply that money has value because the state has endorsed it. Some people put their 21st century hats on, and assume the state introduced the quality stamp, but these were private mints stamping money; there is no evidence of state-owned mints at this time. More importantly, the stamp simply gave comfort to users of money that the coins had the requisite metallic content. This prevented deception, supporting the subjective value that money-holders attached to money, but it did not create the subjective value. This is a point lost by many Chartalist thinkers.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard would have us believe that private money is an aberration:
The conjuring trick [of the Chicago Plan] is to replace our system of private bank-created money — roughly 97pc of the money supply — with state-created money. We return to the historical norm, before Charles II placed control of the money supply in private hands with the English Free Coinage Act of 1666.
Money was a means to overcome barter. Some two and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle noted how this was a spontaneous, market-driven process. It is true that the notes and coins produced by today’s states form a small percentage of the overall supply of money. Money has always been largely a creature of the private sector, though there is also a long history of government meddling and debasement. Here’s what Adam Smith has to say on the matter:
From the time of Charlemagne among the French, and from that of William the Conqueror among the English, the proportion between the pound, the shilling, and the penny, seems to have been uniformly the same as at present, though the value of each has been very different; for in every country of the world, I believe, the avarice and injustice of princes and sovereign states, abusing the confidence of their subjects, have by degrees diminished the real quantity of metal, which had been originally contained in their coins. The Roman as, in the latter ages of the republic, was reduced to the twenty-fourth part of its original value, and, instead of weighing a pound, came to weigh only half an ounce. The English pound and penny contain at present about a third only; the Scots pound and penny about a thirty-sixth; and the French pound and penny about a sixty-sixth part of their original value. By means of those operations, the princes and sovereign states which per-formed them were enabled, in appearance, to pay their debts and fulfill their engagements with a smaller quantity of silver than would otherwise have been requisite. It was indeed in appearance only; for their creditors were really defrauded of a part of what was due to them. All other debtors in the state were allowed the same privilege, and might pay with the same nominal sum of the new and debased coin whatever they had borrowed in the old. Such operations, therefore, have always proved favourable to the debtor, and ruinous to the creditor, and have sometimes produced a greater and more universal revolution in the fortunes of private persons, than could have been occasioned by a very great public calamity.
All value is determined subjectively. The politicians in the Weimar Republic could not convince their citizens to accept the value of the money that they were issuing in bucket loads. Like King Canute, they can stand in front of the sea and command it to go back, but the millions of subjective valuations will never respond to a state decree of value.
Let us now consider Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s reference to Adam Smith and his views on the origin of money.
It is a myth – innocently propagated by the great Adam Smith – that money developed as a commodity-based or gold-linked means of exchange. Gold was always highly valued, but that is another story. Metal-lovers often conflate the two issues.
When accusing a scholar of such standing as Adam Smith to be labouring under a myth, you really have to be sure of what you are alleging. Again, we will go to the original source and see if AEP’s claim stacks up to closer scrutiny.
3rd Edition 1784 Pages 33-42
OF THE ORIGIN AND USE OF MONEY
The butcher has more meat in his shop than he himself can consume, and the brewer and the baker would each of them be willing to purchase a part of it. But they have nothing to offer in exchange, except the different productions of their respective trades, and the butcher is already provided with all the bread and beer which he has immediate occasion for. No exchange can, in this case, be made between them. He cannot be their merchant, nor they his customers; and they are all of them thus mutually less serviceable to one another. In order to avoid the inconveniency of such situations, every prudent man in every period of society, after the first establishment of the division of labour, must naturally have endeavoured to manage his affairs in such a manner, as to have at all times by him, besides the peculiar produce of his own industry, a certain quantity of some one commodity or other, such as he imagined few people would be likely to refuse in exchange for the produce of their industry. Many different commodities, it is probable, were successively both thought of and employed for this purpose. In the rude ages of society, cattle are said to have been the common instrument of commerce; and, though they must have been a most inconvenient one, yet, in old times, we find things were frequently valued according to the number of cattle which had been given in exchange for them. The armour of Diomede, says Homer, cost only nine oxen; but that of Glaucus cost a hundred oxen. Salt is said to be the common instrument of commerce and exchanges in Abyssinia; a species of shells in some parts of the coast of India; dried cod at Newfoundland; tobacco in Virginia; sugar in some of our West India colonies; hides or dressed leather in some other countries; and there is at this day a village in Scotland, where it is not uncommon, I am told, for a workman to carry nails instead of money to the baker’s shop or the ale-house.
In all countries, however, men seem at last to have been determined by irresistible reasons to give the preference, for this employment, to metals above every other commodity. Metals can not only be kept with as little loss as any other commodity, scarce any thing being less perishable than they are, but they can like- wise, without any loss, be divided into any number of parts, as by fusion those parts can easily be re-united again; a quality which no other equally durable commodities possess, and which, more than any other quality, renders them fit to be the instruments of commerce and circulation. The man who wanted to buy salt, for example, and had nothing but cattle to give in exchange for it, must have been obliged to buy salt to the value of a whole ox, or a whole sheep, at a time. He could seldom buy less than this, because what he was to give for it could seldom be divided without loss; and if he had a mind to buy more, he must, for the same reasons, have been obliged to buy double or triple the quantity, the value, to wit, of two or three oxen, or of two or three sheep. If, on the contrary, instead of sheep or oxen, he had metals to give in exchange for it, he could easily proportion the quantity of the metal to the precise quantity of the commodity which he had immediate occasion for.
Different metals have been made use of by different nations for this purpose. Iron was the common instrument of commerce among the ancient Spartans, copper among the ancient Romans, and gold and silver among all rich and commercial nations.
In summary , the division of labour causes and excess of goods needed for direct exchange, which allows a whole host of other commodities to be used to facilitate indirect exchange until various metals get settled on.
In discussing the use of metals and the control of the abuse of weights he comments as follows:
To prevent such abuses, to facilitate exchanges, and thereby to encourage all sorts of industry and commerce, it has been found necessary, in all countries that have made any considerable advances towards improvement, to affix a public stamp upon certain quantities of such particular metals, as were in those countries commonly made use of to purchase goods. Hence the origin of coined money, and of those public offices called mints; institutions exactly of the same nature with those of the aulnagers and stamp-masters of woollen and linen cloth. All of them are equally meant to ascertain, by means of a public stamp, the quantity and uniform goodness of those different commodities when brought to market.
The first public stamps of this kind that were affixed to the current metals, seem in many cases to have been intended to ascertain, what it was both most difficult and most important to ascertain, the goodness or fineness of the metal, and to have resembled the sterling mark which is at present affixed to plate and bars of silver, or the Spanish mark which is sometimes affixed to ingots of gold, and which, being struck only upon one side of the piece, and not covering the whole surface, ascertains the fineness, but not the weight of the metal.
So money arises from the people, via various commodities, with metals being selected invariably as first choice. The public minting process starts privately and then various despots, tyrants, governments get behind the stamping of coins. Gold is a part of this process, but is one of many commodities. The key point is that money started its life as a commodity. Further on in this section, Smith gives many examples in history of how various commodities were used and references various texts to prove it. Pliny is quoted from the Timaeus, Abraham and Ephron are used as examples, along with Henry III, Henry VIII and Robert the Bruce.
I doubt Smith is labouring under a myth. I find his reasoning and examples compelling.
Chartalists who hold, like Evans-Prichard, that money is the creature of the state often cite various examples of credit being granted in ancient empires long forgotton, but upon closer inspection you will see that some good was being exchanged and that the creation of a running tab of credit to facilitate these exchanges only prolonged the act of completing a transaction for commodity money.
A relatively modern example is tally sticks. A notched stick was split, with one half given to the person who advanced money, and the other to the person who had received it. Matching the unique split between the two parts made sure you could not put more notches (claims to real money) on it as further transactions were embarked upon. Note that in all of this, money was the final settlement and the initial act to kick off the transaction and the credit. All these credit instruments mentioned by the Chartalist School and State Theory of Money School miss out this critical point. Credit was always eventually settled in money. Before fiat money proper, money was always a commodity of some kind or commodity-backed. This is an indisputable fact.
With a correct understanding of money’s origin, we can understand why it has value. Understanding this will enable us to conclude that if the state tries to detach money from the valuations of it by its citizens, it will cease to be an effective money. In a short period of time it will not be money. Ludwig von Mises shows us why in his 1912 book “The Theory of Money and Credit.”
XVII. INDIRECT EXCHANGE
4. The Determination of the Purchasing Power of Money
As soon as an economic good is demanded not only by those who want to use it for consumption or production, but also by people who want to keep it as a medium of exchange and to give it away at need in a later act of exchange, the demand for it increases. A new employment for this good has emerged and creates an additional demand for it. As with every other economic good, such an additional demand brings about a rise in its value in exchange, i.e., in the quantity of other goods which are offered for its acquisition. The amount of other goods which can be obtained in giving away a medium of exchange, its “price” as expressed in terms of various goods and services, is in part determined by the demand of those who want to acquire it as a medium of exchange. If people stop using the good in question as a medium of exchange, this additional specific demand disappears and the “price” drops concomitantly.
Thus the demand for a medium of exchange is the composite of two partial demands: the demand displayed by the intention to use it in consumption and production and that displayed by the intention to use it as a medium of exchange. With regard to modern metallic money one speaks of the industrial demand and of the monetary demand. The value in exchange (purchasing power) of a medium of exchange is the resultant of the cumulative effect of both partial demands.
Now the extent of that part of the demand for a medium of exchange which is displayed on account of its service as a medium of exchange depends on its value in exchange. This fact raises difficulties which many economists considered insoluble so that they abstained from following farther along this line of reasoning. It is illogical, they said, to explain the purchasing power of money by reference to the demand for money, and the demand for money by reference to its purchasing power.
The difficulty is, however, merely apparent. The purchasing power which we explain by referring to the extent of specific demand is not the same purchasing power the height of which determines this specific demand. The problem is to conceive the determination of the purchasing power of the immediate future, of the impending moment. For the solution of this problem we refer to the purchasing power of the immediate past, of the moment just passed. These are two distinct magnitudes. It is erroneous to object to our theorem, which may be called the regression theorem, that it moves in a vicious circle.
But, say the critics, this is tantamount to merely pushing back the problem. For now one must still explain the determination of yesterday’s purchasing power. If one explains this in the same way by referring to the purchasing power of the day before yesterday and so on, one slips into a regressus in infinitum. This reasoning, they assert, is certainly not a complete and logically satisfactory solution of the problem involved. What these critics fail to see is that the regression does not go back endlessly. It reaches a point at which the explanation is completed and no further question remains unanswered. If we trace the purchasing power of money back step by step, we finally arrive at the point at which the service of the good concerned as a medium of exchange begins. At this point yesterday’s exchange value is exclusively determined by the nonmonetary –industrial–demand which is displayed only by those who want to use this good for other employments than that of a medium of exchange.
But, the critics continue, this means explaining that part of money’s purchasing power which is due to its service as a medium of exchange by its employment for industrial purposes. The very problem, the explanation of the specific monetary component of its exchange value, remains unsolved. Here too the critics are mistaken. That component of money’s value which is an outcome of the services it renders as a medium of exchange is entirely explained by reference to these specific monetary services and the demand they create. Two facts are not to be denied and are not denied by anybody. First, that the demand for a medium of exchange is determined by considerations of its exchange value which is an outcome both of the monetary and the industrial services it renders. Second, that the exchange value of a good which has not yet been demanded for service as a medium of exchange is determined solely by a demand on the part of people eager to use it for industrial purposes, i.e., either for consumption or for production. Now, the regression theorem aims at interpreting the first emergence of a monetary demand for a good which previously had been demanded exclusively for industrial purposes as influenced by the exchange value that was ascribed to it at this moment on account of its nonmonetary services only. This certainly does not involve explaining the specific monetary exchange value of a medium of exchange on the ground of its industrial exchange value.
Finally it was objected to the regression theorem that its approach is historical, not theoretical. This objection is no less mistaken. To explain an event historically means to show how it was produced by forces and factors operating at a definite date and a definite place. These individual forces and factors are the ultimate elements of the interpretation. They are ultimate data and as such not open to any further analysis and reduction. To explain a phenomenon theoretically means to trace back its appearance to the operation of general rules which are already comprised in the theoretical system. The regression theorem complies with this requirement. It traces the specific exchange value of a medium of exchange back to its function as such a medium and to the theorems concerning the process of valuing and pricing as developed by the general catallactic theory. It deduces a more special case from the rules of a more universal theory. It shows how the special phenomenon necessarily emerges out of the operation of the rules generally valid for all phenomena. It does not say: This happened at that time and at that place. It says: This always happens when the conditions appear; whenever a good which has not been demanded previously for the employment as a medium of exchange begins to be demanded for this employment, the same effects must appear again; no good can be employed for the function of a medium of exchange which at the very beginning of its use for this purpose did not have exchange value on account of other employments. And all these statements implied in the regression theorem are enounced apodictically as implied in the apriorism of praxeology. It must happen this way. Nobody can ever succeed in construction a hypothetical case in which things were to occur in a different way.
Mises gives us the theory to explain the subjective value origins of money. It applies to all points in the history of money. Grasp this theory and you are liberated from the state view of money once and for all.
Will Commodity Money be the End of the City of London?
Evans-Pritchard seems to think the Chicago Plan would change the role of the City of London. Here, at last, he’s right. Banks would need to lend real savings, rather than simply extending credit. This is a good thing. Why? When you save, you refrain from consumption and put away money for future purchases. One day you will buy goods and services made by entrepreneurs who have been lent your savings. Thus, the right amount of money will be set aside to produce the right amount of goods and services in the future. The caveat is that entrepreneurs need to stay focused on producing what future consumers want. Thankfully, in the absence of quick and easy credit only competent entrepreneurs can survive.
With a sound banking system as suggested by Prof Huerta de Soto, and real savings and investment, we can see a return to the entrepreneurial glory days of our nation. But as long as the government retains the power to create money, our prosperity will be at risk.
I received an email the other day from Paul-Martin Foss, Legislative Assistant at the Office of Congressman Ron Paul:
Dear Friends of Dr. Paul,
If you are receiving this email, it is because you are a friend of Dr. Paul, a witness at one of our monetary policy hearings, a contributor to what has become Dr. Paul’s Monetary Policy Anthology, or likely some combination of the three.
To honor and preserve Dr. Paul’s legacy as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy, we have compiled an anthology containing all of Dr. Paul’s activities as chairman. It contains all of his hearings within the DMP subcommittee, transcripts of our Tea Talk Lecture Series, transcripts of his exchanges with Fed Chairman Bernanke, etc.
As a single document, the anthology as formatted runs to over 5000 pages, so we are splitting it into multiple sections and hosting it on Dr. Paul’s Congressional website. Today is the only day that those files will be available online, because today is the last day of the 112th Congress and our website will likely be taken down by close of business today.
Mr Foss subsequently uploaded the files to Dropbox for posterity. We have also archived them in our Downloads section. Here are the direct links:
I received an interesting email recently from a distinguished colleague in Spain. He was looking at the Central Bank of Cuba’s website where they state their monetary policy. He said to me, “you could ask your readers if they can grasp similarities and spot differences (other than that they recognize they are not a market economy) as compared with the monetary policy conducted by the Bank of England or the ECB. I guess that more than one western-world central banker would feel comfy with the Cuban approach.”
Here’s the text:
In dealing with monetary policy, it is necessary to take into account that it adopts particular characteristics in the case of Cuba, since there is not a market economy but a central planning, mainly, of a financial type.
In keeping with these considerations, the instruments of monetary policy carried out by the work of the central bank up to date are the following: controls over exchange rates and legal reserve ratios, among other provisions.
In order to make up and implement monetary policy, in 1998, it was created the Comité de Política Monetaria (Monetary Policy Committee) in Banco Central de Cuba which gathers weekly with various objectives: to analyse money liquidity development; give its opinion on interest rates to be applied on the financial system; examine the exchange market where Casas de Cambio CADECA S.A. operates and, in general, inspect, know and decide on everything concerning the country’s monetary policy.
Since 1999, important progress has been achieved in the formulation and implementation of monetary policy. In this sense, measures and instruments has been put into practice to adequate the monetary situation of enterprises as well as of the population to the development of the economy.
In that year, interest rate policy for the national currency was modified, fixing ceilings of 5,0 percent for the short-term and of 7,0 percent for the medium- and long-terms; this way, the high number of purposes and of interest rates prevailing until then were eliminated. As part of that new policy, banks were given the possibility to move those ceilings to a +/- 2,0 percent, depending on the purpose of the credit, rating of the borrower and other considerations, always taking into account the risk analysis that may be effected. Accordingly, interest rates for credit granting may range from 3,0 to 9,0 percent, without meaning an onerous financial burden for enterprises.
In regard to credit policy, it is based on effecting financing in national currency as well as in foreign currency through financial intermediaries under a strict risk analysis.
In relation to loans made to the population in national currency, interest rates approved by the end of 1998 are still applied for three loan categories: consumer loans with an interest rate up to 8,0 percent; investment loans with a 9,0 percent as maximum and cash loans with an interest rate up to a 9,0 percent, also.
Likewise, as of the 2000, banks are authorised to attract fixed deposits in national currency from natural persons with attractive interest rates shifting from an annual 2,5 to 7,5 percent, according to the term, that may vary from 3 months to 3 years. This measure allows the population to place new resources in this savings method or to immobilise part of the ordinary savings they hold for specific time periods, thus having a favourable impact in monitoring and controlling the money supply.
Interest rates of loans to enterprises in freely convertible currency are at reasonable levels, around 11,0 percent, thus redounding to an acceptable cost of financing to the economy.
Interest rates on deposits in foreign currency are fixed by commercial banks directly and related to international interest rates prevailing in each moment.
At the same time, commercial banks have been authorised to take fixed deposits in national currency from enterprises which are engaged in the entrepreneurial improvement system.
Legal reserve or minimum reserve ratio is continued to be applied on demand deposits of commercial banks. It is fixed at 10,0 percent for national currency and at 5,5 percent for foreign currency. This instrument of monetary policy has enable it to act on liquidity of the banking system and, therefore, on expansion or contraction of credit given to the economy.
Work has been carried on in making a system of monetary aggregates with the objective of gradually improving control over the money supply. These monetary aggregates include national currency as well as foreign currency. Their components are liquidity held by the population, on demand or for a term, plus savings balances from enterprises and other entities operating within the economy. Likewise, it has been determined the monetary base which includes cash in circulation outside the central bank plus commercial banks’ reserves deposited in the central bank.
In this issue, it is important to underscore that, due to the characteristics of our economy, the most important component of the monetary aggregates in order to monitor price behaviour is, precisely, liquidity held by the population which includes cash in circulation and call deposit accounts.
On the other side, work is being done to estimate, among other elements, money demand of the economy by means of econometric techniques, counting on, to that purpose, with the advisory of specialists from central banks of Latin America.
In relation to the exchange market, the CADECA’s informal market exchange rate which had remained stable for two years at about 20 Cuban pesos for one dollar, by the end of 2001, it was depreciated up to about 26 pesos for one dollar. This was mainly due to the international events and the impact of the world economic recession on the Cuban economy.
The existence of a double money circulation is an aspect which makes difficult to conduct Monetary Policy at present. This is an issue where attention is focused on and whose solution is linked to the growth of the country’s economy, the increase in financing of the Current Account deficit in the Balance of Payments, mainly at medium- and long-terms, and to the increase of the International Reserves to acceptable levels. Along these years, specialists from Banco Central de Cuba have carried on different research works in which experiences from other Latin American countries facing a similar situation have been analysed.
The following quote is taken from page 155 of Capital and Production by Richard von Strigl, which you can download in PDF format from our downloads section, or in various formats from Mises.org. H/T to Sean Corrigan for drawing our attention to this note.
Financing consumption through consuming capital also occurs in what is generally recommended under the title of emergency measures in times of crises. Even though production is directly financed here, this is only done for the purpose of creating values which do not free up the invested capital. If a production integrated in the normal course of the economy is financed, then it creates a product — as we have already explained — from whose sale the further financing of this production becomes possible. If, in contrast, a street is built, then means are employed which produce a street that can naturally be valued in economic terms, too, but not a product whose sale will finance further production processes.
No more shall be said here on the question of when such an expenditure can be justified solely from an economic point of view. There is only one thing to be said: If the neighbours (and other interested parties) attain a greater return after the street is built and save this return; that is, use it for new investments, then in this case the capital invested in the street is set free via a detour. If, however, this increased return is consumed, then from an economic point of view this is a case of freezing free capital. In both cases there occurs, of course, an enrichment of such interested parties at the expense of those who have provided the means for the street (or respectively in the case of inflationary money creation: at the expense of all owners of money). A purely economic calculation of profitability of the street could take place via the formula of comparing the costs with the possible surplus return for the interested parties, whereby naturally in this formula an interest rate would have to be incorporated.
The book is one of the most accessible introductions to capital theory and the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle in the style of Mises and Hayek. As we know, the ATBC is the only theory that can predict credit booms and busts, so if you get a chance, do read it.
Anyway, the hope of all politicians in a tough economic climate is that they can get some money from somewhere – tax, more debt, or QE – and spend it on something to hopefully create some demand and jobs where the private sector has “failed”.
MoneyMarketing – Osborne plans state-backed bank for small businesses:
Chancellor George Osborne is planning to set up a Government-backed bank to lend to small businesses as part of wider measures to prop up the economy…
He said the small business bank would “bring together all the alphabet soup of existing schemes” which provide funding to small businesses.
Osborne said: “The weakness in our banking system is one of the biggest problems we have got. Small businesses are the innocent victims of the financial crash.”
The Financial Times reports the idea has been developed based on similar models from Germany, the US and Ireland.
The newspaper reports the bank would operate online initially, and in future could enter into partnerships with the private sector or access the securitisation market.
The Error Further Explained
Any layman with more than room temperature IQ can understand that he needs to do some useful work for somebody, either in an employed or self-employed capacity, to gain money that he can exchange for goods and services produced and provided by others. He first focuses on his most urgent survival needs, and later on the products and services that provide a “good” life.
When the government taxes, taking money productively earned by Person A and giving it to institution B to spend on person C, this is redistribution only and never new incremental wealth creation. So there is no increase in productivity or more products made for exchange than there would have been. All that has been achieved is that B and C have A’s money to spend.
When the government issues debt, and it is bought by people who have previously produced and earned (e.g. most pensioners and large numbers of savers), all we have is savings spent today on current consumption that would have been spent on tomorrow’s goods and services. So there’s nothing new to lift up the wealth of the nation on a permanent basis.
When the government buys its own debt through QE, there is no new production, just raw consumption (we may see it as stealthy confiscation of the purchasing power of all money-holders). The wealth of the nation is decreased whenever this is done.
In a well-reasoned article for the FT (“Sorting fact from fiction on Bank’s QE” – 3 Sept), Jonathan Davis writes:
You do not have to be a fully paid up member of the Austrian school to believe the long term costs of distorting price signals in the bond market may turn out to be very high, and by inducing the misallocation of capital ultimately potentially every bit as damaging as the short term benefits are positive. QE is a path that leads eventually to zombie banks, zombie property companies and zombie businesses
The corrective process of the market has been stopped. It seems we are destined for a prolonged Japan-style zombie recession that will go on for decades. If we let the corrective process start, then billions of pounds held on corporate balance sheets and in investment funds will be freed up to exercise real demand and sort out these companies – to make them produce things people want at prices they’re willing to pay.
When bank credit is granted unbacked by the real savings of others, the credit it is created “out of thin air”. As Frank Shostak has repeatedly argued, such transactions do not enrich the nation. They enrich some at the expense of others, and destroy wealth overall.
Savings, investment, and production are the answer, not credit and consumption. Osborne’s scheme is especially suspect because credit and consumption will be directed according to the whims of government.
Even with the best intentions, they cannot possibly guess which projects are worthy and which are not. Only the market can determine this. Osborne’s project will not achieve what it has set out to achieve.
I am delighted that Fraser Nelson and the Spectator have picked up something we have been saying all the time for our nearly three years in existence: that QE is a regressive tax that transfers from the poor to the rich and should be stopped with immediate effect.
This of course should not be the only reason why it should be stopped, the principal one being that no new amount of money units created causes more goods and services to be made — more things that people want at cheaper prices (yes, deflated prices!), served in a more timely fashion to suit the most urgent consumer needs. Only entrepreneurs, by refraining from consumption — i.e., doing that most terrible of things according to the mainstream economist, saving — can they deploy their wealth to invest in more intensive, better combinations of factors of production. In short, to invest further in the capital structure of their business to produce these better goods and services.
I recommend this article and welcome that even the mainstream media are now starting to pick up on these points. There may be hope for sound economic reasoning yet!
The other day I happened to be talking to a politician who was also a successful entrepreneur. He knew of the absurdity that when there is more taken in tax receipts or borrowed from future taxpayers, this extraction of wealth adds to the GDP statistics. Creating more outside money via QE does the same. All activities like this say nothing about the health of the economy.
Now two entrepreneurs talking together instinctively know that “turnover is vain and profit is sanity,” i.e., what we are concerned with is the profits or health of our companies, and not whether they have a bloated balance sheet or high turnover.
The salesman who comes back and waxes lyrical about his enormous success at winning a megabuck contract is met with suspicion by the entrepreneur-owner until the critical question of “what net margin do we make?” is answered satisfactorily.
The book Capitalism by George Reisman — one of only four hand-picked PhD students of Mises — goes into great detail on why the GDP statistic is an absurdity and how we miss accounting for two thirds of the real economy (Chapter 15, pages 673-682). I strongly recommend a read.
Mark Skousen has also exposed some absurdities and proposed better measures (PDF), and our very own contributor Sean Corrigan and our founding fellow, Anthony Evans have their own measure centred on the measuring of the private productive sector of the economy.
I recently was blessed to find a pristine first edition of Ludwig von Mises’s 1922 book Socialism in the original German and the first English language translation from 1932.
Re-reading this definitive demolition of all socialist arguments, I thought this small section, written some 30 years before politicians became infatuated with GDP statistics, would be worthwhile blogging about.
Gross and Net Product
The most ambitious attempt to contrast productivity and profitability derives from the examination of the relationship between gross product and net product. It is clear that every entrepreneur in the capitalist system aims at achieving the largest net product. But it is asserted that rightly considered the object of economic activity should be to achieve not the largest net product but the largest gross product.
This belief, however, is a fallacy based upon primitive speculations regarding valuation. But judged by its widespread acceptance even today it is a very popular fallacy. It is implicit when people say that a certain line of production is to be recommended because it employs a large number of workers, or when a particular improvement in production is opposed because it may deprive people of a living.
If the advocates of such views were logical they would have to admit that the gross product principle applies not only to labour but also to the material instruments of production. The entrepreneur carries production up to the point where it ceases to yield a net product. Let us assume that production beyond this point requires material instruments only and not labour. Is it in the interest of society that the entrepreneur should extend production so as to obtain a larger gross product? Would society do so if it had the control of production? Both questions must be answered with a decided no. The fact that further production does not pay shows that the instruments of production could be applied to a more urgent purpose in the economic system. If, nevertheless, they are applied to the unprofitable line then they will be lacking in places where they are more urgently needed. This is true under both Capitalism and Socialism. Even a socialist community, supposing it acted rationally, would not push certain lines of production indefinitely and neglect others. Even a socialist community would discontinue a particular line of production when further production would not cover the expense, that is to say, at the point where further production would mean failure to satisfy a more urgent need elsewhere.
But what is true of the increased use of material instruments is true exactly in the same way of the increased use of labour. If labour is devoted to a particular line of production to the point where it only increases the gross product while the net product declines, it is being withheld from some other line where it could perform more valuable service. And here, again, the only result of neglecting the principle of net product is that more urgent wants remain unsatisfied whilst less urgent ones are met. It is this fact, and no other which is made evident in the mechanism of the capitalist system by the decline in the net product. In a socialist community it would be the duty of the economic administration to see that similar misapplications of economic activity did not occur. Here, therefore, is no discrepancy between profitability and productivity. Even from the socialist standpoint, the largest possible net product and not the largest possible gross product must be the aim of economic activity.
Nevertheless, people continue to maintain the contrary, sometimes of production in general, sometimes of labour alone and sometimes of agricultural production. That capitalist activity is directed solely toward the attainment of the largest net product is adversely criticized and State intervention is called for to redress the alleged abuse.
This discussion has a lengthy ancestry. Adam Smith maintained that different lines of production should be regarded as more or less productive according to the greater or smaller amount of labour which they set in motion.29 For this he was adversely criticized by Ricardo who pointed out that welfare of the people increased only through an enlargement of the net product and not of the gross product.30 For this Ricardo was severely attacked. Even J. B. Say misunderstood him and accused him of an utter disregard for the welfare of so many human beings.31 While Sismondi, who was fond of meeting economic arguments by sentimental declamations, thought he could dispose of the problem by witticism: he said that a king who could produce net product by pressing a button would, according to Ricardo, make the nation superfluous.32 Bernhardi followed Sismondi on this point.33 Proudhon went as far as to epitomize the contrast between socialistic and private enterprise in the formula: that although society must strive for the largest gross product the aim of the entrepreneur is the largest net product.34 Marx avoids committing himself on this point, but he fills two chapters of the first book of Das Kapital with a sentimental exposition in which the transition from intensive to extensive agricultural methods is depicted in the darkest colour as, in the words of Sir Thomas More, a system “where sheep eat up men,” and manages in the course of this discussion to confuse the large expropriations achieved by the political power of the nobility, which characterized European agrarian history in the first centuries of modern times, with the changes in the methods of cultivation initiated later on by the landowners.35
Since then declamations on this scheme have formed the stock equipment of the controversial writings and speeches of the socialists. A German agricultural economist, Freiherr von der Goltz, has tried to prove that the attainment of the largest possible gross product is not only productive from the social point of view but is also profitable from the individual point of view. He thinks that a large gross product naturally presupposes a large net product, and to that extent the interests of the individuals whose main object is to achieve a large net product coincide with those of the State which desires a large gross product.36 But he can offer no proof of this.
Much more logical than these efforts to overcome the apparent contrast between social and private interests by ignoring obvious facts of agricultural accountancy, is the position taken up by followers of the romantic school of economic thought, particularly the German etatists, viz. that the agriculturist has the status of a civil servant, and is therefore obliged to work in the public interest. Since this is said to require the largest possible gross product it follows that the farmer, uninfluenced by commercial spirit, ideas or interests, and regardless of the disadvantages, which may be entailed, must devote himself to the attainment of this end.37 All these writers take it for granted that the interests of the community are served by the largest gross product. But they do not go out of their way to prove it. When they do try, they only argue from the point of view of Machtpolitik (power politics) or Nationalpolitik (national policy). The State has an interest in a strong agricultural population since the agricultural population is conservative; agriculture supplies the largest number of soldiers; provision must be made for feeding the population in time of war and so on.
In contrast to this an attempt to justify the gross product principle by economic reasoning has been made by Landry. He will only admit that the effort to attain the greatest net product is socially advantageous in so far as the costs which no longer yield a profit arise from the use of material instruments of production. When the application of labour is involved he thinks quite otherwise. Then, from the economic point of view the application of labour costs nothing: social welfare is not thereby diminished. Wage economies which result in a diminution of the gross product are harmful.38 He arrives at this conclusion by assuming that the labour force thus released could find no employment elsewhere. But this is absolutely wrong. The need of society for labour is never satisfied as long as labour is not a “free good.” The released workers find other employment where they have to supply work more urgent from the economic point of view. If Landry were right it would have been better if all the labour-saving machinery had never existed, and the attitude of those workers who resist all technical innovations which economize labour and who destroy such machinery would be justified. There is no reason why there should be a distinction between the employment of material instruments and of labour. That, in view of the price of the material instruments and the price of their products, an increase of production in the same line is not profitable, is due to the fact that the material instruments are required in some other line to satisfy more urgent needs. But this is equally true of labour. Workers who are employed in unprofitably increasing the gross product are withheld from other lines of production in which they are more urgently required. That their wages are too high for an increase in production involving a larger gross product to be profitable, results indeed from the fact that the marginal productivity of labour in general is higher than in the particular line of production in question, where it is applied beyond the limits determined by the net product principle. There is no contrast whatever here between social and private interests: a socialist organization would not act differently from an entrepreneur in the capitalist organization.
Of course there are plenty of other arguments which can be adduced to show that adherence to the net product principle may be harmful. They are common to all nationalist-militarist thinking, and are the well-known arguments used to support every protectionist policy. A nation must be populous because its political and military standing in the world depends upon numbers. It must aim at economic self-sufficiency or at least it must produce its food at home and so on. In the end Landry has to fall back on such arguments to support his theory.39 To examine such arguments would be out of place in a discussion of the isolated socialist community.
But if the arguments we have examined are untrue it follows that the socialist community must adopt net product and not gross product as the guiding principle of economic activity. The socialist community equally with the capitalist society will also transform arable into grass land, if it is possible to put more productive land under the plough elsewhere. In spite of Sir Thomas More, “sheep will eat up men” even in Utopia, and the rulers of the socialist community will act no differently from the Duchess of Sutherland, that “economically instructed person,” as Marx once jeeringly called her.40
The net product principle is true for every line of production. Agriculture is no exception. The dictum of Thaer, the German pioneer of modern agriculture, that the aim of the agriculturist must be a high net yield “even from the standpoint of the public welfare” still holds good.41
[29. ]A. Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chap. V (London 1776, Vol. I, pp. 437 ff.).
[30. ]Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Chap. XXVI (Works, ed. MacCulloch, 2nd ed. [London 1852] pp. 220 ff.).
[31. ]Say, in his Notes to Constancio’s French Edition of Ricardo’s works, Vol. II (Paris, 1819), pp. 222 ff.
[32. ]Sismondi, Nouveaux Principes d’Économie Politique (Paris, 1819), Vol. ii, p. 331 footnote.
[33. ]Bernhardi, Versuch einer Kritik der Grande, die für grosses und kleines Grundeigentum angeführt werden (Petersburg, 1849), pp. 367 ff.; also Cronbach, Das landwirtschaftliche Betriebsproblem in der deutschen Nationalökonomie bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1907), pp. 292 ff.
[34. ]“La société recherche le plus grand produit brut, par consequent la plus grande population possible, parce que pour elle produit brut et produit net son identiques. Le monopole, au contraire, vise constamment au plus grand produit net, dût-il ne l’obtenir qu’au prix de l’extermination du genre humain.” (“Society seeks the largest gross product and thus the largest possible population, because for it gross product and net product are the same thing. On the other hand, monopoly continually aims at the highest net product which it can obtain only at the price of exterminating the human race.”) Proudhon, Système des contradictions économiques ou philosophie de la misère (Paris, 1846), Vol. I, p. 270. In Proudhon’s language “Monopoly” means the same as Private Property. Ibid., Vol. i, p. 236; also Landry, L’utilité sociale de la propriété individuelle (Paris, 1901), p. 76.
[35. ]Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. I, pp. 613-726. The arguments about “the theory of compensation for the workers displaced by machinery” (ibid., pp. 403-12) are vain in view of the Marginal Utility Theory. Publisher’s Note: The page references cited here are pp. 738-821 and 478-488, respectively, in the English edition.
[36. ]Goltz, Agrarwesen und Agrarpolitik, 2nd ed. (Jena, 1904), p. 53; also Waltz, Vom Reinertrag in der Landwirtschaft (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1904), pp. 27 ff. Goltz contradicts himself in his arguments, for, to the assertion mentioned above, he adds immediately: “Nevertheless the amount remaining as net profit from the gross product after deducting costs varies considerably. On the average it is greater with extensive than with intensive cultivation.”
[37. ]See Waltz, op. cit. pp. 19 ff. on Adam Müller, Bülow-Cummerow and Phillipp v. Arnim, and pp. 30 ff. on Rudolf Meyer and Adolf Wagner.
[38. ]Landry, L’utilité sociale de la propriété individuelle, pp. 109, 127 ff.
[39. ]Landry, L’utilité sociale de la propriété individuelle, pp. 109, 127 ff.
[40. ]Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. I, p. 695.
[41. ]Quoted by Waltz, Vom Reinertrag in der Landwirtschaft, p. 29.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard recently pinned the blame for the financial crisis on “Asia’s `Savings Glut’”. This idea is not new. For readers who may have missed it the first time, we’re republishing this article from September 2009 which argues that monetary policy caused the boom, the bust and the savings glut.
Martin Wolf – Global Imbalances
Distinguished commentator and economist Martin Wolf of the FT holds that the savings glut was the source of the excess liquidity that caused the current crisis in which we all find ourselves.
Wolf’s views are expressed crisply in this PowerPoint presentation. In summary, he tells how the Mercantilist approach of the emerging nations after the Asian crisis of the 90s led to a policy of setting exchange rates to encourage exports and limit imports, supported by the stockpiling of foreign currency (a majority in USD) to fund the whole program. The imbalances can be seen as either a “savings glut” or a “money glut.”
I believe from reading Wolf’s articles in the FT that the suggestion is that the savings glut nations not only have policies of fixing exchange rates to encourage exports over imports but also that the people in those nations have a much greater propensity to save than their Western counterparts. It is argued that this demand for money, certainly in USD, causes the Federal Reserve to embark on an expansionist policy.
From page 15 of Wolf’s presentation:
- My own view is that the savings glut caused the money glut, by driving the Federal Reserve to pursue expansionary monetary policies, which then led to the reserve accumulations in the creditor countries
- But it is also possible to view the Federal Reserve as the causal agent: the money glut causes the savings glut
- Either way, the reserve accumulations and fixed exchange rates played a big role in the story
I interpret Wolf’s remarks to mean that when the massive accumulated USD reserves in the emerging nations were partially spent, a surge in liquidity arrived back at the shores of the USA, causing a housing bubble, subprime lending, less than secure CDO’s etc and the bust we now observe.
Wolf is in good company. It would seem that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has endorsed this view in at least the following two recent speeches.
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C., March 10, 2009 :
Financial Reform to Address Systemic Risk
The world is suffering through the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that has precipitated a sharp downturn in the global economy. Its fundamental causes remain in dispute. In my view, however, it is impossible to understand this crisis without reference to the global imbalances in trade and capital flows that began in the latter half of the 1990s. In the simplest terms, these imbalances reflected a chronic lack of saving relative to investment in the United States and some other industrial countries, combined with an extraordinary increase in saving relative to investment in many emerging market nations. The increase in excess saving in the emerging world resulted in turn from factors such as rapid economic growth in high-saving East Asian economies accompanied, outside of China, by reduced investment rates; large buildups in foreign exchange reserves in a number of emerging markets; and substantial increases in revenues received by exporters of oil and other commodities. Like water seeking its level, saving flowed from where it was abundant to where it was deficient, with the result that the United States and some other advanced countries experienced large capital inflows for more than a decade, even as real long-term interest rates remained low.
Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, The Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia, April 14, 2009:
Four Questions about the Financial Crisis
Importantly, in our global financial system, saving need not be generated in the country in which it is put to work but can come from foreign as well as domestic sources. In the past 10 to 15 years, the United States and some other industrial countries have been the recipients of a great deal of foreign saving. Much of this foreign saving came from fast-growing emerging market countries in Asia and other places where consumption has lagged behind rising incomes, as well as from oil-exporting nations that could not profitably invest all their revenue at home and thus looked abroad for investment opportunities. Indeed, the net inflow of foreign saving to the United States, which was about 1-1/2 percent of our national output in 1995, reached about 6 percent of national output in 2006, an amount equal to about $825 billion in today’s Dollars.
Saving inflows from abroad can be beneficial if the country that receives those inflows invests them well. Unfortunately, that was not always the case in the United States and some other countries. Financial institutions reacted to the surplus of available funds by competing aggressively for borrowers, and, in the years leading up to the crisis, credit to both households and businesses became relatively cheap and easy to obtain.
I submit that these two great economists have made a grave error. The government of the USA has legal tender laws that allow only it, ultimately, to create USD via its sanctioned agent, the US Federal Reserve. As it is in charge of the stock of Dollars and the fractional-reserve banking system, it is (counterfeiting aside) the sole source of all issuances.
As I have pointed out in other articles on this site, we use money to exchage our goods and services that we make/provide for sale for other goods and services. Money is the final good for which all other goods and services exchange. Dollars in the USA are the final good you use to exchange your goods for goods offered by other people. A price of a good exchanged for another good is the amount of money paid for that good.
If the pool of money is getting larger, there will be more Dollars to exchange for goods and services. If the quantity of goods and services offered for sale and the number of Dollars in circulation are growing at the same rate, it is possible to argue, if you are prepared to set aside the problems of relative prices, that the “general price level” will be unaffected. However, any economist would argue that if the supply of money increases faster than the supply of goods and services, prices will rise: like any other good, money is devalued by creating more of it.
Therefore, the cause of the crisis can be found only at the door of the monetary authority that created the money in the first place – i.e. the Federal Reserve and other deficit-nation central banks – and not with the saving glut nations. All they have done is seek to exchange some of their goods and services for some of the goods and services of the USA, expressing a time preference along the way. This transfer of ownership does not in itself “bid up prices” to create an “asset price boom”: it is the creation of new money which devalues it.
If new Dollars are locked away for a time and only return to their original economy in an abrupt fashion, they could well seem to be the cause of a sudden asset price bubble, but the prior cause can only be the creation and supply of the wherewithal to do this in the first place.
A Note on Mercantilism
Wolf mentions in his PowerPoint presentation quite rightly that the modern trade regime we have is “in short, a mercantilist hybrid”. Many of the Classical Economist and Political Philosophers such as Hume, Locke, Smith and in later times David Ricardo, point out in various writings that the bullion (gold and silver) that was invariably money was not wealth as such but that the goods they exchanged against were. So, create more money with no associated increase in productivity and the prices of things will rise. Consequently, the Mercantalist goal of having exports higher than imports and thus more bullion at home would just mean that prices would rise at home and cause a flow of that specie to move away from home. Therefore, if in the analogy you substitute US Dollars for bullion, our saving glut nations will get nowhere fast pursuing this policy.
Gold represented claims on already produced wealth. Thus it makes perfect sense that the more wealthy (industrially-devloped, capitalistic etc) countries had more gold historically. As we do not have a link to gold anymore, the USD acts in its capacity as the World Reserve Currency, like gold of old. Using this analogy, the gold producer / gold miner writ large is the Fed and other Central Banks. Dollars will flow away from the mine in exchange for goods and services and this causes a transfer of ownership of goods and services from people in the USA to people in the saving glut nations but can have nothing to do with asset price bubbles as the money was printed by the Fed and no one else. To argue that the savings glut itself has caused the asset price boom is seemingly to endorse the Mercantalist doctrine that was so clearly discredited many moons ago.
Some other reflections on this concept of a “Savings Glut” disturb me and lead me to question whether it is really a meaningful concept at all.
These saving glut nations still seem to have massive gluts but if spending the glut caused the bubble, you would expect the glut to have fallen as well; seemingly, it has not.
If nations save to create a glut, they must indeed refrain from consumption on domestic goods to boost the supply of export goods. This means cheap goods arrive on the shores of the deficit nations. Can this cause a boom across the economy? I think not.
The deficit nations are largely well-developed. As a 40-year-old entrepreneur with a mature business and a happy family, all well rooted in Hertforsdhire, I often say to my wife, “If I was 18 again, I would be straight out to China to exploit some of those massive developmental opportunities. The whole economy seems to be like Manchester was in the Victorian times.” So why do savings there, which should attract a greater rate of return there, not stay there?
In summary, the Fed has more than doubled its money supply since the mid 90’s as have other leading deficit nations. The savings glut and the boom and bust is only attributable to the lax money creation programs of irresponsbile central bankers around the world. They have a poor understanding of economic history and they make an intellectual mistake in misunderstanding what those Classical thinkers knew: money is not wealth.