It is with no feelings of joy that we republish this article, first posted on 8 February 2010
Guest contributor Anita Acavalos, daughter of Advisory Board member Andreas Acavalos, explains the political and economic predicament in Greece.
In recent years, Greece has found itself at the centre of international news and public debate, albeit for reasons that are hardly worth bragging about. Soaring budget deficits coupled with the unreliable statistics provided by the government mean there is no financial newspaper out there without at least one piece on Greece’s fiscal profligacy.
Although at first glance the situation Greece faces may seem as simply the result of gross incompetence on behalf of the government, a closer assessment of the country’s social structure and people’s deep-rooted political beliefs will show that this outcome could not have been avoided even if more skill was involved in the country’s economic and financial management.
The population has a deep-rooted suspicion of and disrespect for business and private initiative and there is a widespread belief that “big money” is earned by exploitation of the poor or underhand dealings and reflects no display of virtue or merit. Thus people feel that they are entitled to manipulate the system in a way that enables them to use the wealth of others as it is a widely held belief that there is nothing immoral about milking the rich. In fact, the money the rich seem to have access to is the cause of much discontent among people of all social backgrounds, from farmers to students. The reason for this is that the government for decades has run continuous campaigns promising people that it has not only the will but also the ABILITY to solve their problems and has established a system of patronages and hand-outs to this end.
Anything can be done in Greece provided someone has political connections, from securing a job to navigating the complexities of the Greek bureaucracy. The government routinely promises handouts to farmers after harsh winters and free education to all; every time there is a display of discontent they rush to appease the people by offering them more “solutions.” What they neglect to say is that these solutions cost money. Now that the money has run out, nobody can reason with an angry mob.
A closer examination of Greek universities can be used as a good illustration of why and HOW the government has driven itself to a crossroad where running the country into even deeper debt is the only politically feasible path to follow. University education is free. However, classroom attendance is appalling and there are students in their late twenties that still have not passed classes they attended in their first year. Moreover, these universities are almost entirely run by party-political youth groups which, like the country’s politicians, claim to have solutions to all problems affecting students. To make matters worse, these groups often include a minority of opportunists who are not interested in academia at all but are simply there to use universities as political platforms, usually ones promoting views against the wealthy and the capitalist system as a whole even though they have no intellectual background or understanding of the capitalist structure.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no genuine free market opposition. In Greece, right wing political parties also favour statist solutions but theirs are criticised as favouring big business. The mere idea that the government should be reduced in size and not try to have its hand in everything is completely inconceivable for Greek politicians of all parties. The government promises their people a better life in exchange for votes so when it fails to deliver, the people naturally think they have the right or even the obligation to start riots to ‘punish’ them for failing to do what they have promised.
Moreover, looking at election results it is not hard to observe that certain regions are “green” supporting PASOK and others “blue” supporting Nea Dimokratia. Those regions consistently support certain political parties in every election due to the widespread system of patronages that has been created. By supporting PASOK in years where Nea Dimokratia wins you can collect on your support when inevitably after a few election periods PASOK will be elected and vice versa. Not only are there widely established regional patronage networks but there are strong political families that use their clout to promise support and benefits to friends in exchange for their support in election years.
Moreover, in line with conventional political theory on patronage networks, in regions that are liable to sway either way politicians have a built in incentive to promise the constituents more than everyone else. The result is almost like a race for the person able to promise more, and thus the system seems by its very nature to weed out politicians that tell people the honest and unpalatable truth or disapprove of handouts. This has led people to think that if they are in a miserable situation it is because the government is not trying hard enough to satisfy their needs or is favouring someone else instead of them. When the farmers protest it is not just because they want more money, it is because they are convinced (sometimes even rightly so) that the reason why they are being denied handouts is that they have been given to someone else instead. It is the combination, therefore, of endless government pandering and patronages that has led to the population’s irresponsible attitude towards money and public finance. They believe that the government having the power to legislate need not be prudent, and when the government says it needs to cut back, they point to the rich and expect the government to tax them more heavily or blame the capitalist system for their woes.
After a meeting in Brussels, current Prime Minister George Papandreou said:
Salaried workers will not pay for this situation: we will not proceed with wage freezes or cuts. We did not come to power to tear down the social state.
It is not out of the kindness of his heart that he initially did not want to impose a pay freeze. It was because doing so would mean that the country may never escape the ensuing state of chaos and anarchy that would inevitably occur. Eventually he did come to the realisation that in the absence of pay freezes he would have to plunge the country into even further debt and increase taxes and had to impose it anyway causing much discontent. Does it not seem silly that he is still trying to persuade the people that they will not pay for this situation when the enormous debts that will inevitably ensue will mean that taxes will have to increase in perpetuity until even our children’s children will be paying for this? This minor glitch does not matter, though, because nobody can reason with a mob that is fighting for handouts they believe are rightfully theirs.
Greece is the perfect example of a country where the government attempted to create a utopia in which it serves as the all-providing overlord offering people amazing job prospects, free health care and education, personal security and public order, and has failed miserably to provide on any of these. In the place of this promised utopian mansion lies a small shack built at an exorbitant cost to the taxpayer, leaking from every nook and cranny due to insufficient funds, which demands ever higher maintenance costs just to keep it from collapsing altogether. The architects of this shack, in a desperate attempt to repair what is left are borrowing all the money they can from their neighbours, even at exorbitant costs promising that this time they will be prudent. All that is left for the people living inside this leaking shack is to protest for all the promises that the government failed to fulfil; but, sadly for the government, promises will neither pay its debts nor appease the angry mob any longer. Greece has lost any credibility it had within the EU as it has achieved notoriety for the way government accountants seem to be cooking up numbers they present to EU officials.
Dismal as the situation may appear, there still is hope. The Greeks many times have shown that it is in the face of dire need that they tend to bond together as a society and rise to the occasion. Family ties and social cohesion are still strong and have cushioned people from the problems caused by government profligacy. For years, the appalling situation in schools has led families to make huge sacrifices in order to raise money for their children’s private tuition or send them to universities abroad whenever possible. This is why foreign universities, especially in the UK, are full of very prominent and hard working Greek students. Moreover, private (as opposed to public) levels of indebtedness, although on the rise, are still lower than many other European countries.
However, although societal bonding and private prudence will help people deal with the consequences of the current crisis, its resolution will only come about if Greek people learn to listen to the ugly truths that sometimes have to be said. They need to be able to listen to statesmen that are being honest with them instead of politicians trying to appease them in a desperate plea to get votes. The time for radical, painful, wrenching reform is NOW.
There are no magic wands, no bail-outs, no quick and easy fixes. The choice is between doing what it takes to put our house in order ourselves, or watching it collapse around us. This can only come about if Prime Minister George Papandreou uses the guts he has displayed in the past when his political stature and authority had been challenged and channels them towards making the changes the country so desperately needs. Only if he emerges as a truly inspired statesman who will choose the difficult as opposed to the populist solution will Greece be up again and on a path towards prosperity. He needs to display a willingness to clean up the mess made after years of bad government and get society to a point where they are willing to accept hard economic truths. One can only hope…
Another classic article, brought forward. This is a speech by James Tyler to the Adam Smith Institute Next Generation Group on 6 October 2009. This speech is also available on hedgehedge.com.
I have spent the best part of the last two decades pitting my wits against the market. It’s an unforgiving game: I’ve seen ups and downs, and many of my rivals buried under an avalanche of hubris, passion, illogical thought and unchecked emotion.
I have witnessed the sheer folly of the ERM crisis, the Asian crisis, the failure of the Gods at Long Term Capital Management and the insanity of the tech boom.
I have enjoyed the ‘NICE’ decade (Non-Inflationary Constant Expansion), and scared myself silly during the credit crisis.
I am a trader.
I risk my own money and live or die by my decisions, and face the threat of personal bankruptcy every time I switch my screens on. I get no salary – indeed I turn up at the start of the month with a large office overhead – a ‘negative’ salary. I have no fancy company pension scheme, no lucrative monopoly or franchise.
I eat what I kill.
Mistakes cost me my livelihood, so, above all, my decisions have to be rooted in practical and logical decision making.
Some have called my kind parasitic, but I would have said that I bring order, efficiency, predictability, stability and deep liquidity to a crucial process: a process that makes the whole world keep ticking.
I make money work.
I make the market in interest rate derivatives: a market born out of the neo classical revolution in finance fostered in Chicago during the 1970s. I am a child of Friedman, Fisher Black, Myron Scholes and the modern international financial system.
My analysis was steeped in the neo-classical, efficient markets paradigm.
Friedman’s ideal was working. Enlightened central bankers guided the free market with gentle nudges and short term liquidity infusions, free floating currencies gently adjusted themselves to the constant flow of new information and efficient and rational markets took all in their stride.
Credit flowed, people got wealthier, economies developed and all was well.
And then the crisis struck.
Continue reading “My Journey to Austrianism via the City”
In September of last year, I placed this article up on our web site detailing the theoretical errors behind the policy of quantitative easing. Clearly, as the MPC has now been given the green light by our chancellor, we expect this currency debasement to be starting soon. All it will “achieve” is a wealth transfer from those lucky enough to get the newly minted money, from those not luckily enough. I aimed to expose the faulty crank-economics that lies behind such thought processes last year and did not think a Tory government would be so foolish to let this happen under their watch, especially as they condemned it under a Labour government. Sadly, articles like this one need to be reproduced so that a new set of readers can hopefully have influence on the present administration.
The mainstream economists hold that the volume of money in circulation, times its velocity is equal to the prices of all goods and services added up. This is the famous Theory of Exchange, MV=PT, or the mechanistic Quantity Theory of Money, where:
- M is the stock of money,
- V is the velocity of circulation: the number of times the monetary unit changes hands in a certain time period,
- P is the general price level,
- and T is the “aggregate” of all quantities of goods and services exchanged in the period.
It is held by the overwhelming majority of all economists, that if the velocity of money falls, the price level will fall and thus it is the duty of government, the monopoly issuer of money, the chief Central Planner of the Money Supply, to create more money to keep the price level where it is and thus preserve the existing spending habits of the nation.
Error One — the stock of money
It is held that if you can count the monetary units in the economy and their velocity, you can say what the price level is. As people find it very difficult to count the money in an economy, they cannot see the statistical relationship showing up mechanistically in the price level as expected: the authorities do not have a measure of the money supply which correlates to economic activity.
Working from a sound theoretical basis, I and my colleague Anthony Evans can show you how to count money exactly and how that measure of the money stock correlates to economic activity:
Note that changes in the mainstream measures — M0 and M4 — are quite different to changes in our measure — MA. However, it is MA which shows the best correlation to economic activity and not the measures used by the Bank of England and HM Treasury:
The monetary authorities do not have an adequate measure of the money supply.
Error Two — the velocity of circulation
Velocity is defined as the average number of times during a period that a monetary unit (I will call this MU) is exchanged for a good or service. It is said that a 5% increase in money does not necessarily show itself up with a 5% increase in the price level. It is argued that this is because the velocity of money changes. The trick is to measure by how much the velocity has declined and then create new money — cross your fingers, pray to the Good Lord, do a rain dance around a fire, and hope that the new money will be spent — to fill in this gap left by the fall in velocity.
When you buy a house, we do not say it “circulates”: money is exchanged against real bricks and mortar. The printer who sold me books would have had to sell printed things (i.e. real goods) and saved (forgone consumption) for the future purchase (act of consumption) of the house. Imagine selling your house backwards and forwards between say you and your wife 10 times: the mainstream would argue that the velocity of circulation had risen!
Yes as daft as it sounds, this is the present state of economics.
Thus, if the velocity has gone up by a factor of 10, the price level has increased by the same factor. Here is the suggested rub: therefore, when the velocity of circulation falls, if you increase the money supply by the same factor that the velocity of circulation has fallen by, the price level will stay the same.
Note, as explained above and in detail here, the mainstream do not actually know what money is. Well, let us be clear: it is the final good for which (all) other goods exchange. All of us who are productive make things for sale or sell services, even if it is only our own labour. We sell goods and services which we produce or offer for other goods and services we need. The most marketable of all commodities, money, is accepted by you and other citizens and facilitates exchange of your goods and services for other goods and services. Note that, at all times, money facilitates the exchange of real goods for other real goods.
Party one and a counterparty exchanging or “selling” the house between one another 10 times causing an “increase in velocity” and thus an increase in the price level as an idea is utter garbage. If one party had sold real goods and saved in anticipation of buying the house — real bricks and mortar via the medium of money — this would facilitate a transaction of something (the party’s saved real goods) for something (the counterparty’s real house). Printing money to make sure the price level stays stable to facilitate the “circulating” house in the first example will facilitate a transfer of nothing (the paper) for something (the house). This is commonly called counterfeiting.
This may be another helpful example of why velocity is utterly meaningless. Consider a dinner party: Guest A has a £1. He lends it to Guest B at dinner, who lends it to Guest C who lends it to Guest D. If Guest D pays it back to Guest C, who pays it back to Guest B pays Guest A, the £1 is said to have done £4’s worth of work. The bookkeeping of this transaction shows that £1 was lent out 4 times and they all cancel each other out! Just to be clear, £1 has done £1’s work and not £4’s work. No real wealth or value is created.
The velocity of circulation makes no economic sense.
Error Three — the general price level
Since the monetary authorities have no means to sum the price and quantity of every individual transaction, they must work instead with the “general price level”, ignoring the vital role of changes in relative prices.
As early as 1912, Ludwig von Mises demonstrated that new money must change the structure of relative prices. As anyone who has lived through the past year could tell you, new money is not distributed equally to everyone in the economy. It is injected over time and in specific locations: new money redistributes income to those who receive it first. This redistribution of income not only alters people’s subjective perception of value, it also alters their weight in the marketplace. These factors can only lead to changes in the structure of relative prices.
Mainstream economists believe that “money is neutral in the long run”. They do not have a theory of the capital structure of production which can account for the effects of time and relative prices. They believe increases in the money supply affect all sectors uniformly and proportionately. This is manifestly untrue: look at changes in the Bank of England’s balance sheet and your bank statement.
Hayek wrote that his chief objection to this theory was that it paid attention only to the general price level and not to the structure of relative prices. He indicated that, in consequence, it disregarded the most harmful effects of increasing the money supply: the misdirection of resources and specifically unemployment. Furthermore, this wilful ignorance of relative prices explains the mainstream’s lack of an adequate theory of business cycles, something Hayek provided.
The general price level aggregates away a vital factor: the relative structure of prices.
Error Four — the aggregate quantities of goods and services sold
Since the sum of price times quantity for every individual transaction is not available, the authorities must use the “aggregate quantity of goods and services sold”. This is nonsense: the quantities to be added together are incompatible. It makes no sense to add a kilogram of potatoes to a kilogram of copper to a litre of petrol to a day’s software consultancy to a 30-second television advert.
The aggregate quantity of goods and services sold is an impossible sum.
Error Five — the equation is no more than a tautology
Consider this, if I buy 10 copies of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations from a printing company for 7 monetary units (or MU), an exchange has been made: I gave up 7 MU’s to the printer, and the printer transferred 10 sets of printed works to me. The error that the mainstream make is that “10 sets of printed works have been regarded as equal to 7 MU, and this fact may be expressed thus: 7 MU = 10 printed works multiplied by 0.7 MU per set of printed works.” But equality is not self-evident.
There is never any equality of values on the part of the two participants in exchange. The assumption that an exchange presumes some sort of equality has been a delusion of economic theory for many centuries. We only exchange if each party thinks he is getting something of greater value from the other party than he has already. If there was equality in value, no exchange would happen! Value is subjective and utility is marginal: each party values the other’s goods or services more highly than their own.
Thus, while the mainstream believe that there is a causal link between the “money side” of the equation and the “value of goods and services side”, it is just a tautology from which no economic knowledge can be gained. All we are saying, if the Quantity Theory holds, is that “7 MU’s = 10 sets of printed works X 0.7 MU’s per set of printed works”: in other words, “7 MU = 7 MU”. Thus what is paid is what is received. This is like announcing to the world that you have discovered the fabulous fact that 2=2.
The mechanistic Quantity Theory of Money is not a causal relation but a tautology.
The mechanistic Quantity Theory only provides us with a tautology and every term of “MV = PT” is seriously flawed. Public policy should not rest on the foundation of this bad science.
If the money supply contracts as it has done so spectacularly since late 2008 (see the chart above), you will have less goods and services supporting less economic activity. This for sure is bad. We now have less money and less exchanging of real goods and services for other real goods and services.
The only way to get more goods and services offered for exchange is if entrepreneurs get hold of their factors of production — land, labour and capital — and reorganise them to meet the new demands of the consumers in a more efficient way than before. The only thing that the government can do is to make sure it provides as little regulatory burden as possible and the lightest tax regime that it can run in order to allow entrepreneurs to facilitate this correction.
Certainly in my business of the supply of fish and meat to the food service sector — www.directseafoods.co.uk — I have never witnessed such an abrupt change in consumption patterns as people have traded down from more expensive species and cuts to less expensive ones. Thus I have to reorganise my offer to my customers and potential customers. No amount of fiddling about with the level of newly minted money in the economy will help this reorganisation of my factors of production: they need to be retuned to the new needs and desires of my customers.
Quantitative easing, as I have said before, is firmly based on a belief in the so called “internal truths” held in the Quantity Theory of Money. I hope any reader can see that this belief is based on very faulty logic. Bad logic gives us bad policy. A policy of QE says that because the velocity of circulation has fallen, we can print newly minted money, out of thin air, at the touch of a computer key, and create more demand for the exchange of goods and services.
Money has been historically rooted in gold and silver because these cannot “vanish” overnight as we are seeing under our present state monopoly of money — fiat money, money by decree, i.e. bits of paper we are forced to use as legal tender. Remember, since 1971 when Nixon broke the gold link, money is just bits of paper, notwithstanding a promise to pay the bearer on demand. In the near future, this will no doubt remain the case. Indeed, anyone who dares to mention that the final good, for which all goods exchange, should be a real good that is scarce (hard to manipulate it, hard to destroy it) unlike paper and electronic journal entries (easy to manipulate, easy to destroy) is considered a lunatic!
On a point of history, it is worthwhile remembering that, as we have mentioned here, the 1844 Peel Act did remove the banks’ practice of issuing promissory notes (paper money) over and above their reserves of gold (the most marketable commodity i.e. money) as this was causing bank runs, “panic”, boom and bust. They did not resolve the issues of demand deposits to be drawn by cheque. Both features allow banks to issue new money — i.e. certificates that have no prior production of useful economic activity such as our printer printing books or my selling of meat and fish — while retaining real money — claims to the printing of books and selling of my meat and fish — only to a percentage of the deposited money, i.e. the Reserve Requirement of the bank. In the UK, there is no Reserve Requirement anymore as far as I am aware, hence banks going for massive levels of leverage. It is no surprise that the house of cards has fallen down.
Our proposal for a 100% reserve requirement is offered for discussion as the only sure-fire way of delivering lasting stability. Listening to economists talking about the “velocity of circulation” falling and thus suggesting that we should conduct large scale Quantitative Easing to hold the price level is not economics, but the policy of the Witch Doctor and the Mystic.
It is staggering that so much garbage, posing as sound knowledge, hinges on these grave errors.
A reader has sent in his thoughts about the recent proposals to reform the regulatory apparatus of the UK banking system:
Last Friday I had a quick view at the report by HM Treasure on a proposal to reshuffle the institutional setting for financial system regulation and oversight in the UK. The introduction (4 pages) is interesting but sometimes depressing. It openly recognised that UK authorities (Bank of England and FSA) failed to see the problems coming and to react adequately. Good. However, the solution it proposes is not to improve the understanding of the building up of bubbles and imbalances, or to reinvigorate the political will so it can make decisions even if those affect the banking status, or to stop trying to achieve the unachievable (a big apparatus able to foresee everything in the system as a whole), but… just rearranging chairs… (every one else in the world, G20, ECB, FED, is rearranging chairs too, so this reshuffling is quite mainstream). However, maybe in the case of the UK there is a possibility to introduce sound thinking in this new Bank of England-based structure (and stop the endogamic kind of thinking within current monetary authorities), through the external members of the newly created “Financial Policy Committee”. The report says (p. 17) among other things:
2.43 It will be important to ensure that the external members of the FPC are able to provide sufficient levels of expertise and challenge to the Committee’s deliberations – this will not only include experience of banking, but also other financial sectors such as insurance and investment banking and, of course, macroeconomic expertise.
2.44 In addition to the chief executive of the CPMA, the Chancellor will appoint four external members of the FPC using a similar recruitment process to that used for the MPC. The Government will look carefully at the best way to ensure that external members demonstrate ample relevant knowledge and experience and the ability to work constructively in a committee environment, without conflicts of interest that would prevent them participating fully in the work of the Committee.”
My take on this is that the external members of the FPC have to be radically different in make up than the internal members of the current MPC i.e. usually a academic, or some who has come from that background. Entrepreneurs, great business leaders and representatives from the SME sector , all who operate at the coal face would have more of an idea about what is and is not actually going on in the economy, better still, why not think about reforming the whole system anyway so we do not rely of 20 or so central planners to determine the value of our very currency, arguably with language, the foundation of civil , peaceful society.
Above all, if we are only tinkering and not radically reforming, he concluded “please appoint those WHO DID SEE it coming and who have a sound theoretical framework behind it (and kick out those who were clueless…)”
Bravo to that, we can name a number of Austrian School economists and Austrian influenced fund managers and entrepreneurs who could do this job.
This has been copied from Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles which can be downloaded here or bought here.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND ENGLISH EDITION
I am happy to present the second English edition of Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles. Its appearance is particularly timely, given that the severe financial crisis and resulting worldwide economic recession I have been forecasting, since the first edition of this book came out ten years ago, are now unleashing their fury.
The policy of artificial credit expansion central banks have permitted and orchestrated over the last fifteen years could not have ended in any other way. The expansionary cycle which has now come to a close began gathering momentum when the American economy emerged from its last recession (fleeting and repressed though it was) in 2001 and the Federal Reserve reembarked on the major artificial expansion of credit and investment initiated in 1992. This credit expansion was not backed by a parallel increase in voluntary household saving. For many years, the money supply in the form of bank notes and deposits has grown at an average rate of over 10 percent per year (which means that every seven years the total volume of money circulating in the world has doubled). The media of exchange originating from this severe fiduciary inflation have been placed on the market by the banking system as newly created loans granted at very low (and even negative in real terms) interest rates. The above fueled a speculative bubble in the shape of a substantial rise in the prices of capital goods, real-estate assets and the securities which represent them, and are exchanged on the stock market, where indexes soared.
Curiously, like in the “roaring” years prior to the Great Depression of 1929, the shock of monetary growth has not significantly influenced the prices of the subset of consumer goods and services (approximately only one third of all goods). The last decade, like the 1920s, has seen a remarkable increase in productivity as a result of the introduction on a massive scale of new technologies and significant entrepreneurial innovations which, were it not for the injection of money and credit, would have given rise to a healthy and sustained reduction in the unit price of consumer goods and services. Moreover, the full incorporation of the economies of China and India into the globalized market has boosted the real productivity of consumer goods and services even further. The absence of a healthy “deflation” in the prices of consumer goods in a stage of such considerable growth in productivity as that of recent years provides the main evidence that the monetary shock has seriously disturbed the economic process. I analyze this phenomenon in detail in chapter 6, section 9.
As I explain in the book, artificial credit expansion and the (fiduciary) inflation of media of exchange offer no short cut to stable and sustained economic development, no way of avoiding the necessary sacrifice and discipline behind all high rates of voluntary saving. (In fact, particularly in the United States, voluntary saving has not only failed to increase in recent years, but at times has even fallen to a negative rate.) Indeed, the artificial expansion of credit and money is never more than a short-term solution, and that at best. In fact, today there is no doubt about the recessionary quality the monetary shock always has in the long run: newly-created loans (of money citizens have not first saved) immediately provide entrepreneurs with purchasing power they use in overly ambitious investment projects (in recent years, especially in the building sector and real estate development). In other words, entrepreneurs act as if citizens had increased their saving, when they have not actually done so. Widespread discoordination in the economic system exerts a harmful effect on the real economy, and sooner or later the process reverses in the form of an economic recession, which marks the beginning of the painful and necessary readjustment. This readjustment invariably requires the reconversion of every real productive structure inflation has distorted. The specific triggers of the end of the euphoric monetary “binge” and the beginning of the recessionary “hangover” are many, and they can vary from one cycle to another. In the current circumstances, the most obvious triggers have been the rise in the price of raw materials, particularly oil, the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, and finally, the failure of important banking institutions when it became clear in the market that the value of their liabilities exceeded that of their assets (mortgage loans granted).
At present, numerous self-interested voices are demanding further reductions in interest rates and new injections of money which permit those who desire it to complete their investment projects without suffering losses. Nevertheless, this escape forward would only temporarily postpone problems at the cost of making them far more serious later. The crisis has hit because the profits of capital-goods companies (especially in the building sector and in real-estate development) have disappeared due to the entrepreneurial errors provoked by cheap credit, and because the prices of consumer goods have begun to perform relatively less poorly than those of capital goods. At this point, a painful, inevitable readjustment begins, and in addition to a decrease in production and an increase in unemployment, we are now still seeing a harmful rise in the prices of consumer goods (stagflation).
The most rigorous economic analysis and the coolest, most balanced interpretation of recent economic and financial events support the conclusion that central banks (which are true financial central-planning agencies) cannot possibly succeed in finding the most advantageous monetary policy at every moment. This is exactly what became clear in the case of the failed attempts to plan the former Soviet economy from above. To put it another way, the theorem of the economic impossibility of socialism, which the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek discovered, is fully applicable to central banks in general, and to the Federal Reserve—(at one time) Alan Greenspan and (currently) Ben Bernanke—in particular. According to this theorem, it is impossible to organize society, in terms of economics, based on coercive commands issued by a planning agency, since such a body can never obtain the information it needs to infuse its commands with a coordinating nature. Indeed, nothing is more dangerous than to indulge in the “fatal conceit”—to use Hayek’s useful expression—of believing oneself omniscient or at least wise and powerful enough to be able to keep the most suitable monetary policy fine tuned at all times. Hence, rather than soften the most violent ups and downs of the economic cycle, the Federal Reserve and, to some lesser extent, the European Central Bank, have most likely been their main architects and the culprits in their worsening. Therefore, the dilemma facing Ben Bernanke and his Federal Reserve Board, as well as the other central banks (beginning with the European Central Bank), is not at all comfortable. For years they have shirked their monetary responsibility, and now they find themselves in a blind alley. They can either allow the recessionary process to begin now, and with it the healthy and painful readjustment, or they can escape forward toward a “hair of the dog” cure. With the latter, the chances of even more severe stagflation in the not-too-distant future increase exponentially. (This was precisely the error committed following the stock market crash of 1987, an error which led to the inflation at the end of the 1980s and concluded with the sharp recession of 1990–1992.) Furthermore, the reintroduction of a cheap-credit policy at this stage could only hinder the necessary liquidation of unprofitable investments and company reconversion. It could even wind up prolonging the recession indefinitely, as has occurred in Japan in recent years: though all possible interventions have been tried, the Japanese economy has ceased to respond to any monetarist stimulus involving credit expansion or Keynesian methods. It is in this context of “financial schizophrenia” that we must interpret the latest “shots in the dark” fired by the monetary authorities (who have two totally contradictory responsibilities: both to control inflation and to inject all the liquidity necessary into the financial system to prevent its collapse). Thus, one day the Federal Reserve rescues Bear Stearns, AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac or Citigroup, and the next it allows Lehman Brothers to fail, under the amply justified pretext of “teaching a lesson” and refusing to fuel moral hazard. Then, in light of the way events were unfolding, a 700-billion-dollar plan to purchase the euphemistically named “toxic” or “illiquid” (i.e., worthless) assets from the banking system was approved. If the plan is financed by taxes (and not more inflation), it will mean a heavy tax burden on households, precisely when they are least able to bear it. Finally, in view of doubts about whether such a plan could have any effect, the choice was made to inject public money directly into banks, and even to “guarantee” the total amount of their deposits, decreasing interest rates to almost zero percent.
In comparison, the economies of the European Union are in a somewhat less poor state (if we do not consider the expansionary effect of the policy of deliberately depreciating the dollar, and the relatively greater European rigidities, particularly in the labor market, which tend to make recessions in Europe longer and more painful). The expansionary policy of the European Central Bank, though not free of grave errors, has been somewhat less irresponsible than that of the Federal Reserve. Furthermore, fulfillment of the convergence criteria involved at the time a healthy and significant rehabilitation of the chief European economies. Only the countries on the periphery, like Ireland and particularly Spain, were immersed in considerable credit expansion from the time they initiated their processes of convergence. The case of Spain is paradigmatic. The Spanish economy underwent an economic boom which, in part, was due to real causes (liberalizing structural reforms which originated with José María Aznar’s administration in 1996). Nevertheless, the boom was also largely fueled by an artificial expansion of money and credit, which grew at a rate nearly three times that of the corresponding rates in France and Germany. Spanish economic agents essentially interpreted the decrease in interest rates which resulted from the convergence process in the easy-money terms traditional in Spain: a greater availability of easy money and mass requests for loans from Spanish banks (mainly to finance real estate speculation), loans which these banks have granted by creating the money ex nihilo while European central bankers looked on unperturbed. When faced with the rise in prices, the European Central Bank has remained faithful to its mandate and has tried to maintain interest rates as long as possible, despite the difficulties of those members of the Monetary Union which, like Spain, are now discovering that much of their investment in real estate was in error and are heading for a lengthy and painful reorganization of their real economy.
Under these circumstances, the most appropriate policy would be to liberalize the economy at all levels (especially in the labor market) to permit the rapid reallocation of productive factors (particularly labor) to profitable sectors. Likewise, it is essential to reduce public spending and taxes, in order to increase the available income of heavily-indebted economic agents who need to repay their loans as soon as possible. Economic agents in general and companies in particular can only rehabilitate their finances by cutting costs (especially labor costs) and paying off loans. Essential to this aim are a very flexible labor market and a much more austere public sector. These factors are fundamental if the market is to reveal as quickly as possible the real value of the investment goods produced in error and thus lay the foundation for a healthy, sustained economic recovery in a future which, for the good of all, I hope is not long in coming.
We must not forget that a central feature of the recent period of artificial expansion was a gradual corruption, on the American continent as well as in Europe, of the traditional principles of accounting as practiced globally for centuries. To be specific, acceptance of the International Accounting Standards (IAS) and their incorporation into law in different countries (in Spain via the new General Accounting Plan, in effect as of January 1, 2008) have meant the abandonment of the traditional principle of prudence and its replacement by the principle of fair value in the assessment of the value of balance sheet assets, particularly financial assets. In this abandonment of the traditional principle of prudence, a highly influential role has been played by brokerages, investment banks (which are now on their way to extinction), and in general, all parties interested in “inflating” book values in order to bring them closer to supposedly more “objective” stockmarket values, which in the past rose continually in an economic process of financial euphoria. In fact, during the years of the “speculative bubble,” this process was characterized by a feedback loop: rising stock-market values were immediately entered into the books, and then such accounting entries were sought as justification for further artificial increases in the prices of financial assets listed on the stock market.
In this wild race to abandon traditional accounting principles and replace them with others more “in line with the times,” it became common to evaluate companies based on unorthodox suppositions and purely subjective criteria which in the new standards replace the only truly objective criterion (that of historical cost). Now, the collapse of financial markets and economic agents’ widespread loss of faith in banks and their accounting practices have revealed the serious error involved in yielding to the IAS and their abandonment of traditional accounting principles based on prudence, the error of indulging in the vices of creative, fair-value accounting.
It is in this context that we must view the recent measures taken in the United States and the European Union to “soften” (i.e., to partially reverse) the impact of fair-value accounting for financial institutions. This is a step in the right direction, but it falls short and is taken for the wrong reasons. Indeed, those in charge at financial institutions are attempting to “shut the barn door when the horse is bolting”; that is, when the dramatic fall in the value of “toxic” or “illiquid” assets has endangered the solvency of their institutions. However, these people were delighted with the new IAS during the preceding years of “irrational exuberance,” in which increasing and excessive values in the stock and financial markets graced their balance sheets with staggering figures corresponding to their own profits and net worth, figures which in turn encouraged them to run risks (or better, uncertainties) with practically no thought of danger. Hence, we see that the IAS act in a pro-cyclic manner by heightening volatility and erroneously biasing business management: in times of prosperity, they create a false “wealth effect” which prompts people to take disproportionate risks; when, from one day to the next, the errors committed come to light, the loss in the value of assets immediately decapitalizes companies, which are obliged to sell assets and attempt to recapitalize at the worst moment, i.e., when assets are worth the least and financial markets dry up. Clearly, accounting principles which, like those of the IAS, have proven so disturbing must be abandoned as soon as possible, and all of the accounting reforms recently enacted, specifically the Spanish one, which came into effect January 1, 2008, must be reversed. This is so not only because these reforms mean a dead end in a period of financial crisis and recession, but especially because it is vital that in periods of prosperity we stick to the principle of prudence in valuation, a principle which has shaped all accounting systems from the time of Luca Pacioli at the beginning of the fifteenth century to the adoption of the false idol of the IAS.
In short, the greatest error of the accounting reform recently introduced worldwide is that it scraps centuries of accounting experience and business management when it replaces the prudence principle, as the highest ranking among all traditional accounting principles, with the “fair value” principle, which is simply the introduction of the volatile market value for an entire set of assets, particularly financial assets. This Copernican turn is extremely harmful and threatens the very foundations of the market economy for several reasons. First, to violate the traditional principle of prudence and require that accounting entries reflect market values is to provoke, depending upon the conditions of the economic cycle, an inflation of book values with surpluses which have not materialized and which, in many cases, may never materialize. The artificial “wealth effect” this can produce, especially during the boom phase of each economic cycle, leads to the allocation of paper (or merely temporary) profits, the acceptance of disproportionate risks, and in short, the commission of systematic entrepreneurial errors and the consumption of the nation’s capital, to the detriment of its healthy productive structure and its capacity for long-term growth. Second, I must emphasize that the purpose of accounting is not to reflect supposed “real” values (which in any case are subjective and which are determined and vary daily in the corresponding markets) under the pretext of attaining a (poorly understood) “accounting transparency.” Instead, the purpose of accounting is to permit the prudent management of each company and to prevent capital consumption , by applying strict standards of accounting conservatism (based on the prudence principle and the recording of either historical cost or market value, whichever is less), standards which ensure at all times that distributable profits come from a safe surplus which can be distributed without in any way endangering the future viability and capitalization of the company. Third, we must bear in mind that in the market there are no equilibrium prices a third party can objectively determine. Quite the opposite is true; market values arise from subjective assessments and fluctuate sharply, and hence their use in accounting eliminates much of the clarity, certainty, and information balance sheets contained in the past. Today, balance sheets have become largely unintelligible and useless to economic agents. Furthermore, the volatility inherent in market values, particularly over the economic cycle, robs accounting based on the “new principles” of much of its potential as a guide for action for company managers and leads them to systematically commit major errors in management, errors which have been on the verge of provoking the severest financial crisis to ravage the world since 1929.
In chapter 9 of this book (pages 789–803), I design a process of transition toward the only world financial order which, being fully compatible with the free-enterprise system, can eliminate the financial crises and economic recessions which cyclically affect the world’s economies. The proposal the book contains for international financial reform has acquired extreme relevance at the present time (November 2008), in which the disconcerted governments of Europe and America have organized a world conference to reform the international monetary system in order to avoid in the future such severe financial and banking crises as the one that currently grips the entire western world. As is explained in detail over the nine chapters of this book, any future reform will fail as miserably as past reforms unless it strikes at the very root of the present problems and rests on the following principles:
- the reestablishment of a 100-percent reserve requirement on all bank demand deposits and equivalents;
- the elimination of central banks as lenders of last resort (which will be unnecessary if the preceding principle is applied, and harmful if they continue to act as financial central-planning agencies); and
- the privatization of the current, monopolistic, and fiduciary state-issued money and its replacement with a classic pure gold standard.
This radical, definitive reform would essentially mark the culmination of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and real socialism, since the reform would mean the application of the same principles of liberalization and private property to the only sphere, that of finance and banking, which has until now remained mired in central planning (by “central” banks), extreme interventionism (the fixing of interest rates, the tangled web of government regulations), and state monopoly (legal tender laws which require the acceptance of the current, state-issued fiduciary money), circumstances with very negative and dramatic consequences, as we have seen.
I should point out that the transition process designed in the last chapter of this book could also permit from the outset the bailing out of the current banking system, thus preventing its rapid collapse, and with it the sudden monetary squeeze which would be inevitable if, in an environment of widespread broken trust among depositors, a significant volume of bank deposits were to disappear. This short-term goal, which at present, western governments are desperately striving for with the most varied plans (the massive purchases of “toxic” bank assets, the ad hominem guarantee of all deposits, or simply the partial or total nationalization of the private banking system), could be reached much faster and more effectively, and in a manner much less harmful to the market economy, if the first step in the proposed reform (pages 791–98) were immediately taken: to back the total amount of current bank deposits (demand deposits and equivalents) with cash, bills to be turned over to banks, which from then on would maintain a 100-percent reserve with respect to deposits. As illustrated in chart IX-2 of chapter 9, which shows the consolidated balance sheet for the banking system following this step, the issuance of these banknotes would in no way be inflationary (since the new money would be “sterilized,” so to speak, by its purpose as backing to satisfy any sudden deposit withdrawals). Furthermore, this step would free up all banking assets (“toxic” or not) which currently appear as backing for demand deposits (and equivalents) on the balance sheets of private banks. On the assumption that the transition to the new financial system would take place under “normal” circumstances, and not in the midst of a financial crisis as acute as the current one, I proposed in chapter 9 that the “freed” assets be transferred to a set of mutual funds created ad hoc and managed by the banking system, and that the shares in these funds be exchanged for outstanding treasury bonds and for the implicit liabilities connected with the public social-security system (pp. 796–97). Nevertheless, in the current climate of severe financial and economic crisis, we have another alternative: apart from canceling “toxic” assets with these funds, we could devote a portion of the rest, if desired, to enabling savers (not depositors, since their deposits would already be backed 100 percent) to recover a large part of the value lost in their investments (particularly in loans to commercial banks, investment banks, and holding companies). These measures would immediately restore confidence and would leave a significant remainder to be exchanged, once and for all and at no cost, for a sizeable portion of the national debt, our initial aim. In any case, an important warning must be given: naturally, and I must never tire of repeating it, the solution proposed is only valid in the context of an irrevocable decision to reestablish a free-banking system subject to a 100-percent reserve requirement on demand deposits. Any of the reforms noted above, if adopted in the absence of a prior, firm conviction and decision to change the international financial and banking system as indicated, would be simply disastrous: a private banking system which continued to operate with a fractional reserve (orchestrated by the corresponding central banks), would generate, in a cascading effect, and based on the cash created to back deposits, an inflationary expansion like none other in history, one which would eventually finish off our entire economic system.
The above considerations are crucially important and reveal how very relevant this treatise has now become in light of the critical state of the international financial system (though I would definitely have preferred to write the preface to this new edition under very different economic circumstances). Nevertheless, while it is tragic that we have arrived at the current situation, it is even more tragic, if possible, that there exists a widespread lack of understanding regarding the causes of the phenomena that plague us, and especially an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty prevalent among experts, analysts, and most economic theorists. In this area at least, I can hope the successive editions of this book which are being published all over the world  may contribute to the theoretical training of readers, to the intellectual rearmament of new generations, and eventually, to the sorely needed institutional redesign of the entire monetary and financial system of current market economies. If this hope is fulfilled, I will not only view the effort made as worthwhile, but will also deem it a great honor to have contributed, even in a very small way, to movement in the right direction.
Jesús Huerta de Soto
November 13, 2008
 See especially F. A. Hayek, “The Maintenance of Capital,” Economica 2 (August 1934), reprinted in Profits, Interest and Investment and Other Essays on the Theory of Industrial Fluctuations(Clifton, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley, 1979; first edition London: George Routledge & Sons, 1939). See especially section 9, “Capital Accounting and Monetary Policy,” pp. 130–32.
 Since the appearance of the first English-language edition, the third and
fourth Spanish editions have been published in 2006 and 2009. Moreover,
Tatjana Danilova and Grigory Sapov have completed a Russian translation, which has been published as Dengi, Bankovskiy Kredit i Ekonomicheskie Tsikly (Moscow: Sotsium Publishing House, 2008). Three thousand copies have been printed initially, and I had the satisfaction of presenting the book Octo- ber 30, 2008 at the Higher School of Economics at Moscow State University. In addition, Professor Rosine Létinier has produced the French translation, which is now pending publication. Grzegorz Luczkiewicz has completed the Polish translation, and translation into the following languages is at an advanced stage: German, Czech, Italian, Romanian, Dutch, Chinese, Japan- ese, and Arabic. God willing, may they soon be published.
We are grateful to Robert Arbon for pointing out this article on Greg Mankiw’s Blog:
I just returned from the spring meeting of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, where I was a discussant for Alan Greenspan’s new paper on “The Crisis,” which has gotten a bit of media attention. I thought blog readers might enjoy reading my comments on the paper. Here they are:
This is a great paper. It presents one of the best comprehensive narratives about what went wrong over the past several years that I have read. If you want to assign your students only one paper to read about the recent financial crisis, this would be a good choice.
There are, however, particular pieces of the analysis about which I am skeptical. But before I get to that, let me begin by emphasizing several important points of agreement.
To begin with, Alan refers to recent events in the housing market as a “classic euphoric bubble.” He is certainly right that asset markets can depart from apparent fundamentals in ways that are often hard to understand. This has happened before, and it will happen again. When the bubble bursts, the aftershocks are never pleasant.
For new readers to this site who are not aware of the debate that exists within the Austrian School, there are those who are supporters of 100% Reserve Free Banking and those who are for Fractional Reserve Free Banking. The importance of this debate is that the School, whilst being the only School in economics to predict the crash, does not have a uniform policy prescription, or at least one policy prescription to fix our economy and put it on a sound and stable footing going forward.
There are a number of policy recommendations from varying branches of the School. We have given a platform to some of them on this site. To caricature: for the Keynesians, it is a matter of spending more via the government, for the monetarists it is print more and more money until the economy fixes itself. Until the differences are resolved within the Austrian School, there can’t be one coherent message to enable us to get out and engage with the political, academic and journalistic fraternities. This article is an attempt to resolve those differences that lie at the heart of our School, rendering it currently impotent in its forward-looking policy prescriptions.
So far, the only two point I see amounting to total agreement between both sides is that the Central Bank should be abolished. If there was a free choice in currency, people would almost certainly choose a commodity-backed currency, as always existed in history prior to the total move to money set by decree of the State. The flavour of what this would be is hotly debated though.
This article is not written to scholarly Journal standards, indeed it is written on a Saturday afternoon and my working life is entrepreneurship and not academia. I aim to stimulate debate within the wider Austrian academic community and beyond, to thoroughly flesh out some of the research areas I recommend and, hopefully, provide grounds for moving forward on a unified, or as near as damn it unified, basis.
A Quick and Dirty Recap on the Differences
The Fractional Reserve Free Banking School
They say all bank deposits are loans. This is the correct position in law since Carr v Carr 1811 in this country.
Therefore in a free banking world, if bank A issues promissory notes (this is a throw back to when the promissory note was redeemable in gold, but the word credit could just as easily be inserted in the place of promissory notes and is more applicable to our day and age) and if bank A lends to its customers in excess of its inherent worth, then Bank B, a more conservative bank and a competitor, may present Bank A’s notes for redemption (or create rumors in the market place to encourage Bank A’s notes to be redeemed) in the knowledge that it has been over inflating its issue. This will cause a run on their competitor’s bank.
This is a good free-market self correcting mechanism that will make sure all parties behave honestly, as large credit-induced booms that will go bust would not happen under this system. Therefore, by removing the ability of banks to go to a Central Bank to be bailed out over night via the discount window, in a Fractional Reserve Free Banking system with a multiplicity of credit / promissory note issuers, never could an over issuing bank go to the Lender of Last Resort, the Central Bank, and get overnight funds to pay its depositors’ redemption requests. The fear of imminent bankruptcy keeps the over issue of credit / promissory notes in a very stable position.
If we think about what has happened since the “Big Bang” in the mid 80s under Lawson when lots of restrictive practices in the City of London were abolished and the legal reserve ratio was abolished (it is now a voluntary system and sits at around 3%), we saw an explosion of credit that has created at least the late 80s / early 90s boom and bust, the late 90s /early 2000 boom and bust and the mother of all booms and busts in the late 2000s. So the free market has certainly been allowed to work as much as possible. As it over extends and under extends it produces catastrophic and distorting results, as we have seen.
This system is not, in fact, free market capitalism, but corporate capitalism. This is because the whole system is underpinned by the Central bank, which lends overnight to the banking systems so they can match their lending with their redemption demands. On the plus side for the State, they can run this system whereby debt is sold via the banking system i.e. their client banks, as all require some kind of liquidity support at some point in time be it explicit or implicit. They can, more importantly, monetize the debt – or, in modern parlance, do QE, which is nothing more than putting more money into circulation than existed before, thus devaluing the pound in our pocket.
This self correcting mechanism of the market is compatible with liberty and does indeed free money from state control. What is more, if you allow people to choose their own money, then the state becomes totally uninvolved with banking and money, and just as we do not have an apple or jam boom and bust, we shall not have a money or credit boom and bust.
The 100% Reserve Free Banking School
Turning to supporters of 100% reserves, the participants in this debate would agree that there should be no Central Bank and free choice in currency with a strong disposition that people, if left to their own devices, would choose gold or silver or a combination as they have overwhelmingly done in history in most places of the world.
Their problem and, indeed, mine is with the very nature of the demand deposit: the relationship between the bank and its depositing customer. Unlike the Fractional Reserve Free Bankers, the 100% Reserve Free Bankers say that when the vast majority of people deposit money in their bank account, such as their salary and their savings, they think that it is “theirs” and indeed it is safe. Of course we all know that banks own “your money” and indeed they owe you “your” money. A bank statement is the bank saying they owe you want you think is “yours.”
The loan you make to the bank is used by the bank (one loans to the bank in ignorance, I suggest). Indeed, once in the banking system, with its ability to multiply on average in the UK up to 33 times the level of credit, with only 3% of your money ever kept in reserves, it is clear that you only have 3% of “your” money in the banking system at any one point in time. As long as no more than one in 33 people walk into the bank to withdraw that which they think is theirs at the same time, then the claim or “their” money is still safe.
This rapid expansion of credit is the start of the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle. I struggle to see how anyone can doubt the causes of the Business Cycle and both parts of the Austrian School are united on this. Now, the 100% Reserve advocates say that even under a free banking system with no Central Bank, there will still be boom and bust. This is because as the economy grows and there are more participants in the economy, transacting the sale of more goods and services (it is said by all economists except the 100% Reserve Free Banking advocates) the need for the services of more money grows. A series of fractional reserve free banks can issue extra money in the form of credit or promissory notes and you can thus accommodate the needs of trade.
This will cause a boom and bust, just as the current set up with a Central Bank under pinning the system does. This will be the case as every bit of credit issued not backed by prior real savings will cause a lengthening of the structure of production that will set in motion the capital misallocation of resourses that will look like a boom. But as there are no real savings to support the outcome of this new investment activity backed by bank created credit, that will indeed lead to a bust. If you are not happy with why this will cause boom and bust, I suggest cribbing up on the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle, in particular Hayek in Prices and Production (PDF).
100% Reserve Free Banking advocates will say that to accommodate the growing population and the needs of trade, we should be happy at the spontaneous increase in our purchasing power of our monetary unit (i.e. falling prices). This is wholly beneficial to us all and is not in any way ever going to cause boom and bust.
Jesus Huerta de Soto in his brilliant book Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles (PDF) in Chapter 9 adds a very seductive and interesting twist to the debate when he outlines a reform program that would lead to the total paying off of the National Debt (a very topical issue now!) and a very sound, solid banking system going forward. I have summarized these thought here: A Day of Reckoning .
A Way Forward, the Balance Sheet and Contract Law Approach to Free Banking
On the Nature of a Bank Deposit
I outlined the start of my case in this article last week: Why All Banks Are Insolvent. It does seem to me that it is critical to decide: should current bank deposit contracts be loans, as they lawfully are, or safe keeping / custodian deposits? If they are loans, the Fractional Reserve Free Bankers have the day, if they are custodian accounts or safe keeping accounts the 100% Reserve Free Bankers have the day.
As mentioned in that article:
I commissioned a survey for the Cobden Centre in Oct 2009 with ICM over 2,000 people. 74% of people think that they are the legal owner of the money in their current account rather than the bank. Paradoxically 61% know that their money is lent out even though 67% want convenient (now) on demand access. The full results of this survey will be published shortly in another paper.
This would overwhelmingly suggest that people want safety, they think their money is theirs, even though it is the banks’. They would also like it lent out as long as they can have it back when they want it. I conclude people want safety and easy access, but really they are confused!
It is worth while understanding how a legally binding contract is determined and pondering the glaring confusion that exists with a bank deposit contract.
Law of Contract
Traditionally the formation of contracts has been analysed in terms of offer, acceptance, consideration (and later, intention to create legal relations).
Meeting of the Minds
Horrocks v Foray :
In order to establish a contract, whether it be an express contract or a contract implied by law, there has to be shown a meeting of the minds of the parties, with a definition of the contractual terms reasonably clearly made out, with an intention to affect the legal relationship: that is that the agreement that is made is one which is properly to be regarded as being enforced by the court if one or the other fails to comply with it; and it still remains a part of the law of this country, though many people think that it is time that it was changed to some other criterion, that there must be consideration moving in order to establish a contract.
Clearly, the depositor does not think he is making a loan to the bank, and the bank knows it is not safe-keeping but on-lending. There is no “meeting of minds.”
The standard which is adopted in deciding whether or not a contract has been concluded is objective rather than subjective. Smith v Hughes (1871):
If, whatever a man’s real intention may be, he so conducts himself that a reasonable man would believe that he was assenting to the terms proposed by the other party, and that other party upon that belief enters into the contract with him, the man thus conducting himself would be equally bound as if he had intended to agree to the other party’s terms.
It would seem that there is confusion at best about the real intentions of the depositor.
Acceptance must be communicated to the offeror – Entores v Miles Far East Corp .
The general rule is that acceptance of an offer will not be implied from mere silence on the part of the offeree and that an offeror cannot impose a contractual obligation upon the offeree by stating that, unless the latter expressly rejects the offer, he will be held to have accepted it – Felthouse v Bindley (1862) 11 CB (NS) 869.
In Order to Create a Binding Contract, the Contract Must be Certain
Scammell and Nephew Ltd v Ouston  – Viscount Maugham – “in order to constitute a valid contract the parties must so express themselves that their meaning can be determined with a reasonable degree of certainty. It is plain that unless this can be done…consensus ad idem would be a matter of mere conjecture.”
Confusion does not constitute a lawful contract.
Previous Course of Dealing Does not Mean Binding Contract Exists
University of Plymouth v European Language Center Ltd  – one party could not rely on an exchange of e-mails and telephone calls as establishing a binding contract with another party, even though the parties had worked together for some years.
It would be very interesting to test that if over the course of a lifetime of banking you always thought that you were depositing for safekeeping if the law courts would give the above interpretation when there has in the vast majority of cases, never been a meeting of the minds.
Tweedle v Atkinson (1861) – consideration must move from the promise.
The classic definition of consideration was expressed in Currie v Misa (1875) LR 10 Ex 153:
a valuable consideration, in the sense of the law, may consist either in some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the one party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or responsibility given, suffered or undertaken by the other.
Your banking in some way shape or form , even your “free” bank account, does invariably have some charge somewhere down the line, they get you somewhere, so I would be happy that there is consideration in the current bank arrangements.
Intention to Create Legal Relations
Meritt v Meritt  – In determining the intention of the parties an objective test is used by asking if reasonable people would regard the agreement as legally binding.
With two parties so at odds, I cannot see how we have any intention to create legal relations in the vast majority of deposit contracts.
I would even go as far to say that the vast majority of deposit contracts are unlawful under the Law of Contract.
A sensible policy prescription should be to align the banks to the account holders’ wishes and make the deposit contract one where the bank holds the depositors’ money as custodian / safe keeper and not as borrower. Make this contract explicit. Charge a fee for custodianship / safe keeping.
When a depositor wants to earn some interest on his money, allow an explicit lending contract to be put in place so that the depositor understands that his money has been loaned out, and that it is his no more. He now has a right to his lent money back some agreed time in the future, with a coupon paid.
This allows banks to go back and do what their time honoured role has been, to mediate between the saver and the borrower and to act as custodian and safe keep money for their clients. This is unashamedly boring, and steady as you go banking.
Should a bank be allowed to offer explicitly a fractional reserve account, when you as the depositor know right from the off that they are going to lend your money out a number of times over so there are many claims to this original money that you have deposited? I would say yes under contract law so long as it was explicit and conformed to all the case law listed above, but fundamentally no as this would require the bank to exist under legal and accounting privilege. I work from the assumption that all state sanctioned privilege is a bad as one party is exploiting another lawfully at the expense of the other party. This is antithetical to liberty. I would also add that there could be a similar type of fractional contract but this would be within the realm of hedge funds which operate under the normal commercial law that we all work under – except banks. This will be explored later.
The Balance Sheet Approach
In an article I wrote last week, I outline what I term the Balance Sheet approach to banking. I compare the balance sheet of the UK’s largest company BP, with that of one of our largest banks, Barclays. In a separate article, I look at the accounting treatment of its record profits for 2009 and some remarkable accounting trickery , all perfectly lawful - except that I would not be able to do and such trickery in my business. The link is here More on Banking and the Barclays 2009 Results. The important thing to note is that BP has current creditors and long term or non current creditors. Barclays has only creditors. Why does BP split out its current creditors from its long term ones?
As far as I am aware, in the UK Under International Financial Reporting Standards and UK Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, you have to report your creditors as current, under one year and over one year. This shows the outside world what your ability is to pay your debts, as and when they fall due. Most companies will always aim to match their current creditors with their current debtors, their less than one year creditors, but over current creditors, with the equivalent matching on the debtors’ side and with the long term debt being matched with long term creditors.
Most companies in this sense in the commercial world, other than banks, would indeed be 100% reserve companies and not companies that only keep a small fraction of money aside to pay their creditors. A very good research project for a graduate would be to map out all the FTSE 100 companies and see what percentage were 100% reserved and what were not. With those that were not, what were above 95% , 90%, 85% etc. In reality, if they are not very highly reserved their auditors will not sign off their accounts and they run the risk of insolvency. There is a grey area between a 99%, 95% reserved company as to if it is solvent and at the extreme end, the banks, where they are 3% reserved to current creditors!
Banks need another set of laws that only apply to themselves to operate. Thus they have a privilege accorded only to them. This allows them, like Barclays, to have creditors and debtors only. So all the current money on demand is lumped in with a catch-all lump of all creditors. This implies to the outside world that they perfectly balance their short term creditor needs, i.e. withdrawals with their long term debtors’ repayment profiles such that they never prejudice the current creditor losing his/her shirt. I do not know what specific accounting laws that the banks are allowed to audit to, but they sure are not GAAP that applies to all other commercial organizations. I do intend to find out when I have time, and again, this could be a rich source of research work for a graduate. Notwithstanding, it is clear there is one law for all commercial companies and one law for banks.
It should be clear that a lending and custodian bank where a deposit contract of either type conforms to the Law of Contract, at all points in time will conform to the normal commercial law.
It is clear that a Fractional Reserve Free Bank violates the law of contract and the normal commercial law for every company, thus they have accounting and legal privilege. A custodian / lending bank, conforming to the law of contract and normal commercial accounting law, could not compete with a fractional reserve free bank as the latter would be able to fully use all of its clients’ deposited money to do whatever it pleases, including the creation, on average, of 33 times more deposits. If we take the example of Barclays with some £300 billion of current creditors, the ability to fully use this would place it at a distinct unfair advantage with all other commercial enterprises. Indeed, under the current law, if would be very difficult indeed for a custody / safe keeping bank to get off the ground, the odds are so stacked in favour of the current arrangement.
The Case for Free Banking Under the Normal Commercial Law
Hence I conclude that the current system of making sure companies disclose and match timed liabilities to keep solvent is good and fair to all parties. The anomaly that is fractional reserve banking, be it in its Central Bank sponsored format or in its hypothetical format with no Central Bank, can only work with this legal and accounting privilege in place. This sets one party (the banks/bankers) at a distinct and unfair advantage to another parties (ie all other people / enterprises).
As the Fractional Reserve Free Banking system ex the central bank can only work with the positive intervention of legal privilege and a setting aside of all the principles of contract law, it would seem the case for it is negligible indeed. Added to the fact that there is still the possibility of business cycle inducing properties as they could automatically grow to the needs of trade, we need to map out an alternative that allows people to keep safe, save, invest and speculate.
In the above, I outlined the two forms of deposit that would accord with the normal commercial law that would exist without legal and accounting privilege, i.e. a straight forward safe keeping or custodian contract and a straight forward loan contract.
I would also propose the possibility of a third, called a “High Risk” deposit. This is a deposit contract that again is explicit, that allows one party to deposit in the full knowledge that the institution may or may not engage an over issue of credit, or even promissory notes that may take the form of money if they can become a generally accepted medium of exchange, provided that like in any other company, they are subject to audit and a market valuation up or down of underlying assets at least once per year. As in a normal company’s balance sheet, each year, your properties or other chattels are re valued up, or impaired down, so you can and should do this with the “High Risk” deposit account. This way, there is no extension or contraction of credit over the audit year that does not have real wealth behind it. The boom and bust implications of functioning this way are that of any normal commercial activity.
Any deposit can be made between freely consenting adults provided it is enforceable under the Law of Contract and does not rely on the grant of a state sanction / privilege under commercial law and accounting standards to operate. This would be supporting something that was antithetical to liberty.
Personally, I would prefer to keep these kind of “High Risk” deposits in Hedge Funds and the like – clearly away from banks so as not to confuse. It would be quite possible for somebody with a higher risk profile to place all his money at the disposal of a hedge fund and the hedge fund to offer normal banking services, such as transacting cheques, direct debits, standing orders, issuing debit cards that the hedge fund would subcontract back to the regular standard custodian / safe keeping lending bank. This would give the appearance in almost every respect of the current fractional reserve banking.
To all intents and purposes the overwhelmingly vast majority of non bank companies are 100% reserve companies i.e. they square up with their creditors as and when they fall due or could fall due, unlike fractional reserve banks who make very little provision and rely on state sanction to exist like this.
The balance sheet and contract law approach to free banking allows a solid safe and traditional approach to banking to be the banking system’s default position, but then allows freely consenting adults all other options to enter into whatever deposit contracts they like so long as they are truly lawful.
If this is accepted, I would think it is clear that the proposal of De Soto mentioned above, concerning banking reform, becomes a real possibility in order to be the key policy solution and recommendation of the Austrian School.
It would be right and proper that the School that was the only School to predict the Great Credit Crunch / Meltdown, could provide a series of solutions for a lasting and sustainable recovery.
I have laid out my case that there is such a discrepancy between what the overwhelming majority think happens with their deposited money that under contract law, I doubt very much that an enforceable contract exists as currently offered by the banking system. I propose a reform that would very clearly demarcate what is a custodian / safe keeping contract and what is a lending contract. I agree that freely consenting adults who do no harm to others should be allowed to do as they please which means contract as they please, but entering into a fractional reserve free banking contract would violate very solid good balance sheet accounting and financial reporting standards that have been developed over many years to make sure trade happens without violation of people’s property rights. After that I propose a third contract that could have similar characteristics to a fractional reserve free bank account, called a High Risk account that would allow more speculative activities. The market would evolve in time, and new ways of doing things would no doubt emerge. As long as these new ways of doing things conform to commercial law and do not exist on privilege, then there would be no reason to get het up about this type of innovation.
Some of the debates existing in the wider free banking school need to be addressed.
What is the Difference Between a Fractional Reserve Contract and a House Insurance Contract?
With my house insurance, I pay, not loan, money to an insurance company in exchange for the right to a policy, my consumable item if you like, with the explicit knowledge that they are hoping to charge me and all the other policy holders more than they would pay out in the eventuality of a disaster that I am trying to insure against. There is a small risk that the insurance company will get its sums wrong and not be able to pay me out in full or at all. The policy tells me this.
With a deposit contract, I think I am depositing for custody and safe keeping and only the enlightened few know they are loaning their forgone purchasing power i.e. money to the bank.
So insurance is paying for a product that you consume by virtue of holding the policy for its life time. You know that there is a small risk that you may not get 100% of what you have bought.
With banking, you loan your purchasing power with the overwhelming people doing this in ignorance of what they have committed to. The vast majority expect to have the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their purchasing power at their convenience and do not deposit in the knowledge that there may be wholesale default.
If we Accept the Legal Position that a Demand Deposit is a Bank Loan, can you Ever Have a Loan with no Fixed Term i.e. an Indefinite Loan?
This is an impossibility.
The loan under these circumstances should properly be called a gift. Fractional Reserve Free Banking relies on the fact that the legal position says all deposits are loans. In 22 years in business I have never borrowed money without a term implied. Even in the most friendly of loans where I have borrowed from a family member and they have said “pay me back when you can,” there is an implied term, when I can, and that it is not a gift.
You can vary terms then reset the period, re cut it, re dice it , re jig it, re price it, etc, but there are still implied terms. At some point in time, a lender always wants to get paid back, otherwise he/she would not be a lender, but someone giving a gift. Depositors are not giving a gift!
In the three banks that I use, representing a very large chunk of the UK banking business, I see nothing whatsoever in any documentation that leads me to believe that when I deposit I am making a loan. What is more, it does not fit my understanding of what a loan is unless we accept it is a callable loan on demand. If it is on demand, it needs to be provisioned for. Prudent management would dictate 100% reserves against my loan. General accounting principles that apply to all commercial activities bar the banks do not have to.
Everything I have ever seen in banking when I have deposited leads me to believe I am depositing money for custody / safe keeping and not as a loan. The language is always that of custody / safe keeping. Free banking going forward needs to be very explicit in nailing in contract what is custody / safe keeping and what is loaning and what is speculating.
Do Fractional Reserve Banks in a Free Market Environment, i.e. one with no Central Bank, Create Inflation?
I touched upon this point in the main body of the article. The price of money is determined, like all things, by demand and supply. Mises called this the money relation. If there is an increase in both, then there will be no inflation. To be clear, Fractional Reserve Free Banking people who advocate this are correct, there will be no price inflation. However, the number of money units has now gone up, so there has been a money inflation. Do we care? Yes, as Austrians we do. Why? Whoever is in receipt of the new money, in a Fractional Reserve Free Banking world with no Central Bank, the first recipients are the new demanders of money. They will get the wealth effect of having new purchasing power first. Where there should have been an increase in purchasing power (falling prices) for all the existing money holders, there is no increase, thus impoverishing those who are holding the existing monetary unit. Again, this gives special privilege to a certain class of person over another class of person. That is antithetical to liberty. The only way this can be avoided is to have Free Banking that sits within commercial law, accounting rules that apply to everyone, and framed within the time-honoured principles of the law of contract.
Do Grain Store Examples Shed any Useful Light into this Debate?
I am often told by advocates of Fractional Reserve Free Banking that banking is like a grain store. That if ten tons were to be deposited by one man who took a certificate from the store holder explicitly stating that the store will be lending 9 ton of the grain out to bread makers in exchange for the original depositor not having to pay for the storage, or even being paid to store there – what would be wrong with this? Also, it would tell me under what time period my grain would be being used by others, and when I could get my grain back. Well, the answer is nothing at all as the contract is explicit – except that I will never get my grain back at all as it is being consumed by someone else. I will never get it back!
Grain examples should be avoided, for they certainly do not stack up.
This post is excerpted from Mises’ “The Causes of the Economic Crisis and Other Essays Before and After the Great Depression” which is available to buy here and download here. Both Andreas Acavalos and Toby Baxendale supported the production of this book.
On covering government deficits by creating new money (pp 2-3):
If the practice persists of covering government deficits with the issue of notes, then the day will come without fail, sooner or later, when the monetary systems of those nations pursuing this course will break down completely. The purchasing power of the monetary unit will decline more and more, until finally it disappears completely. To be sure, one could conceive of the possibility that the process of monetary depreciation could go on forever. The purchasing power of the monetary unit could become increasingly smaller without ever disappearing entirely. Prices would then rise more and more. It would still continue to be possible to exchange notes for commodities. Finally, the situation would reach such a state that people would be operating with billions and trillions and then even higher sums for small transactions. The monetary system would still continue to function. However, this prospect scarcely resembles reality.
On credit expansion by banks, its effects on the economy and the ensuing crisis (pp 113-115):
The crisis breaks out only when the banks alter their conduct to the extent that they discontinue issuing any more new fiduciary media and stop undercutting the “natural interest rate.” They may even take steps to restrict circulation credit. When they actually do this, and why, is still to be examined. First of all, however, we must ask ourselves whether it is possible for the banks to stay on the course upon which they have embarked, permitting new quantities of fiduciary media to flow into circulation continuously and proceeding always to make loans below the rate of interest which would prevail on the market in the absence of their interference with newly created fiduciary media.
If the banks could proceed in this manner, with businesses improving continually, could they then provide for lasting good times? Would they then be able to make the boom eternal?
They cannot do this. The reason they cannot is that inflationism carried on ad infinitum is not a workable policy. If the issue of fiduciary media is expanded continuously, prices rise ever higher and at the same time the positive price premium also rises. (We shall disregard the fact that consideration for (1) the continually declining monetary reserves relative to fiduciary media and (2) the banks’ operating costs must sooner or later compel them to discontinue the further expansion of circulation credit.) It is precisely because, and only because, no end to the prolonged “flood” of expanding fiduciary media is foreseen, that it leads to still sharper price increases and, finally, to a panic in which prices and the loan rate move erratically upward.
Suppose the banks still did not want to give up the race? Suppose, in order to depress the loan rate, they wanted to satisfy the continuously expanding desire for credit by issuing still more circulation credit? Then they would only hasten the end, the collapse of the entire system of fiduciary media. The inflation can continue only so long as the conviction persists that it will one day cease. Once people are persuaded that the inflation will not stop, they turn from the use of this money. They flee then to “real values,” foreign money, the precious metals, and barter.
Sooner or later, the crisis must inevitably break out as the result of a change in the conduct of the banks. The later the crack-up comes, the longer the period in which the calculation of the entrepreneurs is misguided by the issue of additional fiduciary media. The greater this additional quantity of fiduciary money, the more factors of production have been firmly committed in the form of investments which appeared profitable only because of the artificially reduced interest rate and which prove to be unprofitable now that the interest rate has again been raised.
Great losses are sustained as a result of misdirected capital investments. Many new structures remain unfinished. Others, already completed, close down operations. Still others are carried on because, after writing off losses which represent a waste of capital, operation of the existing structure pays at least something.
The crisis, with its unique characteristics, is followed by stagnation. The misguided enterprises and businesses of the boom period are already liquidated. Bankruptcy and adjustment have cleared up the situation. The banks have become cautious. They fight shy of expanding circulation credit. They are not inclined to give an ear to credit applications from schemers and promoters. Not only is the artificial stimulus to business, through the expansion of circulation credit, lacking, but even businesses which would be feasible, considering the capital goods available, are not attempted because the general feeling of discouragement makes every innovation appear doubtful. Prevailing “money interest rates” fall below the “natural interest rates.”
When the crisis breaks out, loan rates bound sharply upward because threatened enterprises offer extremely high interest rates for the funds to acquire the resources, with the help of which they hope to save themselves. Later, as the panic subsides, a situation develops, as a result of the restriction of circulation credit and attempts to dispose of large inventories, causing prices [and the “money interest rate”] to fall steadily and leading to the appearance of a negative price premium. This reduced rate of loan interest is adhered to for some time, even after the decline in prices comes to a standstill, when a negative price premium no longer corresponds to conditions. Thus, it comes about that the “money interest rate” is lower than the “natural rate.” Yet, because the unfortunate experiences of the recent crisis have made everyone uneasy, the incentive to business activity is not as strong as circumstances would otherwise warrant. Quite a time passes before capital funds, increased once again by savings accumulated in the meantime, exert sufficient pressure on the loan interest rate for an expansion of entrepreneurial activity to resume. With this development, the low point is passed and the new boom begins.
Our Corporate Affairs Director Steve Baker has posed this question to some of his fellow board members, “Would be great to nail this phenomenon on the system of money – that is to demonstrate clearly that it is credit expansion which redistributes wealth to the wealthy:
In other words, the trickle-down effect that is meant to spring from wealth accumulation has not worked as it should have. Flexible labour markets have delivered big time for bankers and shareholders, but failed to improve the lot of ordinary workers in the same way. In Britain, growth in consumption was funded not by real economic advancement, but by the fool’s paradise of ever-increasing debt.
The essence of a credit expansion starts with the policy of the Treasury / Bank of England aka “the State”. The aim is to make money cheaper so that more money / credit is granted to borrowers, more economic activity is then meant to take place.
How is this done?
If you wanted to make jam cheaper, you would need to produce more of it for the same level of demand. The only way the jam market would clear is for the jam to sell at that demand for a lower price.
The State has the monopoly issue of money under its control. If the whole history of man was displayed in the form of a 12 hour clock, with today being the 12th hour, the State has only had this monopoly of the production of money since the end of the Gold Standard at the outbreak of the 1st World War. Attempts to get back on the Standard took place in the 20’s but were abandoned in the 30’s. Post World War II until 1971 there was a weak form of Gold Standard under the Bretton Woods system. Since that date, there has only been paper standards in different countries. So from the dawn of civilization until about the 11th hour and the 59th minute of human existence, Gold was money. It was a commodity for which all things exchanged for, it was produced by private individuals and no one person controlled the production of gold. Like language, it was a spontaneous invention of human beings to facilitate working together. It is thus one of the greatest inventions of man.
If the the State, as the monopoly issuer of paper money decided that the economy needs more liquidity (we have done this with our £200bn QE program), the bank will buy its governments outstanding debt obligations , or IOU’s, commonly called Gilts or Bonds, with newly minted money (to monetize). Thus the new money, like the new jam, or the jam over supply illustrated in the above example , enters the economy via the recipients of the new money.
Dear reader, I would like you to pause for a minute and ask yourself how comfortable would you feel about the government setting the price of jam and issuing all of its supply? Is this not what they tried to do in the Soviet Union? Absenting the price mechanism, that coordinates the choices of many millions of people, to allow suppliers of jam to know how much to produce to satisfy the demand for jam, and we have shortages for jam leaving shops empty for sometimes many months on end. Why do we trust the State to do this?
We seem to accept that the government, in its wisdom, that must be greater than that of all its citizens , can plan the production and supply of money as the old Soviet system did for a whole host of goods and services, for its subjects.
Experience will tell us, that like the Soviet production of jam, our State production of money will cause shortages and surpluses of varying degrees. Worst still, constructivist policy activism by the State via its agents at the Bank of England attempt each time they set the interest rate, to produce just enough money to keep the economy on an even keel. The evidence that they get this wrong is called “Boom and Bust.”
If you got jam production wrong, your surplus jam goes to waste or you can not feed your demand.
An over supply of money is called a “boom.” An undersupply is called “bust.” Every single boom from the Soutth Sea Bubble onwards can be traced back to some artificial expansion of money / credit not brought about by the free interplay of market forces determining the production of money. As money permeates every aspect of the economy, an over or under supply of it has far more consequences than an over or under supply of money. In this current “bust” I would submit that virtually all people in the world wide system of capitalistic production have been effected in their personal lives to some degree of negativity as they have had to adjust to the new world order.
The effects of this over supply are so little understood, it is worth while explaining once more by looking Richard Cantillon in his Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (1755). This showed us that if money supply doubled, prices do not necessarily double. Money is not neutral in terms of consumption and production. Money goes into the system when created by the government to the bond holders whose bonds are redeemed. With this new money they have the first wealth effect of this new money. Like a counterfeiter he exchanges his new bits of paper for real goods and services, bidding up the prices of these goods and services. The producers of these initial goods and services then do the same with the goods and services that they buy and so on and so forth until the prices for the last people, those who spend less in the economy, the poor, those on fixed income (pensioners, the thrifty saver) etc, spend on goods and services that now have a higher money price. Thus, the insidious effect is a transfer of wealth away from the poorest in society to the richest in society: those banksters who buy / sell the bonds and the bond holders who have received the newly minted money.
We must remember, the bankster in all of this is often the agent of the State when he sells and buys the government debt either creating over supply or under supply of money. He takes his commission right at the well spring or the fountain of this money making process. He gets the first ability to benefit from the wealth effect as he can spend his money on goods and services at the same time as the bond investor. He is a direct recipient of the first order of the wealth transferred from the poorest to the richest members of society. The bankster is on the welfare state of credit. The government is totally in control of this process yet does not seem to realize it.
This is why Jeremy Warner in his well argued Telegraph article wonders how so much wealth has been created for so few and why his the trickle down did not have a positive effect on the poorest members of our society. I hope I have demonstrated that as the production of paper money in itself does not create wealth , as if it did, world poverty could be ended tomorrow, like a counterfeiter, new money allows its first recipients to exchange nothing (bits of paper) for real things such as Mayfair town houses etc. The sad salient point, is as the “wealth effect” works its way through society bidding up prices, the poorest people pay more for their goods and services. They have what little wealth they have confiscated to the benefit of the likes of the banksters who are knee deep on the welfare state of credit. Real wealth creation happens when entrepreneurs start coming up with better methods of production to make better goods and services more efficiently then before. There has been too much of the former providing the illusion of wealth and too little of the latter.