Understanding Money

by John H. Hotson

The financial system the world has evolved on the Bank of England model is not sustainable. It creates nearly all money as debt. Such money only exists as long as someone is willing and able to pay interest on it. It disappears, wholly or partially, in recurring financial crises. Such a system requires that new debt must be created faster than principal and interest payments fall due on old debt.

A sustainable financial system would enable the real economy to be maintained decade after decade and century after century at its full employment potential without recurring inflation and recession. By this standard, a financial system that creates money only through the creation of debt is inherently unsustainable.

When a bank makes a loan, the principal amount of the loan is added to the borrower's bank balance. The borrower, however, has promised to repay the loan plus interest even though the loan has created only the amount of money required to repay the principal-but not the amount of the interest.

Therefore unless indebtedness continually grows it is impossible for all loans to be repaid as they come due. Furthermore, during the life of a loan some of the money will be saved and re-lent by individual bond purchasers, by savings banks, insurance companies etc. These loans do not create new money, but they do create debt.

While we use only one mechanism - bank loans - to create money, we use several mechanisms to create debt, thus making it inevitable that debt will grow faster than the money with which to pay it. Recurring cycles of inflation, recession, and depression are a nearly inevitable consequence.

If, in the attempt to arrest the price inflation resulting from an excessive rate of debt formation, the monetary authorities raise the rate of interest, the result is likely to be a financial panic. This in turn may result in a sharp cutback in borrowing.

Monetary authorities respond to bail out the system by increasing bank reserves. Governments may also respond by increasing the public debt- risking both inflation and growing government deficits.



FOUR COMMON SENSE RULES



Governments got into this mess by violating four common sense rules regarding their fiscal and monetary policies. These rules are:

1. No sovereign government should ever, under any circumstances, give over democratic control of its money supply to bankers.

2. No sovereign government should ever, under any circumstances, borrow any money from any private bank.

3. No national, provincial, or local government should borrow foreign money to increase purchases abroad when there is excessive domestic unemployment.

4. Governments, like businesses, should distinguish between "capital" and "current" expenditures, and when it is prudent to do so, finance capital improvements with money the government has created for itself.

A few words about the first two of these rules...

1. There is persistent pressure from central bankers and academic economists to free central banks from the obligation to consider the effects of their actions upon employment and output levels so that they can concentrate on price stability.

This is a very bad idea indeed. Dominated by bankers and economists, central banks are entirely too prone to give exclusive attention to creditor interests to the exclusion of worker interests. Amending central bank charters to give them independence from democratic oversight, or to set up "price stability" as their only goal would complete their subjection to banker interests. Canada's own Mackenzie King said it all, "Without Government creation of money, talk of sovereignty and democracy is futile."

2. Anyone who understands that banks create the money they lend can see that it makes no sense for a sovereign government, which can create money at near zero cost, to borrow money at high cost from a private bank.



The fact that most governments do borrow from private banks is one of the greatest errors of our times. If a government needs money created to pay for public spending it should create the money itself through its own bank; or spend the money debt and interest free as the United States did during the Revolution and again during the Civil War. If a government does not wish to "monetize" its deficits during periods of unusual need such as wartime, it should either make up the deficit with higher taxes or borrow only from the non-bank public-which cannot create the money it lends to the government....

The above excerpt is from a paper written by Professor John Hotson who died in 1996.

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