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Nationalize Money, Not Banks

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Financing investment by saving would require less present consumption, which many will deem to be an unacceptable drag on growth. But real growth has encountered the biophysical and social limits of a "full world." Financial growth is being stimulated ever more in the hope that it will pull real growth behind it, but it is in fact pushing uneconomic growth- -- growth of "illth." Since illth is negative wealth it can hardly redeem the growing debt that is financing it.

The original 100% reserve proponents mentioned above were in favor of aggregate growth, but wanted it to be steady growth in wealth, not speculative boom and bust cycles. Soddy was especially cautious about uncontrolled physical growth, but his main concern was with the symbolic financial system and its disconnect from the real system that it was supposed to symbolize. The result was confusion between wealth and debt. One need not advocate a steady-state economy to favor 100% reserves, but if one does favor a steady state the attractions of 100% reserves are increased.

How would the 100% reserve system serve the steady-state economy?

First, as just mentioned it would restrict borrowing for new investment to existing savings, greatly reducing speculative growth ventures--for example the leveraging of stock purchases with huge amounts of borrowed money (created by banks ex nihilo rather than saved out of past earnings) would be severely limited. Down payment on houses would be much higher, and consumer credit would be greatly diminished. Credit cards would become debit cards. Long term lending would have to be financed by long term time deposits, or by carefully sequenced rolling over of shorter term deposits. Growth economists will scream, but a steady-state economy does not aim to grow, for the very good reason that growth has become uneconomic.

Second, the money supply no longer has to grow in order for people to pay back the principal plus the interest required by the loan responsible for the money's very existence in the first place. The repayment of old loans with interest continually threatens to diminish the money supply unless new loans compensate. With 100% reserves money becomes neutral with respect to growth rather than biasing the system toward growth by requiring more loans just to keep the money supply from shrinking.

Third, the financial sector will no longer be able to capture such a large share of the nation's profits (around 40%!), freeing some smart people for more productive, less parasitic, activity.

Fourth, the money supply would no longer expand during a boom, when banks like to loan lots of money, and contract during a recession, when banks try to collect outstanding debts, thereby reinforcing the cyclical tendency of the economy.

Fifth, with 100% reserves there is no danger of a run on a bank leading to a cascading collapse of the credit pyramid, and the FDIC could be abolished, along with its consequent moral hazard. The danger of collapse of the whole payment system due to the failure of one or two "too big to fail" banks would be eliminated. Congress then could not be frightened into giving huge bailouts to some banks to avoid the "contagion" of failure, because the money supply is no longer controlled by the private banks. Any given bank could fail by making imprudent loans, but its failure, even if a large bank, would not disrupt the public utility function of money. The club that the banks used to beat Congress into giving bailouts would have been taken away.

Sixth, the explicit policy of a constant price index would reduce fears of inflation and the resultant quest to accumulate more as a protection against inflation. Also it in effect provides a multi-commodity backing to our fiat money.

Keynes bancor scheme or a regime of fluctuating exchange rates would automatically balance international trade accounts, eliminating large surpluses and deficits. Thus, there would no longer be any need for the International Monetary Fund and the austerity its "conditionality" imposes on weaker economies.

To dismiss such sound policies as "extreme" in the face of the repeatedly demonstrated failure and fraud of our current financial system is quite absurd. The idea is not to nationalize banks, but to nationalize money, which is a natural public utility in the first place. The fact that this idea is hardly discussed today, in spite of its distinguished intellectual ancestry and common sense, is testimony to the power of vested interests over good ideas. It is also testimony to the veto power that our growth fetish exercises over the thinking of economists today.

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Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente's Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His books, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available (more...)
 

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