Fractional Reserve Banking
"In a very real sense, it is fractional reserve banking and not money itself that is the root of so many of today’s evils. Whenever fractional reserves are permitted, the banking system – including the one that exists today throughout the world – comes to resemble a classic Ponzi scheme which can only function as long as most people don’t try to get at their money."
Below is my one-hour video debunking all the critical points Reich raises in “Inequality for All.”
What does the future look like for fiat currencies? (e.g. the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound...) In the case of the dollar (which operates similarly to the other major world currencies), we know that - since all are "loaned into existence" - all dollars are backed by an equivalent amount of debt. Debt upon which interest must be paid. As all outstanding debt must compound over time at the rate of its interest (at least), we come to this important conclusion: Our money system is designed to grow exponentially. And it requires ever more debt in order to do so.
The failure to understand money is shared by all nations and transcends politics and parties. The destructive monetary expansion undertaken during the Democratic administration of Barack Obama by then Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke began in a Republican administration under Bernanke’s predecessor, Alan Greenspan. Republican Richard Nixon’s historic ending of the gold standard was a response to forces set in motion by the weak dollar policy of Democrat Lyndon Johnson. For more than 40 years, one policy mistake has followed the next. Each one has made things worse. What they don’t understand is that money does not “create” economic activity.
Practically since the day Lehman went down in September 2008 Washington has been conducting a monumental farce. It has been pretending to up-root the causes of the thundering financial crisis which struck that month and to enact measures insuring that it would never happen again. In fact, however, official policy has done just the opposite. The Fed’s massive money printing campaign has perpetuated and drastically enlarged the Wall Street casino, making the pre-crisis gamblers in CDOs, CDS and other derivatives appear like pikers compared to the present momentum chasing madness. In a nutshell, the Fed’s prolonged regime of ZIRP and wealth effects based “puts” under risk assets has destroyed two-way markets.
As John Kenneth Galbraith famously stated, "The process by which money is created is so simple the mind is repelled." As Peak Prosperity's Chris Martenson explains (as part of his excellent Crash Course), essentially, money is lent into existence though fractional reserve banking. The dollars you deposit at the bank? They turn into nearly 10x that amount as your bank subsequently makes loans using that money as collateral. As simple as the process is, nearly every American remains ignorant of it and its massive implications. At the heart of the matter is this: our money supply and its related debt obligations MUST continue expanding (thereby devaluing the purchasing power of each dollar ad infinitum) -- forever -- or the entire system collapses upon itself. Prepare to be repelled...
The reasons given for the persistence of the mispricing of fractional-reserve debt (IOUs + RP) are unsustainable in the long run. The lack of legal protection for genuine money titles is no more than a technicality, for there is nothing in practice that can sustainably prevent the existence of full reserve banks. Awareness that “deposits” are not actually money being held for safekeeping is a matter of educating the public, as is awareness that government’s deposit “guarantees” are not actually credible in the event of a systemic run. If we assume, then, that fractional-reserve banking will come to its logical ending, there is good reason to believe that the shock will herald the endgame for fiat money. It is in fact the case that all fiat money is the liability of the central bank, which also carries the risk of non-repayment (default risk). This, again, means an arbitrage opportunity for market participants to withdraw the fiat money from the fiat money banking system. This confirms that the original basis for fiat money is destroyed, for its repayment to the central bank is not credible.
Earlier this summer, IMF bureaucrats went to Sofia, Bulgaria to study the country’s economic progress; and roughly a month ago, they released an official report which stated, among other things, that Bulgarian banks are “stable and liquid.” Then 2 weeks later, there was a run on two of the nation’s largest banks (as we discussed at length here). But it's not just the IMF...the EU Commission soothingly announced that "the Bulgarian banking system is well-capitalized and has high levels of liquidity compared to its peers in other member states." The lesson here is clear: The people in charge of regulating the system and making these proclamations about bank safety are totally clueless. Clearly, Bulgaria (and Portugal) shows that the entire system can really be a bunch of smoke and mirrors.
The boom is unsustainable. Investment and consumption are higher than they would have been in the absence of monetary intervention. As asset bubbles inflate, yields increase, but so do inflation expectations. To dampen inflation expectations, the Fed withdraws stimulus. As soon as asset prices start to fall, yields on heavily leveraged assets are negative. As asset prices decline, increasingly more investors are underwater. Loan defaults rise as mortgage payments adjust up with rising interest rates. When asset bubbles pop, the boom becomes the bust.
The relentless influx of paper money makes the wealthy and powerful richer and more powerful than they would be if they depended exclusively on the voluntary support of their fellow citizens. And because it shields the political and economic establishment of the country from the competition emanating from the rest of society, inflation puts a brake on social mobility. The rich stay rich (longer) and the poor stay poor (longer) than they would in a free society.
Banking didn’t start out as a reckless, parasitical plaything of a moneyed and politically-connected aristocracy.
Fiat money is at base a form of indirect wealth transfer from those forced to hold the money to those issuing the money.