The Bank Of England Goes Austrian?

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From Sean Corrigan of Diapason Commodities Management

BOE's View On Money Creation

Of late there has been much breathless wonder expressed at the Bank of England’s supposedly ground-breaking release. ‘Money in the Modern Economy’, in which it argues – shock! horror! - that banks do not lend out previously received deposits, but that they create the latter ex nihilo by first making loans. Alas, as Gunnar Myrdal waspishly observed of Keynes himself, this has been a reaction plagued with the ‘unnecessary originality’ of those who don’t know their literature.

As an example, some few months ago, I had an exchange with the disputatious George Selgin (he of the perfervid fractional free banking bent) in which I cited – after a good twenty minutes’ research – the following authorities to that very same effect:-

Roepke from a footnote (p113) to his 1936 work, ‘Crises & Cycles’:

The process [of credit creation] is now clearly explained in any text-book on economics, banking or money (especially recommendable is Hartley Withers’ Meaning of Money). A fuller treatment may be found in the following books: R. G. Hawtrey, op. cit.; J. M. Keynes, A Treatise on Money, pp. 23-49 : C. A. Philips, Bank Credit, New York, 1920; W. F. Crick, “The Genesis of Bank Deposits,” Economica, June 1927, and F. A. von Hayek, Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle, London,1933.

 

Without an understanding of this process and of its limitations, no real insight into the working of our banking system and, consequently, of our entire economic system seems possible, to say nothing of the mechanism of business cycles. There may still be many people who can no more believe the story of the genesis of bank money than they can believe the genesis of the Bible, but on the whole it now seems to be generally accepted. A last but hopeless attempt at disproving it has recently been made by M. Bouniatian, Credit et conjoncture, Paris, 1933. [Emphasis mine and apparently NOT the last!]

Or as Hayek indeed noted in ‘Prices and Production’ above his own lengthy footnote (pp 81-2):

The main reason for the existing confusion with regard to the creation of deposits is to be found in the lack of any distinction between the possibilities open to a single bank and those open to the banking system as a whole.

Shall we hear from Mises?  ‘Monetary Stabilization and Cyclical Policy’ (p105) seems pretty unequivocal on the matter:-

If the banks grant circulation credit by discounting a three month bill of exchange, they exchange a future good—a claim payable in three months—for a present good that they produce out of nothing. It is not correct, therefore, to maintain that it is immaterial whether the bill of exchange is discounted by a bank of issue or whether it remains in circulation, passing from hand to hand. Whoever takes the bill of exchange in trade can do so only if he has the resources. But the bank of issue discounts by creating the necessary funds and putting them into circulation. [which, incidentally, is an almost exact paraphrase of the argument I advanced and to which you took such exception, George]

Finally, let us allow Dennis Robertson a few words on the matter from the posthumous collection ‘Essays in Money and Interest’, p25:

…bank money comes into existence mainly as the result of loans and investments made in the banking system… … Historically, there seems to me no question that the bulk of bank money in existence has come into existence in this way… If anyone retains any lingering doubts on this matter, whether these doubts arise from consideration of the multiplicity of banks or from some less rational cause, I commend to him the patient and careful article of Mr. Crick [see above]… Here time forces me to treat this particular controversy as closed. [Emphasis mine again]

Since when I have found an even more waspish dismissal of the dullards who hold the contrary view from the inimitable Fritz Machlup, from an early 70s discussion of the development of the Eurodollar market:

 

There is a wider significance to this long-held misapprehension. Namely, that Keynes – so enamoured of his circular flow visualisation of the economy and yet also so prone to the confusion of mere snapshot accounting identities with dynamic and causative  phenomena – also held that banks were simple, passive intermediaries in the system and could therefore safely be shorn of having any true role to play in the determination of financial variables. Having similarly insisted that saving and investment MUST be equal (accounting v causation, again), he was thus left with nothing by which to determine the rate of interest and so opted for his ludicrous ‘liquidity preference’ idea that the rate of interest is a bribe by means of which to discourage the common man’s economy-sapping fetish for hoarding money.

From there, it was but a short step to the vilification of savers as the enemies of public well being and - via the further idiocy of the ‘liquidity trap’ with which this seemed perennially to threaten us - to the evils inherent in the incessantly inflationary ravings of the likes of Paul Krugman and all the other bien pensants of his stripe.