Monday, September 22, 2008

Column #49 THE "FRACTIONAL RESERVE" PYRAMID

(Week 9 - Monday, Sept. 22)

In yesterday's column I gave a brief description of how a banker who has $10,000 in "reserves" on deposit in his bank can use them as a basis for creating $9,000 in new money to "loan" out. When the borrower spends the money, almost all of it winds up in the bank accounts of the people he pays it to.

To keep the math simple for our illustration let us assume that our borrower spends all the money in one place, and the entire $9,000 ends up on deposit in one bank. From the perspective of the banker at this institution this newly borrowed and spent money is regarded as $9,000 dollars in "fresh reserves." In other words, he can use this $9,000 as a basis for creating yet more money to "loan."

Let us suppose another person walks into the office of the banker in whose bank the $9,000 in "fresh reserves" has been deposited, and asks to borrow some money. Based on the $9,000 that has just been put on deposit in his bank, he can now write a check for newly created money to lend to this new borrower in an amount up to $8,100 ($9,000 times 9/10), leaving, as the banking system describes it, $900 ($9,000 times 1/10) as a "fractional reserve."

The person with whom he spends this newly created $8,100 will presumably deposit it in his bank account, and this deposit will be seen by his bank as $8,100 in "fresh reserves," upon which, in turn, this banker will be able to create another $7290 ($8,100 times 9/10), and leaving an additional $810 dollars ($8,100 times 1/10) "in reserve."

This process can continue for many successive cycles as new money created and loaned out by one bank is deposited in another, where it is seen as fresh reserves that can be used as the basis for creating yet another round of money to loan. For each cycle the amount of new money created and fresh reserves deposited diminishes in proportion to the fractional reserve ratio. In the long run it approaches "0", but it never quite gets there. The amount does, however, become so small that the procedure does effectively provide a limit to how much "credit money" can be created from the quantity of "high-powered money" originally borrowed into existence from the Fed by the Federal government, which ended up on deposit in the banking system, thereby seeding the fractional reserve process.

It may be helpful for the reader to visualize the monetary system as a pyramid. The foundation stones of the pyramid are Federal bonds, which are essentially the "loan" contracts by which the Federal government borrows money from the Fed, and which winds up on deposit(as "high-powered money") as the initial "reserves" in the banking system. The first cycle of "credit money" created by a bank and then deposited in the banking system forms the next course of blocks in our pyramid. From there, each cycle of new money created through the loan process, and deposited in the banking system is represented by successive courses of stones. Each course of stone is shorter by the fraction represented in the fractional reserve ratio (1/10 in our example), so the lengths of the courses (the amount of new money that can be created and re-deposited as a fresh reserve base) are never quite zero. This suggests the image of a pyramidal-shaped wall with ends that slope towards each other, but also curve in such a way(asymptotically) that they reach for the sky, but the slopes never quite meet. The fundamental shape imparted by the fractional reserve ratio gives this pyramid an appearance that is relatively tall and slender, so much so perhaps that it is suggestive of a degree of instability.

Still if the courses of stone are sound, the structure might stand. The problem is that in monetary terms, the courses are not sound; they are crumbling. This is because they are being eaten away by "interest" charges against the money supply.

If a person takes out a bank loan and spends the money into circulation, the value of those dollars (the stones in our monetary pyramidal wall) are, from the moment they are issued, beginning to be eaten away by the interest charges on the loan. For example, suppose a person borrowed and spent $100 from a bank. He has thereby added $100 dollars to the money supply. There is, however, an "interest" charge attached to that money that is accruing as long as that $100 is in circulation. Because this "interest" charge in practical terms constitutes a net subtraction from the net value (amount of money) realized from that loan, it is effectively eating into the principal proceeds of the loan that brought it into being. Given enough time, the monetary value of the loan will be fully consumed (e.g. $100 will still be owed, despite $100 or more having already been paid in, as is typical in a revolving credit scheme).

Looking at the face of the wall, one sees a shape that resembles a pyramid, but one that is fundamentally unstable because the courses of stone of which it is composed (the bundles of dollars that are created and put into circulation via bank loans) are crumbling (being eaten away by "interest" charges). The present monetary system is the ultimate "pyramid scheme" (new "debt" money attracted to the scheme by old "debt" money). One can scramble to find new material to repair the growing holes in the blocks (find new borrowed money to "bail out" the financial interests whose bundles of money are "invested" in the lower courses of the wall), and thereby attempt to save the wall itself (keep the monetary system from collapsing), but patching can be effective only for so long. Ultimate collapse is inevitable.

For one with eyes to see, this is precisely the image, I would suggest, of what is happening with our monetary structure at present.

Richard Kotlarz
richkotlarz@gmail.com

The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites:
http://economictree.blogspot.com/
http://www.concordresolution.org/column.htm

2 comments:

Nick said...

Thanks. A very digestible explanation for the layman.

Ricardo Dawson said...

Hi!

Interesting reading. I would suggest also watching the "Zeitgeist: Addendum" movie for a very similar (visual) explanation of this fractional reserve pyramid scheme. Just download the movie (it's free) from: www.zeitgeistmovie.com