Monetary reform

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Monetary reform describes any movement or theory that proposes a different system of supplying money and financing the economy from the current system.[1]

Monetary reformers may advocate any of the following, among other proposals:

  • The issuance of interest-free credit from a government-controlled and fully owned central bank. These interest free but repayable loans would be used for public infrastructure and productive private investment. This proposal seeks to overcome the charge that debt-free money would cause inflation.[10][11][12]

Common targets for reform

Of all the aspects of monetary policy, certain topics reoccur as targets for reform:

Fractional Reserve Banking

Fractional-reserve banking describes systems in which banks lend money while at the same time guaranteeing that depositors (whose money it is lending) will be able to make withdrawals on demand. Because the bank extends a loan with money from depositors, while at the same time guaranteeing the deposits already held by the bank, this system has the effect of increasing the economy's money supply.[19] Some consider this practice both inflationary and fraudulent.[20][14]

Many attempts at financial reform have been made to try to mitigate against the potentially damaging effects of fractional reserve banking - for example, those made in response to the Great Depression and the crash of 1929. These reforms included the creation of deposit insurance (such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to mitigate against the danger of bank runs.[21] Some countries have also implemented legal reserve requirements, which impose minimum cash reserve requirements on banks.[22] Mainstream economists believe[21] that these monetary reforms have made sudden disruptions in the banking system less frequent.

Some critics of fractional reserve banking (such as members of the Austrian school) argue that the practice is inherently "fraudulent" and is an act of theft perpetrated against depositors/savers.[23][14] In their view, fractional reserve banking artificially lowers real interest rates, destabilizes the money supply and contributes to volatile and wasteful business cycles (or "credit cycles").[24] Other critics, such as Michael Rowbotham, equate the practice with counterfeiting, where government-protected privileged private entities (the banks) are granted the legal right to create money "out of the nothing" while also being granted the right to charge interest on their creation.[14] Michael Rowbotham argues that this concentrates wealth in the banking sector (which has a "cannibalizing" effect on the rest of the economy), causes the rest of the populace to slowly sink into debt slavery, creates volatile hyperinflation in the housing market and deflation in the consumer goods market, squeezes real wages, destroys farming and agriculture and de-industrializes heavily indebted economies.

Money no longer represents any intrinsic value

Main article: Fiat money

Banks loan out money through fractional-reserve banking, resultant money is no longer backed by a tangible asset. Money does not represent anything other than the debt of another; the only "tangible" aspect of the system is the borrower’s promise to pay back the interest and principal on the loan. Debt and the ability of borrowers to service that debt then becomes the underlying currency.[25]

Governments do not supply money. Private banks do, for profit

Many people criticise the fact that governments pay interest for the use of their own money which the central bank creates "out of nothing".[26][27] This leaves the state of a nation's economy susceptible to the interests of private bankers who create the money solely for the purpose of creating ongoing profits for their employees and shareholders, without any other binding social or legal obligations to the broader community (or future generations) that are normally expected from government entities. Either private individuals or corporations borrow to fund themselves and their businesses, or government "borrows" money from the central bank to fund deficit spending.

Impact on developing nations

Some monetary reformers criticise existing global financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and their policies regarding money supply, banks and debt in developing nations, in that they appear to these writers to be "forcing" a regime of extortionate or unpayable debt on weak Third World governments that do not have the capacity to pay the interest on these loans without severely affecting the well-being or even the viability of the local population. The attempt by weak Third World governments to service unrepayable debt with the sale of valuable hard and soft commodities on world markets is seen by some to be destructive of local cultures, destroying local communities and their environment.[10][14][28]

Alternative money systems

Central Bank Independence

In an attempt to control the volatile, exponential growth of the money supply, some countries have created a currency board, or granted independence to their central bank. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Bank of England are examples where the central bank is explicitly given the power to set interest rates and conduct monetary policy independent of any direct political intereference or direction from the central government. This may enable the setting of interest rates to be less susceptible to political interference and thereby assist in combating inflation (or debasement of the currency) by allowing the central bank to more effectively restrict the growth of M3.[29] However, given that these policies do not address the more fundamental issues inherent in fractional reserve banking, many suggest that only more radical monetary reform can promote positive economic or social change. Although central banks may appear to control inflation, through periodic bank rescues and other means, they may inadvertently be forced to increase the money supply (and thereby debase the currency) to save the banking system from bankruptcy or collapse during periodic bank runs, thereby inducing moral hazard in the financial system, making the system susceptible to economic bubbles.[30]

International Monetary Reform

Theorists such as Robert Mundell (and more radical thinkers such as James Robertson) see a role for global monetary reform as part of a system of global institutions alongside the United Nations to provide global ecological management and move towards world peace, with Robert Mundell in particular advocating the revived use of gold as a stabilising factor in the international financial system.[31][32] Henry Liu of the Asia Times Online argues that monetary reform is an important part of a move towards post-autistic economics.[33]

While some mainstream economists favour monetary reforms to reduce inflation and currency risk and to increase efficiency in the allocation of financial capital, the idea of all-encompassing reform for green or peace objectives is typically espoused by those on the left-wing of the subject and those associated with the anti-globalization movement.[34]

Social Credit and the provision of debt-free money directly from government

Still other radical reform proposals emphasise monetary, tax and capital budget reform which empowers government to direct the economy toward sustainable solutions which are not possible if government spending can only be financed with more government debt from the private banking system. In particular a number of monetary reformers, such as Michael Rowbotham, Stephen Zarlenga and Ellen Hodgson Brown, support the restriction or banning of fractional-reserve banking (characterizing it as an illegitimate banking practice akin to embezzlement) and advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with government-issued debt-free fiat currency issued directly from the Treasury rather than from the quasi-government Federal Reserve. Some monetary reformers have criticized these proposals as a return to Populist Greenbackerism.[35]

Alternatively, some monetary reformers such as those in the Social Credit movement, support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank to fund infrastructure and sustainable social projects and the simultaneous enforcement of full reserve banking to control the inflationary and destabilizing effects they see in the practice of fractional reserve banking. This Social Credit movement flourished briefly in the early 20th century, but then became marginalized and died out in the post-World War II era. It has recently produced fresh proposals for reform via the American Monetary Institute, which is based in Chicago.[36]

Both these groups (those who advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with debt-free government-issued fiat, and those who support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank) see the provision of interest-free money as a way of freeing the working populace from the bonds of "debt slavery" and facilitating a transformation of the economy away from environmentally damaging consumerism and towards sustainable economic policies and environment-friendly business practices. Many in both groups advocate the outlawing of fractional reserve banking and the enforcement of full reserve banking.[37]

Examples of government issued debt-free money

Some governments have experimented in the past with debt-free government-created money independent of a bank. The American Colonies used the "Colonial Scrip" system prior to the Revolution, much to the praise of Benjamin Franklin. He believed it was the efforts of English bankers to revoke this government-issued money that caused the Revolution.[38] Abraham Lincoln used interest-free money created by the government to help the Union win the American Civil War.[39] He called these 'Greenbacks' "the greatest blessing the people of this republic ever had."[40][41]

The islands of Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands create their own money, the Guernsey pound and Jersey pound, to supplement the British Pound and the Scottish pound.

Binary economics proposes that central banks issue interest-free loans to the government and for public projects or private capital. They would be administered by the banking system for the spreading of productive capacity and consuming capacity, on market principles, throughout the population.

Local barter, local currency

Some go further and suggest that wholesale reform of money and currency, based on ideas from green economics or Natural Capitalism, would be beneficial. These include the ideas of soft currency, barter and the local service economy.

Local currency systems can operate within small communities, outside of government systems, and use specially printed notes or tokens called scrips for exchange. Barter takes this further by swapping goods and services directly; a compromise being the Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) scheme: a formalised system of Community-based economics that records members’ mutual credit in a central location.

Micro credit

Banks offering small loans on simple interest, not compound interest, can make a difference to small-scale business people trying to make a start without collateral. The Grameen Bank instituted this technique and remains popular and influential.[42]

Return to the market money

A move away from fiat money towards a hard currency or asset-backed currency does not necessarily mean using commodity money such as gold, silver or both in daily transactions. The vast majority of the gold supposedly in reserve is held by the Federal Reserve as collateral for the national debt. The currency could be tied to the good faith and credit of the United States Government, which already issues bonds on the open market, which in turn could be redeemable in gold or silver. Digital means are also now possible to allow trading in hard currencies such as gold, and some believe a new free market will emerge in money production and distribution, as the internet allows renewed decentralisation and competition in this area, eroding the central government's and bankers' old monopoly control of the means of exchange.[43][44] Some monetary reformers believe that in a genuine free market, where government did not impose a monopoly currency on the populace, a gold standard or silver standard monetary system would arise spontaneously out of the free market because of their unique properties: their extraordinary malleability, their strong resistance to forgery, their character as stable and impervious to decay, and their inherently limited supply.[45]

See also


  1. For an example of the use of the term, see this contribution from
  2. Gold Standard, Michael Hutchinson
  3. Sound Money, Lew Rockwell
  4. Our Money Madness, Lew Rockwell
  5. The Case for a Gold Dollar, Murray Rothbard
  6. The Twilight of Irredeemable Debt, Antal E. Fekete
  7. As another example of such advocacy groups, see Italic this entry from the "Bible Believers" website
  8. See also Antal E. Fekete, G. Edward Griffin and Ludwig von Mises
  9. Bitcoin
  10. 10.0 10.1 Brown, Ellen H. (2007). Web of Debt. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Third Millennium Press. ISBN 0979560802. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  11. Stephen A. Zarlenga, The Lost Science of Money AMI (2002)
  12. Market Fundamentalism, Richard C. Cook
  13. As an example of such groups, see the Social Credit website and the Social Credit School of Studies
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Rowbotham, Michael (1998). The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery and Destructive Economics. Jon Carpenter Publishing. ISBN 9781897766408. 
  15. What has Government done to our money?, Murray Rothbard
  16. The Case for a 100% Gold Dollar, Murray Rothbard
  17. Free Banking and the Free Bankers, Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (Vol. 9, No. 1)
  18. Steve Keen, Jubilee Shares and the American Monetary Act
  19. Mankiw, N. Gregory (2002). Macroeconomics (5th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers. p. 485. ISBN 0-7167-5237-9. 
  20. Murray Rothbard, The Mystery of Banking
  21. 21.0 21.1 Mankiw, N. Gregory (2002). Macroeconomics (5th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers. p. 489. ISBN 0-7167-5237-9. 
  22. Mankiw, N. Gregory (2002). Macroeconomics (5th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers. p. 487. ISBN 0-7167-5237-9. 
  23. Murray Rothbard, The Mystery of Banking
  24. Murray Rothbard, The Mystery of Banking
  25. Gotterdämmerung, by Antal E. Fekete
  26. For an example of the public criticism of the current monetary system, see the speech of the Earl of Caithness in the House of Lords on 5 March 1997
  27. Other examples of such critics include Christian monetary reform groups such as the Bible Believers, Austrian Economists such as Murray Rothbard, and other monetary reformers such as Antal E Fekete, Stephen Zarlenga, and Michael Rowbotham
  28. As an example of groups critical of the World Bank, see the "Whirled Bank" website
  29. Manipulating the Interest Rate: a Recipe for Disaster, by Thorsten Polliet, December 2007
  30. Moral Hazard Effects of Central Bank Intervention, by Nouriel Roubini
  31. Uses and Abuses of Gresham's Law, by Robert Mundell
  32. The Role of Money, James Robertson
  33. The Road to Hyperinflation, Henry C.K. Liu
  34. As an example of such groups, see the Sustainable Economics website
  35. See for example Gary North, Gertrude Coogan’s Bluff, Greenback Populism as Conservative Economics
  36. Steve Keen, Jubilee Shares and the American Monetary Act
  37. Steve Keen, Jubilee Shares and the American Monetary Act
  38. America Created its Own Money in 1750, by Congressman Charles G. Binderup
  39. The Forgotten War
  40. Source of quote discussed here
  41. Quoted in the Michael Journal here
  42. The Microfinance Revolution, by Marguerite S. Robinson
  43. Not Losing Your Head, Speech by Lew Rockwell
  44. Free Market Money System by F.A. Hayek
  45. Theory of Money and Credit, Ludwig von Mises