Fractional Reserve Banking. An Attempt at Demystifying.

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FRB is a technique where a bank can lend more money than it has itself available (‘deposited’ by clients). Normally, a ratio is 9:1 is used, money lent vs. the base product of banking.

This base product used to be gold. So, a bank could issue 9 times more ‘bank notes’ (‘rights to gold’) than it had gold in its vault. Imagine, a person comes with a sack of 1 kilo of gold. This person gets a note from the bank saying “you have deposited 1 kilo of gold in my bank. This note can be exchanged for that 1 kilo of gold any time you want”. But it can legally give this same note to 8 more people! 9 notes that promise 1 kilo of gold for every kilo of gold deposited. Banks are masters of promising things they in no way whatsoever can ever fulfill. And, everybody knows it. And, still we trust the banks. It is an amazing mass denial effect. We trust it, because it gives us wealth. This confidence in the system is what is, actually, essential in the economy. Our civilization depends on the low-morality of the system and our unwavering confidence in it. You are allowed to lie even if the lie is totally and utterly obvious and undeniably without a shred of doubt a lie.

In modern times, the gold standard has been abandoned, because it limits the game. Countries with the most advanced financial structures are the richest. Abandoning the gold standard creates enormous wealth. Rich, advanced nations, therefore, have abandoned the gold standard. In modern banks, no longer gold, but money itself is the base. That is, the promissory notes promise promissory notes. It is completely air. Yet, it works, because everybody trusts it’ll work.

Moreover, banks no longer issue bank notes themselves, except the central bank. The ‘real’ money of the central bank is called ‘base money’ (M0 or ‘Tier 1’) and serves as ‘gold’ in modern banks. The ‘bank notes’ from the bank promise bank notes from the central bank.

Banks use this base money no longer to directly print money (bank notes), but something that is equivalent, namely to lend money to their clients by just adding a number on their account. This, once again, works because everybody trusts it works. But is has become even thinner than air. It is equal to vacuum. There is no physical difference whatsoever anymore between having money and not having it. If I have 0 on my account, or 10000000000000000 rupees, I have the same size information on the computer of my bank. The same number of bytes (however many they may be). I just hope that one day a tiny random fluctuation occurs in their computer and sets me the first bit to a ‘1’ (unless it is the ‘sign’ bit, of course!). Nobody would notice, since there is nowhere money disappearing in the world. Simply more vacuum has been created.

But, it gets even worse. This newly created ‘money’ (the number on an account of bank A) can be deposited in other banks (write a cheque, deposit it, or make a bank transfer to bank B). In this other bank B, it can again be used as a base for creating money by adding a number to peoples’ bank account. As long as a certain amount of base money (M0, or ‘Tier 1’) is maintained. As a side mark, note that bankers do not understand the commotion of the people in calling their rewards astronomical, since they know – in contrast to the people that think that money represents earning based on hard work – that money is vacuum. Giving a bonus to the manager in the form of adding a couple of zeros to her account in her own bank is nothing but air. The most flagrant case of self-referential emptiness is the bank that was bought with its own money.

In this way, the money circulating in the economy can be much larger than the base money (of the central bank). And, all this money is completely air. The amount of money in the world is utterly baseless. Since it is air, moreover an air-system that is invented to facilitate the creation of wealth, we can intervene in the system in any way we want, if we see that this intervention is needed to optimize the creation of wealth. Think of it like this: the money and the money system was invented to enable our trade to take place. If we see that money no longer serves us (but we, instead, seem to serve the money) and decide to organize this trade in another way, we can do so without remorse. If we want to confiscate money and redistribute it, this is morally justified if that is what it takes to enable the creation of wealth.

Especially since, as will be shown, there is no justice in the distribution. It is not as if we were going to take away hard-earned money from someone. The money is just accumulated on a big pile. Intervention is adequate, required and justified. Not intervening makes things much worse for everybody.

Important to make this observation: All money thus circulating in the world is borrowed money. Money is nothing less and nothing more than debt. Without lending and borrowing, there is no debt and there is no money. Without money, there is no trade and no economy. Without debt, the economy collapses. The more debt, the bigger the economy. If everybody were to pay back his/her debt, the system would crash.

Anyway, it is technically not possible to pay back the money borrowed. Why? Because of the interest rates.

Interest is the phenomenon that somebody who lends money – or actually whatever other thing – to somebody that borrows it, wants more money back than it gave. This is impossible.

To give you an example. Imagine we have a library, and this library is the only entity in the world that can print books. Imagine it lends books to its customers and after one week, for every book that it lent out, it wants two back. For some customers it may still be possible. I may have somehow got the book from my neighbor (traded it for a DVD movie?), and I can give the two books the library demands for my one book borrowed. But that would just be passing the buck around; now my neighbor has to give back to the library two books, where he has none. This is how our economy works. And, to explain you what the current solution is of our society is that the library says “You don’t have two books? Don’t worry. We make it a new loan. Two books now. Next week you can give us four”. This is the system we have. Printing money (‘books’) is limited to banks (‘libraries’). The rest borrow the money and in no way whatsoever – absolutely out of the question, fat chance, don’t even think about it – is it possible to give back the money borrowed plus the interest, because this extra money simply does not exist, nor can it be created by the borrowers, because that is reserved to the lenders only. Bankrupt, unless these lenders refinance our loans by new loans.

When explaining this to people, they nearly always fervently oppose this idea, because they think that with money new wealth can be created, and thus the loan can be paid back including the interest, namely with the newly created wealth. This, however, is wrong thinking, because wealth and the commodity used in the loan are different things.
Imagine it like this: Imagine I lend society 100 rupees from my bank with 3% interest. The only rupees in circulation, since I am the only bank. Society invests it in tools for mining with which they find a mother lode with 200 million tons of gold. Yet, after one year, I want 103 rupees back. I don’t want gold. I want money! If they cannot give me my rightful money, I will confiscate everything they own. I will offer 2 rupees for all their possessions (do they have a better offer somewhere?!). I’ll just print 2 extra rupees and that’s it. Actually it is not even needed to print new money. I get everything. At the end of the year, I get my 100 rupees back, I get the gold and mining equipment, and they still keep a debt of 1 rupee.

A loan can only be paid back if the borrower can somehow produce the same (!) commodity that is used in the loan, so that it can give back the loan plus the interest. If gold is lent, and the borrower cannot produce gold, he cannot give back the gold plus interest. The borrower will go bankrupt. If, on the other hand, chickens or sacks of grain are borrowed, these chickens or grain can be given back with interest.

Banks are the only ones that can produce money, therefore the borrowers will go bankrupt. Full stop.

To say it in another way. If we have a system where interest is charged on debt, no way whatsoever can all borrowers pay back the money. Somebody has to go bankrupt, unless the game of refinancing goes on forever. This game of state financing can go on forever as long as the economy is growing exponentially. That is, it is growing with constant percentage. The national debt, in terms of a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) remains constant, if we continuously refinance and increase the debt, as long as the economy GDP grows steadily too. The moment the economy stagnates, it is game over! Debt will rise quickly. Countries will go bankrupt. (Note that increasing debt is thus the result of a stagnating economy and not the other way around!).

The way the system decides who is going bankrupt, is decided by a feed-back system. The first one that seems to be in trouble has more difficulty refinancing its loans (”You have low credit rating. I fear you will not give me back my books. I want a better risk reward. It is now three books for every book borrowed. Take it or leave it! If you don’t like it, you can always decide to give me my books now and we’ll call it even”).

Thus, some countries will go bankrupt, unless they are allowed to let the debt grow infinitely. If not, sooner or later one of them will go bankrupt. In other words, the average interest rate is always zero. One way or another. If x% interest is charged, about x% go bankrupt. To be more precise, y% of the borrowed money is never returned, compensating for the (100 − y%) that do return it with x% profit. In a mathematical formula: (1 − y/100) × (1 + x/100) = 1, or y = 100x/(100 + x). This percentage goes bankrupt. For example, if 100% interest is charged, 50% goes bankrupt.

To take it to the extreme. If the market is cautious – full of responsible investors – and decides to lend money only to ‘stable’ countries, like Germany, which lately (times are changing indeed) has a very good credit rating from the financial speculators, even these ‘stable’ countries go bankrupt. That is, the weakest of these stable countries. If only money is borrowed to Germany, Germany goes bankrupt. Apart from the technical mathematical certainty that a country can only have a positive trade balance – essential in getting a good credit rating – if another country has a negative trade balance (the sum, being a balance, is always zero). Germany needs countries like Greece as much as it despises them.

Well, in fact, this is not true. A country does not – nay, it cannot – go bankrupt for money borrowing. Not if it is an isolated country with its own currency, being also the currency in which the money is borrowed. It can simply print money. That is because the money is their own currency based on their own economy!!!

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One thought on “Fractional Reserve Banking. An Attempt at Demystifying.

  1. The article is mind boggling. I am still think about it…what about the contribution of those who do not take loans, but deposit their money into banks for gaining the interest rates. In that case, may be, the ones who have taken the loan can earn their interest from the ones who have not taken a loan in order to pay principle+interest back to the banks. This case may end up surviving the system if the number of borrowers are less that number of depositors in proportion to the difference of the interest rates (of the debt vs deposit).

    But, in today’s world, we of course do not have this situation. Therefore your analyses stands valid! We live in a system where debt cannot be paid back, and yet the one who has taken it (mostly the rich) is compelled to make profit from the one who has not taken it (the poor), thereby endlessly increasing the rich-poor divide!

    And in the whole process, banks always end up becoming powerful and super-rich!

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