Banking Assets Depreciation, Insolvency and Liquidation: Why are Defaults so Contagious?

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Interlinkages across balance sheets of financial institutions may be modeled by a weighted directed graph G = (V, e) on the vertex set V = {1,…, n} = [n], whose elements represent financial institutions. The exposure matrix is given by e ∈ Rn×n, where the ijth entry e(i, j) represents the exposure (in monetary units) of institution i to institution j. The interbank assets of an institution i are given by

A(i) := ∑j e(i, j), which represents the interbank liabilities of i. In addition to these interbank assets and liabilities, a bank may hold other assets and liabilities (such as deposits).

The net worth of the bank, given by its capital c(i), represents its capacity for absorbing losses while remaining solvent. “Capital Ratio” of institution i, although technically, the ratio of capital to interbank assets and not total assets is given by

γ(i) := c(i)/A(i)

An institution is insolvent if its net worth is negative or zero, in which case, γ(i) is set to 0.

A financial network (e, γ) on the vertex set V = [n] is defined by

• a matrix of exposures {e(i, j)}1≤i,j≤n

• a set of capital ratios {γ(i)}1≤i≤n

In this network, the in-degree of a node i is given by

d(i) := #{j∈V | e(j, i)>0},

which represents the number of nodes exposed to i, while its out-degree

d+(i) := #{j∈V | e(i, j)>0}

represents the number of institutions i is exposed to. The set of initially insolvent institutions is represented by

D0(e, γ) = {i ∈ V | γ(i) = 0}

In a network (e, γ) of counterparties, the default of one or several nodes may lead to the insolvency of other nodes, generating a cascade of defaults. Starting from the set of initially insolvent institutions D0(e, γ) which represent fundamental defaults, contagious process is defined as:

Denoting by R(j) the recovery rate on the assets of j at default, the default of j induces a loss equal to (1 − R(j))e(i, j) for its counterparty i. If this loss exceeds the capital of i, then i becomes in turn insolvent. From the formula for Capital Ration, we have c(i) = γ(i)A(i). The set of nodes which become insolvent due to their exposures to initial defaults is

D1(e, γ) = {i ∈ V | γ(i)A(i) < ∑j∈D0 (1 − R(j)) e(i, j)}

This procedure may be iterated to define the default cascade initiated by a set of initial defaults.

So, when would a default cascade happen? Consider a financial network (e, γ) on the vertex set V = [n]. Set D0(e, γ) = {i ∈ V | γ(i) = 0} of initially insolvent institutions. The increasing sequence (Dk(e, γ), k ≥ 1) of subsets of V defined by

Dk(e, γ) = {i ∈ V | γ(i)A(i) < ∑j∈Dk-1(e,γ) (1−R(j)) e(i, j)}

is called the default cascade initiated by D0(e, γ).

Thus Dk(e, γ) represents the set of institutions whose capital is insufficient to absorb losses due to defaults of institutions in Dk-1(e, γ).

Thus, in a network of size n, the cascade ends after at most n − 1 iterations. Hence, Dn-1(e, γ) represents the set of all nodes which become insolvent starting from the initial set of defaults D0(e, γ).

Consider a financial network (e, γ) on the vertex set V = [n]. The fraction of defaults in the network (e, γ) (initiated by D0(e, γ) is given by

αn(e, γ) := |Dn-1(e, γ)|/n

The recovery rates R(i) may be exogenous or determined endogenously by redistributing assets of a defaulted entity among debtors, proportionally to their outstanding debt. The latter scenario is too optimistic since in practice liquidation takes time and assets may depreciate in value due to fire sales during liquidation. When examining the short term consequences of default, the most realistic assumption on recovery rates is zero: Assets held with a defaulted counterparty are frozen until liquidation takes place, a process which can in practice take a pretty long time to terminate.

Open Market Operations. Thought of the Day 93.0

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It can be argued that it would be much more democratic if the Treasuries were allowed to borrow directly from their central bank. By electing a government on a program, we would know what deficit it intends to run and thus how much it will be willing to print, which in the long run is a debate about the possible level of inflation. Instead, it has been argued that decisions made on democratic grounds might be unstable as they are affected by elections. However, the independence of central banks is also serving the interest of commercial bankers as we argue now.

In practice, the central bank buys and sells bonds in open market operations. At least it is always doing so with short term T-bonds as part of the conventional monetary policy, and it might decide sometimes to do it as well with longer maturity T-bonds as part of the unconventional monetary policy. This blurs the lines between a model where the central bank directly finances the Treasury, and a model where this is done by commercial banks since they result in the same final situation. Indeed, before an open market operation the Treasury owes central bank money to a commercial bank, and in the final situation it owes it to the central bank itself, and the central bank money held by the commercial bank has been increased accordingly.

The commercial bank has accepted to get rid of an IOU which bears interest, in exchange of a central bank IOU which bears no interest. However the Treasury will never default on its debt, because the state also runs the central bank which can buy an infinite amount of T-bonds. Said differently, if the interest rates for short term T-bonds start to increase as the commercial banks become more and more reluctant to buy these, the central bank needs to buy as many short-term bonds as necessary to ensure the short term interest rates on T-bonds remain at the targeted level. By using these open market operations a sovereign state running a sovereign currency has the means to ensure that the banks are always willing to buy T-bonds, whatever the deficit is.

However, this system has a drawback. First when the commercial bank bought the T-bond, it had to pretend that it was worried the state might never reimburse, so as to ask for interests rates which are at least slightly higher than the interest rate at which they can borrow from the central bank, and make a profit on the difference. Of course the banks knew they would always be reimbursed, because the central bank always stands ready to buy bonds. As the interest rates departed from the target chosen by the central bank, the latter bought short term bonds to prevent the short term rate from increasing. In order to convince a commercial bank to get rid of a financial instrument which is not risky and which bears interest, the only solution is to pay more than the current value of the bond, which amounts to a decrease of the interest rate on those bonds. The bank thus makes an immediate profit instead of a larger profit later. This difference goes directly into the net worth of the banker and amounts to money creation.

To conclude, we reach the same stage as if the Treasury had sold directly its bond to the central bank, except that now we have increased by a small amount the net worth of the bankers. By first selling the bonds to the commercial banks, instead of selling directly to the central bank, the bankers were able to realize a small profit. But this profit is an immediate and easy one. So they have on one side to pretend they do not like when the Treasury goes into debt, so as to be able to ask for the highest possible interest rate, and secretly enjoy it since either they make a profit when it falls due, or even better immediately if the central bank buys the bonds to control the interest rates.

The commercial banks will always end up with a part of their assets denominated directly in central bank money, which bears no interest, and T-bonds, which bear interest. If we adopt a consolidated state point of view, where we merge the Treasury and the central bank, then the commercial banks have two types of accounts. Deposits which bear no interests, and saving accounts which generate interests, just like everybody. In order to control the interest rate, the consolidated state shifts the amounts from the interest-less to the interest-bearing account and vice-versa.

Asset Backed Securities. Drunken Risibility.

Asset Backed Securities (ABS) are freely traded financial instruments that represent packages of loans issued by the commercial banks. The majority are created from mortgages, but credit card debt, commercial real estate loans, student loans, and hedge fund loans are also known to have been securitized. The earliest form of ABS within the American banking system appears to stem from the creation of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) in 1938 as part of amendments to the US National Housing Act, a Great Depression measure aimed at creating loan liquidity. Fannie Mae, and the other Government Sponsored Enterprises buy loans from approved mortgage sellers, typically banks, and create guaranteed financial debt instruments from them, to be sold on the credit markets. The resulting bonds, backed as they are by loan insurance, are widely used in pension funds and insurance companies, as a secure, financial instrument providing a predictable, low risk return.

The creation of a more general form of Mortgage Backed Security is credited to Bob Dall and the trading desk of Salmon brothers in 1977 by Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street). Lewis also describes a rapid expansion in their sale beginning in 1981 as a side effect of the United States savings and loans crisis. The concept was extended in 1987 by bankers at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. to corporate bonds and loans in the form of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), which eventually came to include mortgage backed securities, and in the form of CDO-Squared instruments, pools of CDO.

Analysis of the systemic effects of Asset Backed Security has concentrated chiefly on their ability to improve the quantity of loans, or loan liquidity, which has been treated as a positive feature by Greenspan. It has also been noted that securitization allowed banks to increase their return on capital by transforming their operations into a credit generating pipeline process. Hyun Song Shin has also analysed their effect on bank leverage and the stability of the larger financial system within an accounting framework. He highlights the significance of loan supply factors in causing the sub-prime crisis. Although his model appears not to completely incorporate the full implications of the process operating within the capital reserve regulated banking system, it presents an alternate, matrix based analysis of the uncontrolled debt expansion that these instruments permit.

The systemic problem introduced by asset backed securities, or any form of sale that transfers loans made by commercial banking institutions outside the regulatory framework is that they allow banks to escape the explicit reserve and regulatory capital based regulation on the total amount of loans being issued against customer deposits. This has the effect of steadily increasing the ratio of bank originated loans to money on deposit within the banking system.

The following example demonstrates the problem using two banks, A and B. For simplicity fees related to loans and ABS sales are excluded. It is assumed that the deposit accounts are Net Transaction accounts carry a 10% reserve requirement, and that both banks are ”well capitalised” and that the risk weighted multiplier for the capital reserve for these loans is also 10.

The example proceeds as a series of interactions as money flows between the two banks. The liabilities (deposits) and assets (loans) are shown, with loans being separated into bank loans, and Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), depending on their state.

Initial Conditions: To simplify Bank B is shown as having made no loans, and has excess reserves at the central bank to maintain the balance sheet. The normal inter-bank and central bank lending mechanisms would enable the bank to compensate for temporary imbalances during the process under normal conditions. All deposit money used within the example remains on deposit at either Bank A or Bank B. On the right hand side of the table the total amount of deposits and loans for both banks is shown.

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Step 1: Bank A creates a $1000 Mortgage Backed Security from the loan on its balance sheet.

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Step 2: The securitized loan is sold to the depositor at Bank B. $1000 is paid to Bank A from that depositor in payment for the loan. Bank A now has no loans outstanding against its deposits, and the securitized loan has been moved outside of banking system regulation. Note that total deposits at the two banks have temporarily shrunk due to the repayment of the loan capital at A. The actual transfer of the deposits between the banks is facilitated through the reserve holdings which also function as clearing funds.

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Step 3: As Bank A now has no loans against its deposits, and is within its regulatory capital ratios, it can make a new $1000 loan. The funds from this loan are deposited at Bank B. The sum of the deposits rises as a result as does the quantity of loans. Note that the transfer of the loan money from Bank A to Bank B again goes through the reserve holdings in the clearing system and restores the original balance at Bank B.

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Step 4: Bank A securitizes the loan made in Step 3 repeating Step 1.

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Step 5: Bank A sells the MBS to the depositor at Bank B, repeating Step 2.

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Step 6: Bank A makes a new loan which is deposited at Bank B, repeating Step 3.

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Step 7: Bank A securitizes the loan made in Step 6, repeating Step 4.

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Since the Deposit and Loan positions of the two banks are identical in all respects in Steps (1,4), (2,5), (3,6) and (4,7) the process can continue indefinitely, resulting in expansion of the total commercial bank originated loan supply independent of central bank control.

This is a simplified version of the flows between loans, deposits, and asset backed securities that occur daily in the banking system. At no point has either bank needed recourse to central bank funds, or broken any of their statutory requirements with respect to capitalisation or reserve requirements where they apply.

The problem is the implicit assumption with reserve based banking systems that bank originated loans remain within the banking system. Allowing the sale of loans to holders outside of the regulated banking system (i.e. to entities other than regulated banks) removes these loans from that control and thus creates a systemic loophole in the regulation of the commercial bank loan supply.

The introduction of loans sales has consequently created a novel situation in those modern economies that allow them, not only in causing a significant expansion in total lending from the banking sector, but also in changing the systemic relationship between the quantity of money in the system to the quantity of bank originated debt, and thereby considerably diluting the influence the central bank can exert over the loan supply. The requirement that no individual bank should lend more than their deposits has been enforced by required reserves at the central bank since the 19th century in Europe, and the early 20th century in the USA. Serendipitously, this also created a systemic limit on the ratio of money to bank originated lending within the monetary system. While the sale of Asset Backed Securities does not allow any individual bank to exceed this ratio at any given point in time, as the process evolves the banking system itself exceeds it as loans are moved outside the constraints provided by regulatory capital or reserve regulation, thereby creating a mechanism for unconstrained growth in commercial bank originated lending.

While the asset backed security problem explains the dramatic growth in banking sector debt that has occurred over the last three decades, it does not explain the accompanying growth in the money supply. Somewhat uniquely of the many regulatory challenges that the banking system has created down the centuries, the asset backed security problem, in and of itself does not cause the banks, or the banking system to ”print money”.

The question of what exactly constitutes money in modern banking systems is a non-trivial one. As the examples above show, bank loans create money in the form of bank deposits, and bank deposits can be used directly for monetary purposes either through cheques or more usually now direct electronic transfer. For economic purposes then, bank deposits can be regarded as directly equivalent to physical money. The reality within the banking system however is somewhat more complex, in that transfers between bank deposits must be performed using deposits in the clearing mechanisms, either through the reserves at the central bank, or the bank’s own asset deposits at other banks. Nominally limits on the total quantity of central bank reserves should in turn limit the growth in bank deposits from bank lending, but it is clear from the monetary statistics that this is not the case.

Individually commercial banks are limited in the amount of money they can lend. They are limited by any reserve requirements for their deposits, by the accounting framework that surrounds the precise classification of assets and liabilities within their locale, and by the ratio of their equity or regulatory capital to their outstanding, risk weighted loans as recommended by the Basel Accords. However none of these limits is sufficient to prevent uncontrolled expansion.

Reserve requirements at the central bank can only effectively limit bank deposits if they apply to all accounts in the system, and the central bank maintains control over any mechanisms that allow individual banks to increase their reserve holdings. This appears not to be the case. Basel capital restrictions can also limit bank lending. Assets (loans) held by banks are classified by type, and have accordingly different percentage capital requirements. Regulatory capital requirements are divided into two tiers of capital with different provisions and risk categorisation applying to instruments held in them. To be adequately capitalised under the Basel accords, a bank must maintain a ratio of at least 8% between its Tier 1 and Tier 2 capital reserves, and its loans. Equity capital reserves are provided by a bank’s owners and shareholders when the bank is created, and exist to provide a buffer protecting the bank’s depositors against loan defaults.

Under Basel regulation, regulatory capital can be held in a variety of instruments, depending on Tier 1 or Tier 2 status. It appears that some of those instruments, in particular subordinated debt and hybrid debt capital instruments, can represent debt issued from within the commercial banking system.

Annex A – Basel Capital Accords, Capital Elements Tier 1

(a) Paid-up share capital/common stock

(b) Disclosed reserves

Tier 2

(a) Undisclosed reserves

(b) Asset revaluation reserves

(c) General provisions/general loan-loss reserves

(d) Hybrid (debt/equity) capital instruments

(e) Subordinated debt

Subordinated debt is defined in Annex A of the Basel treaty as:

(e) Subordinated term debt: includes conventional unsecured subordinated debt capital instruments with a minimum original fixed term to maturity of over five years and limited life redeemable preference shares. During the last five years to maturity, a cumulative discount (or amortisation) factor of 20% per year will be applied to reflect the diminishing value of these instruments as a continuing source of strength. Unlike instruments included in item (d), these instruments are not normally available to participate in the losses of a bank which continues trading. For this reason these instruments will be limited to a maximum of 50% of tier 1.

This is debt issued by the bank, in various forms, but of guaranteed long duration, and controlled repayment. In effect, it allows Banks to hold borrowed money in regulatory capital. It is subordinate to the claims of depositors in the event of Bank failure. The inclusion of subordinated debt in Tier 2 allows financial instruments created from lending to become part of the regulatory control on further lending, creating a classic feedback loop. This can also occur as a second order effect if any form of regulatory capital can be purchased with money borrowed from within the banking system

A Monetary Drain due to Excess Liquidity. Why is the RBI Playing Along

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And so we thought demonetization was not a success. Let me begin with the Socratic irony to assume that it was indeed a success, albeit not in arresting black money for sure. Yes, the tax net has widened and the cruelty of smashing down the informal sector to smithereens to be replaceable with a formal economy, more in the manner of sucking the former into the latter has been achieved. As far as terror funding is concerned, it is anybody’s guess and so let them be with their imaginations. What none can deny is the surge in deposits and liquidity in the wake of demonetization. But, what one has been consciously, or through an ideological-driven standpoint denying is the fact that demonetization clubbed with the governmental red carpet for foreign direct investment has been an utter failure to attract money into the country. And the reason attributed for the same has been a dip in the economy as a result of the idiosyncratic decision of November 8 added with the conjuring acts of mathematics and statistics in tweaking base years to let go off the reality behind a depleting GDP and project the country as the fastest growing emerging economy in the world. The irony I started off with is defeated here, for none of the claims that the government propaganda machine churns out on the assembly line are in fact anywhere near the truth. But, thats what a propaganda is supposed to doing, else why even call it that, or even call for a successful governance and so on and on (sorry for the Žižekian interjections here).

Assuming the irony still has traces and isn’t vanquished, it is time to move on and look into the effects of what calls for a financial reality-check. Abruptly going vertically through the tiers here, it is recently been talked about in the corridors of financial power that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is all set to drain close to 1.5 lakh crore in excess liquidity from the financial system as surging foreign investments forces the central bank to absorb the dollar inflows and sell rupees to cap gains in the local currency. This is really interesting, for the narrative or the discourse is again symptomatic of what the government wants us to believe, and so believe we shall, or shall we? After this brief stopover, chugging off again…Foreign investments into debt and shares have reached a net $31 billion this year, compared with $2.7 billion in sales last year, due to factors including India’s low inflation and improving economic growth. This is not merely a leap, but a leap of faith, in this case numerically. Yes, India is suffering from low inflation, but it ain’t deflation, but rather disinflation. There is a method to this maddening reason, if one needs to counter what gets prime time economic news in the media or passes on as Chinese Whispers amongst activists hell-bent on proving the futility of the governmental narrative. There is nothing wrong in the procedure as long as this hell-bent-ness is cooked in proper proportions of reason. But, why call it disinflation and not deflation? A sharp drop in inflation below the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% target has been driven by only two items – pulses and vegetables. the consumer price index (CPI), excluding pulses and vegetables, rose at the rate of 3.8% in July, much higher than the official headline figure of 2.4% inflation for the month. The re-calculated CPI is based on adjusted weights after excluding pulses and vegetables from the basket of goods and services. The two farm items – pulses and vegetables – have a combined weight of only 8.4% in the consumer price index (CPI) basket. However, they have wielded disproportionate influence over the headline inflation number for more than a year now owing to the sharp volatility in their prices. So, how does it all add up? Prices of pulses and vegetables have fallen significantly this year owing to increased supply amid a normal monsoon last year, as noted by the Economic Survey. The high prices of pulses in the year before and the government’s promises of more effective procurement may have encouraged farmers to produce more last year, resulting in a glut. Demonetisation may have added to farmers’ woes by turning farm markets into buyers’ markets. Thus, there does not seem to be any imminent threat of deflation in India. A more apt characterization of the recent trends in prices may be ‘disinflation’ (a fall in the inflation rate) rather than deflation (falling prices) given that overall inflation, excluding pulses and vegetables, is close to the RBI target of 4%. On the topicality of improving economic growth in the country, this is the bone of contention either weakening or otherwise depending on how the marrow is key up.

Moving on…The strong inflows have sent the rupee up nearly 7 per cent against the dollar and forced the RBI to buy more than $10 billion in spot market and $10 billion in forwards this year – which has meant an equivalent infusion in rupees. Those rupee sales have added liquidity into a financial system already flush with cash after a ban on higher-denomination currency in November sparked a surge in bank deposits. Average daily liquidity has risen to around Rs 3 lakh crore, well above the RBI’s goal of around Rs 1 lakh crore, according to traders. That will force the RBI to step up debt sales to remove liquidity and avoid any inflationary impact. Traders estimate the RBI will need to drain Rs 1 lakh crore to Rs 1.4 lakh crore ($15.7 billion to $22 billion) after taking into account factors such as festival-related consumer spending that naturally reduce cash in the system. How the RBI drains the cash will thus become an impact factor for bond traders, who have benefitted from a rally in debt markets. The RBI has already drained about Rs 1 lakh crore via one-year bills under a special market stabilisation scheme (MSS), as well as Rs 30,000 crore in longer debt through open market sales. MSS (Market Stabilisation Scheme) securities are issued with the objective of providing the RBI with a stock of securities with which it can intervene in the market for managing liquidity. These securities are issued not to meet the government’s expenditure. The MSS scheme was launched in April 2004 to strengthen the RBI’s ability to conduct exchange rate and monetary management. The bills/bonds issued under MSS have all the attributes of the existing treasury bills and dated securities. These securities will be issued by way of auctions to be conducted by the RBI. The timing of issuance, amount and tenure of such securities will be decided by the RBI. The securities issued under the MSS scheme are matched by an equivalent cash balance held by the government with the RBI. As a result, their issuance will have a negligible impact on the fiscal deficit of the government. It is hoped that the procedure would continue, noting staggered sales in bills, combined with daily reverse repo operations and some long-end sales, would be easily absorbable in markets. The most disruptive fashion would be stepping up open market sales, which tend to focus on longer-ended debt. That may send yields higher and blunt the impact of the central bank’s 25 basis point rate cut in August. The RBI does not provide a timetable of its special debt sales for the year. and if the RBI drains the cash largely through MSS bonds then markets wont get too much impacted. This brings us to close in proving the success story of demonetization as a false beacon, in that with a surge in liquidity, the impact on the market would be negligible if MSS are resorted to culminating in establishing the fact that demonetization clubbed with red-carpeted FDI has had absolutely no nexus in the influx of dollars and thus any propaganda of this resulting as a success story of demonetization is to be seen as purely rhetoric. QED.

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!!!