By Daniel Margrain
Switzerland is set to hold a referendum to decide whether to ban commercial banks from creating money. This follows a move by over 110,000 people in that country who signed a petition calling for the central bank to be given the sole power to create money within the financial system. The campaign is designed to limit financial speculation by requiring banks to hold 100 per cent reserves against their deposits.
Banks will no longer be able to create money for themselves (euphemistically termed fractional reserve banking), rather they will only be allowed to lend money that they have accumulated from savers or other banks. Currently banks are able to lend money that they don’t actually have and then command interest on the non-existent money.
This is akin to x offering to loan y a sum of say, £100,000 that the former hasn’t got. The way around this conundrum is for x to then lodge the sum with another financial institution who happens to be in on the scam. Y then pays x interest on the money that x has never been in the position to lend in the first place. Switzerland is now considering whether or not to do something about this fractional reserve banking racket. If successful, the bill will give the Swiss National Bank a monopoly on physical and electronic money creation.
The idea of limiting all money creation to central banks was first touted in the 1930s and supported by renowned US economist Irving Fisher as a way of preventing asset bubbles and curbing reckless spending. It’s the former that most accurately characterizes the current financial system. The rising cost of housing is an example of a major asset bubble underpinned by a Tory government housing policy that is geared towards satisfying the asset diversification needs of the super rich rather than to meet the human need for homes for ordinary people to live in.
So the motivating factor determining the government’s housing policy is not to end the housing crisis but to bolster the investment opportunities of the rich which will make it worse. This is what David Cameron’s announcement yesterday (January 10) regarding the governments’ intention to demolish council homes and replace them with private housing is all about.
This is also the precursor to the newly proposed Housing and Planning Bill (voted on today, January 12) which will force families living in social housing and earning £30,000-£40,000 in London to pay rents nearly as high as those in the private sector. It will also compel local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, either by transferring public housing into private hands or giving the land it sits on to property developers.
The 126 MPs who declared that they receive rental income from property, represent over 19 per cent of the house, the vast majority of whom are Conservatives. The voting through of the bill, which almost certainly represents a major conflict of interest, will lead to soaring rents meaning that ordinary people will find it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the capital. As the statement on a flyer that promoted a protest against the bill argued:
“It [the bill] takes public funding away from affordable homes for rent and does nothing to improve security or control rents for private renters.
“This is turning back the clock, taking away security and pushing up rents. It would force the selloff of council homes on the open market, to pay for housing association ‘right to buy 2’. Councils and housing associations will not be able to build replacement homes for rent.”
The exponential growth in the construction of new tower blocks throughout London and other major cities are not intended for local residents to live in, thereby helping to ameliorate the worst excesses of the housing crisis, rather they are being built for foreign investment funds and billionaires to buy on mass as financial safe havens.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), a relatively favourable temperate climate, convenient geographical location, the establishment of law and order, good schools and infrastructure, minimal history of revolution and good transport hubs and networks, means that London is a particularly attractive place for the rich to increase their property investment portfolios.
However, these investments in houses and apartments are essentially made of cards built on sand predicated on a financial illusion of which the Swiss example described is symptomatic. The context of the illusion that the Swiss people are soon to vote on is historically tied the the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Since 1891 when the SNB was established, the bank has had exclusive powers to mint coins and issue Swiss bank notes. But over 90 per cent of money in circulation in Switzerland now exists in the form of electronic cash which is created out of nothing by private banks. In other words, nearly all of the money in Switzerland, and arguably the world, does not in reality exist as a tangible entity.
In modern market economies central banks control the creation of bank notes and coins but not the creation of all money which occurs when a commercial bank offers a line of credit. Iceland, whose bloated banking system collapsed in 2008, has also touted the abolition of private money creation and an end to a practice in which a central bank accepts deposits, makes loans and investments and holds reserves that are a fraction of its deposit liabilities. Fractional banking means the production of money from thin air.
The entire financial system and the laws on which it is governed that many believe to be an exact science is, in reality, based on a gigantic illusion. The fact that Britain’s banks are paying far less in corporation tax than before the crisis, despite their profits improving and global tax payments staying constant, is illustrative of a flawed unscientific system that society has nevertheless hitched itself on to. Rather than the Cameron government investing in a productive based economy in which tangible things are made, bought and sold, it has focused disproportionately on financialization – an abstraction predicated on smoke and mirrors.
The money illusion stems from the Bill of Exchange Act of 1882. Effectively, money is created the moment a loan document from a bank or any other financial institution is signed. Having created a financial instrument as a result of any signature, the bank or financial institution then lends the money created in the form of a bill of exchange which in effect becomes a promissory note. The customer then gives the power of attorney within the signed document to the bank to then lend the said customer the money that has just been created as a result of the signature.
By removing the requirement of the government to insist upon the amount of gold being equal to the amount of currency in circulation (gold exchange), they created a debt based economy (Fiat currency). So by not basing money on anything material whatsoever, central banks are able to create limitless amounts of it effectively by pressing numbers on the keyboard of a computer. The origins of the promissory note stem from the promise to pay a physical sum of silver (subsequently gold) in exchange for the promissory equivalent (sterling was originally based on sterling silver).
The purpose was to prevent individuals from having to carry large sums of silver around with them. A silversmith would simply weigh the silver and give the owner a promissory note which could then be cashed in at a later date to be spent on goods and services. Up until the 1930s, governments’ were required to have in their possession an amount of silver or gold equal in value to the amount of promissory notes issued. This requirement was removed in the 1930s which then gave banks the right to create money out of nothing. This is a legacy that continues today. Will Switzerland be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in this state of affairs?