2011-08-04

A Magical Method in the Money Making Madness

Inflation. No one likes too much of it, though there is some debate as to how much is good and how much is bad.

Inflation is often linked to money creation - though not always, since inflation can also result from supply shortages such as oil. Nevertheless history abounds with money printing experiments that ended up in hyperinflationary failure: Weimer Germany, Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Postwar Hungary and the Crisis of the Third Century being the best known ones.

Injudicious money creation will always create hyperinflation. If the Federal Reserve creates $1 out of thin air the amount of inflation it causes will be negligible. If it creates $1 Trillion the amount of inflation it causes will destroy the economy.

Of course money is created all the time through the fractional lending system. Most of this money is created by the commercial banking system. While some see conspiracies and unsustainability in this process, it has actually worked for millennia. Nevertheless the real heart of the fractional banking system is the role of the Central Bank, which, in the United States, is the Federal Reserve Bank.

Now I'm not going to go into the intricate details of how the system works. If you're unsure of how it works, go to the Wikipedia page. Using this as a basis, however, let me do some funny little experiments as to what injudicious money creation can theoretically do.

So here's graph no.1 showing how the system works in the United States. If we assume that the US economy is worth $1000 in total money supply, it looks like this:



This is, of course, identical to the Wikipedia page's graph.

But now let's begin playing. Let's say Congress and the President and the heads of the Fed suddenly suffer from a collective insanity... even more severe than the one they already have... and decide that they'll fix the deficit by simply creating money out of thin air. Now according to the latest data, the budget deficit is $1.2059 Trillion and represents around 8.11% of GDP. So what would happen if the powers that be decide to just create the money out of thin air, again assuming in our model that the US economy is worth $1000?


I've added the baseline there by way of comparison (the blue line). The yellow line represents the collectively insane decision.

That doesn't look too good does it? You're looking at a huge increase in the money supply and, as a result, a hyperinflationary situation probably similar to anything occurring through history.

But then let's take this even further. Let's say the US has been taken over by an Idiocracy... worse than the current mob... who decide that they'll just forget about taxes altogether and just create as much money as the government needs. Since the US Government represents about 25% of GDP, it would mean that an even greater amount of money would be added to the money supply:



Ouch. And that, my friends, is why money printing on the scale used by the Romans, the Germans, the Hungarians and Mugabe ends in abject failure.

But hang on, what's that thing called "The Reserve Rate"? - Well that's how much money commercial banks are forced to keep in reserve when lending. Adjusting the reserve rate is used by some nations (India and China for example) as a way of implementing monetary policy. If the reserve rate is increased, the money supply drops. If it is decreased, then the money supply is increased.

And so now my friends let me show you some real magic.

Let's go back to the US Government who wants to create money out of thin air simply to pay off the deficit, shown two graphs above, except this time we increase the reserve rate to 18.11%. Why 18.11%? Well it's the 10% reserve rate plus the 8.11% size of the deficit (in relation to GDP). So let's see what the outcome is:




What? Wait. Hang on? Is that possible? You're creating money out of thin air but not affecting the total money supply? Yes. How? By increasing the reserve rate.

Let me say this again: It is possible for large amounts of money to be created by fiat by a central bank and NOT induce inflation only if the reserve ratio is increased accordingly.

So what would happen in real life? Let's say the US Treasury, facing a shortfall in funds, approaches the Federal Reserve Bank for funds. The Fed then creates money by fiat, out of thin air, and gives it (not lends it) to Treasury. Treasury then uses this money to pay the bills. The Fed, however, increases the Reserve Rate accordingly to prevent the inflationary impact of this money creation.

Magic? No. Just a simple change to the equation - a change to the equation that was never thought of by Mugabe, Weimar Germany and others.

Don't believe me? Then do the spreadsheet yourself. Here is a screenshot of what I did with mine.

Long term readers of this blog might notice where I'm going here: My Zero Tax Idea. How would the graph look in the "Idiocracy" situation I described, where taxes are removed and the government is funded purely by money printing, except this time we adjust the Reserve Rate?



Yep. No increase in the total money supply and thus no inflation.

Is this mad? Does this completely misunderstand how the fractional banking system works? Or does this have the potential to revolutionise how governments work? It isn't Quantitative Easing, it's Quantitative Control.

Imagine: No taxes at all, but a completely functional government.

Note: This was discussed back in 2007 at Angry Bear. Megan McArdle at The Atlantic also examined it here. Since the math backs me up (as proven by the spreadsheet graphs), maybe we should seriously consider it?

EDIT: For nations that do not have a reserve rate (such as Australia) the baseline money creation would appear as a straight line going up at a 45% angle. In order for this system to work in countries that have no reserve rate, one must be introduced. This is how it would look:



But then what about nations with large governments? Take Denmark, for example, whose government represents 56.6% of economic output. How would this system react to such a large amount of central bank money? Would the fractional system still work? Yes:

3 comments:

InThinker said...

The problem, then, lies in how the banking system increases its reserve ratio, which you completely ignored. The only way it could do this is by massive banking sector profits, which would be extracted from the economy at large. There is no such thing as a free lunch...

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