Banking: Intermediation or Money Creation
Prompt for Discussion
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Contributors: Morgan Ricks, Marc Lavoie, Robert Hockett, Saule Omarova, Michael Kumhof, Zoltan Jakab, Paul Tucker, Charles Kahn, Daniel Tarullo, Stephen Marglin, Howell Jackson and Christine Desan, Sannoy Das
Commercial banks are, indisputably, at the center of credit allocation in virtually all modern economies. Astonishingly, however, it remains controversial exactly how banks expand the money supply.
According to one view, banks operate as intermediaries who move money from savers to borrowers. The basic idea is that banks extend the monetary base by lending out of accumulated funds in a reiterative way. In round 1: a bank takes a deposit, sets aside a reserve, lends on the money; round 2 – the money lands in another bank, that bank sets aside a reserve, lends on the money; round 3 – the process repeats. Money’s operation is effectively multiplied in the economy because banks transmit funds constantly from (passive) savers to (active) borrowers, thus distributing money across those hands. The system works because savers, who are content to leave their funds alone, are unlikely to demand more than the (respective) reserve amounts back from any round. Banks balance their flow of funds over time as borrowers repay their loans.
According to another view, commercial banking activity amounts to “money creation” rather than the pooling and transmission of existing funds. Banks fund the loans they make by issuing deposits (or promises-to-pay in the official unit of account) that are treated by the wider community as money, not only as credit. They have, in effect, immediate purchasing power. The constraint on banks’ lending capacity is not the sum of previously accumulated funds, but the banks’ ability to clear obligations owed to other banks against obligations demanded from other banks. That activity depends on national payments systems coordinated and stabilized by central banks.
We open this roundtable to proponents of each approach to banking. We invite them to argue their case, to respond to one another, and to elaborate the implications that their view has on matters including the definition of money, the role of private capital accumulation, the relationship of commercial banks to central banks, and the behavior of the money supply.