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Monetary reform describes any movement or theory that proposes a different system of supplying money and financing the economy than the current system.

Monetary reformers may advocate any of the following, among other proposals:

  • The issuance of interest-free credit from a government-controlled and fully owned central bank. These interest free but repayable loans would be used for public infrastructure and productive private investment. This proposal seeks to overcome the charge that debt-free money would cause inflation.

  • The issuance of social credit - "debt-free" money issued directly from the Treasury - rather than the sourcing of fresh money from a central bank in the form of interest-bearing bonds. These direct cash payments would be made to "replenish" or compensate the populace for the net losses some monetary reformers believe the populace suffers in a fractional reserve-based monetary system.

Common targets for reform

Of all the aspects of monetary policy, certain topics reoccur as targets for reform:

Fractional Reserve Banking

Fractional-reserve banking describes systems in which banks lend money while at the same time guaranteeing that depositors (whose money it is lending) will be able to make withdrawals on demand. A fraction of deposits is retained at the bank as reserves to cover normal withdrawals made by depositors. Because the bank extends a loan with money from depositors, while at the same time guaranteeing the deposits already held by the bank, this system has the effect of increasing the economy's money supply. When a bank makes a new loan, the funds will - generally speaking - be deposited in a bank again, where the same funds will be lent out again, increasing the money supply again. However, if the fraction of deposits that the bank withholds as reserves is greater than zero, each successive new loan will be slightly smaller than the previous loan, and the growth in the money supply will slow with each successive loan.

Several major historical examples of financial regulatory reform occurred in the twentieth century relating to fractional-reserve banking, made in response to the Great Depression and the crash of 1929. These reforms included the creation of deposit insurance (such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to mitigate against the danger of bank runs. Countries have also implemented legal reserve requirements which impose minimum reserve requirements on banks. It is believed by mainstream economists that these monetary reforms have made sudden disruptions in the banking system less frequent.

However, some critics of fractional reserve banking (such as members of the Austrian school) argue that the practice inherently amounts to a kind of "fraud" perpetrated against depositors/savers as it, in their view, artificially lowers real interest rates, destabilizes the money supply and contributes to volatile and wasteful business cycles (or "credit cycles"). Other critics, such as Michael Rowbotham, equate the practice with counterfeiting, where government-protected privileged private entities (the banks) are granted the legal right to create money "out of the nothing" while also being granted the right to charge interest on their creation. Michael Rowbotham argues that this concentrates wealth in the banking sector (which has a "cannibalizing" effect on the rest of the economy), causes the rest of the populace to slowly sink into debt slavery, creates volatile hyperinflation in the housing market and deflation in the consumer goods market, squeezes real wages, destroys farming and agriculture and de-industrializes heavily indebted economies.

Money no longer represents any intrinsic value

Banks loan out money through fractional-reserve banking, resultant money is no longer backed by a tangible asset. Money does not represent anything other than the debt of another; the only "tangible" aspect of the system is the borrower’s promise to pay back the interest and principal on the loan. Debt and the ability of borrowers to service that debt then becomes the underlying currency.

Governments do not supply money. Private banks do, for profit

Many people criticise the fact that governments pay interest for the use of their own money which the central bank creates "out of nothing" (to use William Paterson's famous phrase). This leaves the state of a nation's economy susceptible to the interests of private bankers who create the money solely for the purpose of creating ongoing profits for their employees and shareholders, without any other binding social or legal obligations to the broader community (or future generations) that are normally expected from government entities. Either private individuals or corporations borrow to fund themselves and their businesses, or government "borrows" money from the central bank to fund deficit spending.

Impact on developing nations

Some monetary reformers criticise existing global financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fundmarker and their policies regarding money supply, banks and debt in developing nations, in that they appear to these writers to be "forcing" a regime of extortionate or unpayable debt on weak Third World governments that do not have the capacity to pay the interest on these loans without severely affecting the well-being or even the viability of the local population. The attempt by weak Third World governments to service unrepayable debt with the sale of valuable hard and soft commodities on world markets is seen by some to be destructive of local cultures, destroying local communities and their environment.

Alternative money systems

Central Bank Independence

In an attempt to control the volatile, exponential growth of the money supply, some countries have created a currency board, or granted independence to their central bank. The Reserve Bank of New Zealandmarker, the Reserve Bank of Australiamarker and the Bank of Englandmarker are examples where the central bank is explicitly given the power to set interest rates and conduct monetary policy independent of any direct political intereference or direction from the central government. This may enable the setting of interest rates to be less susceptible to political interference and thereby assist in combating inflation (or debasement of the currency) by allowing the central bank to more effectively restrict the growth of M3. However, given that these policies do not address the more fundamental issues inherent in fractional reserve banking, many suggest that only more radical monetary reform can promote positive economic or social change. Although central banks may appear to control inflation, through periodic bank rescues and other means, they may inadvertently be forced to increase the money supply (and thereby debase the currency) to save the banking system from bankruptcy or collapse during periodic bank runs, thereby inducing moral hazard in the financial system, making the system susceptible to economic bubbles.

International Monetary Reform

Theorists such as Robert Mundell (and more radical thinkers such as James Robertson) see a role for global monetary reform as part of a system of global institutions alongside the United Nations to provide global ecological management and move towards world peace, with Robert Mundell in particular advocating the revived use of gold as a stabilising factor in the international financial system. Henry Liu of the Asia Times Online argues that monetary reform is an important part of a move towards post-autistic economics.

While some mainstream economists favour monetary reforms to reduce inflation and currency risk and to increase efficiency in the allocation of financial capital, the idea of all-encompassing reform for green or peace objectives is typically espoused by those on the left-wing of the subject and those associated with the anti-globalization movement.

Social Credit and the provision of debt-free money directly from government

Still other radical reform proposals emphasise monetary, tax and capital budget reform which empowers government to direct the economy toward sustainable solutions which are not possible if government spending can only be financed with more government debt from the private banking system. In particular a number of monetary reformers, such as Michael Rowbotham, Stephen Zarlenga and Ellen Hodgson Brown, support the restriction or banning of fractional-reserve banking (characterizing it as an illegitimate banking practice akin to embezzlement) and advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with government-issued debt-free fiat currency issued directly from the Treasury rather than from the quasi-government Federal Reserve.

Alternatively, some monetary reformers such as those in the Social Credit movement, support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank to fund infrastructure and sustainable social projects. This Social Credit movement flourished briefly in the early 20th century, but then became marginalized and died out in the post-World War II era.

Both these groups (those who advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with debt-free government-issued fiat, and those who support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank) see the provision of interest-free money as a way of freeing the working populace from the bonds of "debt slavery" and facilitating a transformation of the economy away from environmentally damaging consumerism and towards sustainable economic policies and environment-friendly business practices.

Examples of government issued debt-free money

Some Governments have experimented in the past with debt-free government-created money independent of a bank. The American Colonies used the "Colonial Scrip" system prior to the Revolution, much to the praise of Benjamin Franklin. He believed it was the efforts of English bankers to revoke this government-issued money that caused the Revolution. Abraham Lincoln used interest-free money created by the government to help the Union win the American Civil War. He called these 'Greenbacks' "the greatest blessing the people of this republic ever had."

The islands of Guernseymarker and Jerseymarker in the Channel Islands create their own money, the Guernsey pound and Jersey pound, to supplement the British Pound and the Scottish pound.

In America and Britain, however, government-issued money has never been able to gain enough momentum to become an established institution because of the large degree of influence that private bankers have in governments.

Binary economics proposes that central banks issue interest-free loans to the government and for public projects or private capital. They would be administered by the banking system for the spreading of productive capacity and consuming capacity, on market principles, throughout the population.

Local barter, local currency

Some go further and suggest that wholesale reform of money and currency, based on ideas from green economics or Natural Capitalism, would be beneficial. These include the ideas of soft currency, barter and the local service economy.

Local currency systems can operate within small communities, outside of government systems, and use specially printed notes or tokens called scrips for exchange. Barter takes this further by swapping goods and services directly; a compromise being the Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) scheme: a formalised system of Community-based economics that records members’ mutual credit in a central location.

Micro credit

Banks offering small loans on simple interest, not compound interest, can make a difference to small-scale business people trying to make a start without collateral. The Grameen Bank instituted this technique and remains popular and influential.

Return to the gold standard

A move away from fiat money towards a hard currency or asset-backed currency does not necessarily mean using commodity money such as gold, silver or both in daily transactions. The vast majority of the gold supposedly in reserve is held by the Federal Reserve as collateral for the national debt. The currency could be tied to the good faith and credit of the United States Government, which already issues bonds on the open market, which in turn could be redeemable in gold or silver. Digital means are also now possible to allow trading in hard currencies such as gold, and some believe a new free market will emerge in money production and distribution, as the internet allows renewed decentralisation and competition in this area, eroding the central government's and bankers' old monopoly control of the means of exchange. Some monetary reformers believe that in a genuine free market, where government did not impose a monopoly currency on the populace, a gold standard or silver standard monetary system would arise spontaneously out of the free market because of their unique properties: their extraordinary malleability, their strong resistance to forgery, their character as stable and impervious to decay, and their inherently limited supply.


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