Monday, March 25, 2013

Central Bank Fractional Banking System: Bank Runs or Inflation

The incumbent central bank fractional banking system means a choice between bank runs and price inflation.

The great dean of Austrian school of economics Murray N. Rothbard explained. (bold mine)

1. Why fractional reserve banks are uninsurable
The answer lies in the nature of our banking system, in the fact that both commercial banks and thrift banks (mutual-savings and savings-and-loan) have been systematically engaging in fractional-reserve banking: that is, they have far less cash on hand than there are demand claims to cash outstanding. For commercial banks, the reserve fraction is now about 10 percent; for the thrifts it is far less.

This means that the depositor who thinks he has $10,000 in a bank is misled; in a proportionate sense, there is only, say, $1,000 or less there. And yet, both the checking depositor and the savings depositor think that they can withdraw their money at any time on demand. Obviously, such a system, which is considered fraud when practiced by other businesses, rests on a confidence trick: that is, it can only work so long as the bulk of depositors do not catch on to the scare and try to get their money out. The confidence is essential, and also misguided. That is why once the public catches on, and bank runs begin, they are irresistible and cannot be stopped.

We now see why private enterprise works so badly in the deposit insurance business. For private enterprise only works in a business that is legitimate and useful, where needs are being fulfilled. It is impossible to "insure" a firm, even less so an industry, that is inherently insolvent. Fractional reserve banks, being inherently insolvent, are uninsurable.
2. Money Printing as camouflage. The political choice of inflation over bank runs.
What, then, is the magic potion of the federal government? Why does everyone trust the FDIC and FSLIC even though their reserve ratios are lower than private agencies, and though they too have only a very small fraction of total insured deposits in cash to stem any bank run? The answer is really quite simple: because everyone realizes, and realizes correctly, that only the federal government--and not the states or private firms--can print legal tender dollars. Everyone knows that, in case of a bank run, the U.S. Treasury would simply order the Fed to print enough cash to bail out any depositors who want it. The Fed has the unlimited power to print dollars, and it is this unlimited power to inflate that stands behind the current fractional reserve banking system.

Yes, the FDIC and FSLIC "work," but only because the unlimited monopoly power to print money can "work" to bail out any firm or person on earth. For it was precisely bank runs, as severe as they were that, before 1933, kept the banking system under check, and prevented any substantial amount of inflation.

But now bank runs--at least for the overwhelming majority of banks under federal deposit insurance--are over, and we have been paying and will continue to pay the horrendous price of saving the banks: chronic and unlimited inflation.

New Picture (20)
The political choice of inflation over bank runs can be seen via the loss of US dollar’s purchasing power.

Since the establishment of the US Federal Reserve in 1913, one US dollar in 1913 has an equivalent of buying power of $23.45 today according to the BLS inflation calculator. This means the US dollar have lost nearly 96% of their purchasing power. Chronic and unlimited inflation indeed.

The other implication is that the choice of inflation over bankruns means a subsidy to banks at society's expense.
3. Abolish the central banking system and ancillary regulators. Restore sound money
Putting an end to inflation requires not only the abolition of the Fed but also the abolition of the FDIC and FSLIC. At long last, banks would be treated like any firm in any other industry. In short, if they can't meet their contractual obligations they will be required to go under and liquidate. It would be instructive to see how many banks would survive if the massive governmental props were finally taken away.

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