The biggest critic of India’s $100 billion budget deficit is also one of the largest purchasers of the debt that finances it: the central bank.The Reserve Bank of India faults government expenditure for stoking inflation even as its sovereign-bond holdings have risen to $91 billion from negligible amounts in 2008. While it has a mandate for price stability -- like counterparts in the U.S., Europe and Japan -- the RBI has another charge its peers lack: ensuring the government achieves its borrowing program.The RBI’s ability to damp the cost of living may be further curtailed by record government borrowing and spending next fiscal year, stoking demand and prices in an economy facing supply constraints. The inflation threat adds pressure on India to join nations from the U.S. to Brazil in separating debt management from inflation control. A bill to do so has been sent for cabinet approval, two Finance Ministry officials said…The bank holds about 27 percent of the sovereign bonds issued since 2008, when its holdings stood at $2.5 billion, according to calculations by Bloomberg News based on RBI data.
Deficits mean that the federal government is spending more than it is taking in in taxes. Those deficits can be financed in two ways. If they are financed by selling Treasury bonds to the public, then the deficits are not inflationary. No new money is created; people and institutions simply draw down their bank deposits to pay for the bonds, and the Treasury spends that money. Money has simply been transferred from the public to the Treasury, and then the money is spent on other members of the public.On the other hand, the deficit may be financed by selling bonds to the banking system. If that occurs, the banks create new money by creating new bank deposits and using them to buy the bonds. The new money, in the form of bank deposits, is then spent by the Treasury, and thereby enters permanently into the spending stream of the economy, raising prices and causing inflation. By a complex process, the Federal Reserve enables the banks to create the new money by generating bank reserves of one-tenth that amount. Thus, if banks are to buy $100 billion of new bonds to finance the deficit, the Fed buys approximately $10 billion of old Treasury bonds. This purchase increases bank reserves by $10 billion, allowing the banks to pyramid the creation of new bank deposits or money by ten times that amount. In short, the government and the banking system it controls in effect "print" new money to pay for the federal deficit.Thus, deficits are inflationary to the extent that they are financed by the banking system; they are not inflationary to the extent they are underwritten by the public.