Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tom Woods: Why the Greenbackers Are Wrong

One of the strident critics of the US Federal Reserve have been the Greenbackers. 

Greenbackers represent a left wing American political party backed by the ideology which embraces inflationism (hence “greenbacks” in reference to non-gold backed paper money) and who are opposed to the gold standard due to its deflationary outcome. Greenbackers desire the engagement of more money printing as a solution to social ills.

One of the Greenback movement’s most vocal spokesperson Atty. Ellen Brown has been repeatedly critiqued by Austrian economist Gary North.

At the 2013 Austrian Economic Research Conference, Austrian economist Thomas Woods points out of the basic economic errors of the Greenback’s ideology by dealing with money basics, which is why I posted his paper.

Here is a snip of Tom Woods’ paper:
One of Ron Paul’s great accomplishments is that the Federal Reserve faces more opposition today than ever before. Readers of this site will be familiar with the arguments: the Fed enjoys special government privileges; its interference with market interest rates gives rise to the boom-bust business cycle; it has undermined the value of the dollar; it creates moral hazard, since market participants know the money producer can bail them out; and it is unnecessary to and at odds with a free-market economy.

Unfortunately, not all Fed critics, even among Ron Paul supporters, approach the problem in this way. A subset of the end-the-Fed crowd opposes the Fed for peripheral or entirely wrongheaded reasons. For this group, the Fed is not inflating enough. (I have been told by one critic that our problem cannot be that too much money is being created, since he doesn’t know anyone who has too many Federal Reserve Notes.) Their other main complaints are (1) that the Fed is “privately owned” (the Fed’s problem evidently being that it isn’t socialistic enough), (2) that fiat money is just fine as long as it is issued by the people’s trusty representatives instead of by the Fed, and (3) that under the present system we are burdened with what they call “debt-based money”; their key monetary reform, in turn, involves moving to “debt-free money.” These critics have been called Greenbackers, a reference to fiat money used during the Civil War. (A fourth claim is that the Austrian School of economics, which Ron Paul promotes, is composed of shills for the banking system and the status quo; I have exploded this claim already – here, here, and here.)

With so much to cover I don’t intend to get into (1) right now, but it should suffice to note that being created by an act of Congress, having your board’s personnel appointed by the U.S. president, and enjoying government-granted monopoly privileges without which you would be of no significance, are not the typical features of a “private” institution. I’ll address (2) and (3) throughout what follows.

The point of this discussion is to refute the principal falsehoods that circulate among Greenbackers: (a) that a gold standard (either 100 percent reserve or fractional reserve) or the Federal Reserve’s fiat money system yields an outcome in which outstanding loans cannot all be paid because there is “not enough money” to pay both the principal and the interest; (b) that if the banks are allowed to issue loans at interest they will eventually wind up with all the money; and that the only alternative is “debt-free” fiat paper money issued by government.

My answers will be as follows: (1) the claim that there is “not enough money” to pay both principal and interest is false, regardless of which of these monetary systems we are considering; and (2) even if “debt-free” money were the solution, the best producer of such money is the free market, not Nancy Pelosi or John McCain.
Read the rest here

This portion where Mr. Woods deals with the how the banking system would be regulated by economic forces in a free market environment is particularly worth quoting:
as with every other industry, profit regulates production. The production of money, like the production of all other goods, settles on a normal rate of return, and is not uniquely poised to shower participants in that industry with premium profits. As more firms enter the industry, the rising demand for the factors of production necessary to produce the money puts upward pressure on the prices of those factors. Meanwhile, the increase in money production itself puts downward pressure on the purchasing power of the money produced.

In other words, these twin pressures of (1) the increasing costliness of money production and (2) the decreasing value of the money thus produced (since the more money that exists, ceteris paribus, the lower its purchasing power) serve to regulate money production in the same way they regulate the production of all other goods in the economy.

Once the gold is mined, it needs to be converted into coins for general use, and subsequently stamped with some form of reliable certification indicating the weight and fineness of those coins. Private firms perform such certification for a wide variety of goods on the free market. This service is provided for newly coined money by mints.

Banking services would exist on the free market to the extent that people valued financial intermediation, as well as the various services, such as check-writing and the safekeeping of money, that banks provided.

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