How land barons, industrialists and bankers corrupted economics

henry-george

The so-called discipline of economics has been systematically corrupted in two major ways: first to get rid of the word ‘land’ from the very language of economics and second to downplay, omit or misrepresent any discussion of the words ‘credit’, ‘banking’ and ‘money’. They shamelessly describe banks as intermediaries when they know this is a minor function and that bank’s major function is money creation.  Fortunately the story behind the flagrant omission of land as a factor of production has now emerged, while the money story remains for some enterprising researcher in the future, (though various DVDs and stories hint in that direction).

The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, while free online, is hardly known; as of December 2015 only three New Zealand university libraries and the Auckland Public Library held copies. Yet in it is a very important story.

Fred Harrison describes the phenomenon of Henry George, the San Francisco journalist who took the world by storm with his book Progress and Poverty in 1879, in which he argues that the benefits of land ownership must be shared by all and that a single tax is needed to fund government –  a land tax. The factors of production are land, capital and labour. Untax labour and tax land was the cry. Poverty could be beaten. Social justice was possible!

Of Henry George influential economic historian John Kenneth Galbraith writes,

In his time and even into the 1920s and 1930s Henry George was the most widely read of American economic writers both at home and in Europe. He was, indeed, one of the most widely read of Americans. Progress and Poverty… in various editions and reprintings… had a circulation in the millions.

Unlike many writers, Henry George didn’t stop there. He took his message of hope everywhere he could travel – across America and to England, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Ireland.  He turned political. Seven years after his book came out in remote California, in 1886 he narrowly missed out on being elected Mayor of New York, outpolling Teddy Roosevelt.  During the 1890s George, Henry George was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. Ten years after Progress and Poverty he was influencing a radical wing of the British Liberal Party. He was read by semi-literate workers from Birmingham, Alabama to Liverpool, England. His Single Tax was understood by peasants in the remotest crofts of Scotland and Ireland.

Gaffney’s section of the book outlines how certain rich land barons, industrialists and bankers funded influential universities in America and proceeded to change the direction of their economics departments. He names names at every turn, wading through presidents and funders of many prestigious universities. In particular, Gaffney, an economist himself, names the economists bought  to discredit Henry George's theories, their debates with George and their papers written over many decades.

‘George’s ideas were carried worldwide by such towering figures as Lloyd George in England, Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Kerensky in Russia, Sun Yat-sen in China, hundreds of local and state and a few power national politicians in both Canada and the USA, Billy Hughes in Australia, Rolland O’Regan in New Zealand, Chaim Weizmann in Palestine, Francisco Madero in Mexico, and many others in Denmark, South Africa and around the world. In England Lloyd George’s budget speech of 1909 reads in part as though written by Henry George himself. Some of Winston Churchill’s speeches were written by Georgist ghosts.’

When he died there were 100,000 at his funeral.

The wealthy and influential just couldn’t let the dangerous ideas spread. Their privileged position was gravely threatened. Henry George must be stopped. But the strategy had to be subtle. What better route than by using their money to influence the supposed fount of all knowledge, the universities? That would then indoctrinate journalists and the general public. Nice one!

The story explains how, for their wealthy paymasters, academics corrupted the language to subsume land under capital as a factor of production. They redefined rent, and created a jargon to confuse public debate. Harrison says, ‘For a century they have taken people down blind alleys with abstract models and algebraic equations. Economics became detached from the real world in the course of the twentieth century.’

Yes, the wealthy paid money to buy scholars to pervert the science.

Gaffney’s rich, whimsical language is a joy to read. He writes to Harrison,

‘Systematic, universal brainwashing is the crime, tendentious mental conditioning calculated to mislead students, to impoverish their mental ability, to bend their minds to the service of a system that funnels power and wealth to a parasitic minority.’

He painstakingly describes the funding of various American universities by such figures as JP Morgan and John D Rockefeller who choose the President who obligingly appoints suitable head economists to key academic positions. Gaffney trawls through the writings of key figures in neoclassical economics over many decades, quoting numerous pieces attacking Henry George and his Single Tax proposal. Several neoclassical economists actually debated George in person. These early neoclassical economists were J B Clark, Philip Wicksteed, Alfred Marshall, ERA Seligman and Francis A Walker, who each contributed something to ‘addle, baffle, boggle and dazzle the laity’.  J B Clark, for instance, has a bibliography that quotes at least 24 works directed against George over a span of 28 years.

Banker JP Morgan funnelled his wealth through Seth Low to Columbia University in New York, and John D Rockefeller did the same in Chicago. Ezra Cornell, who Gaffney says once held one million acres of land, creator of the Western Union Monopoly, founded Cornell University in Ithaca, New York State. Leland Stanford of Southern Pacific Railroad (really a land company), funded Stanford University. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland was endowed by Johns Hopkins, millionaire merchant and investor.

Each of these benefactors appointed their own president. Hopkins appointed Daniel Gilman as President. Out of that university came eleven Presidents of the American Economics Association. Gilman had a natural hatred of Henry George as he had been hounded out of Berkeley by the crusading young journalist when he uncovered ‘Gilman’s improper diversion of the Morrill Act funds.’

In his chapter entitled The Chicago School Poison, Gaffney writes:

John D Rockefeller funded Chicago spectacularly in 1892, and started raiding other campuses by raising salaries. Rockefeller picked the first President, William Rainey Harper. Harper picked the first economist, J Laurence Laughlin, from Andrew Dickson White’s Cornell (he liked Laughlin’s rigid conservative and anti-populist views. Harper drove out Veblen in 1906, then died, leaving Laughlin in charge of economics until he retired in 1916. He passed the torch to J. M. Clark, the son and collaborator of J.B.Clark. Frank Knight came to Chicago in 1917 from Laughlin’s Cornell. The apostolic succession is very clear from Rockefeller to Harper to Laughlin to Clark to Knight. …Chicago to this day is still the lengthened shadow of John D Rockefeller.

In terms of numbers, and intensity of feeling generated, Knight probably produced more neoclassical economists than anyone in history. He made no secret of his firm opposition to Henry George and ideas that might comfort Georgists. His enduring interest and his viewpoint are clear from the title “Fallacies in the Single Tax” (1953)

Who would have thought nowadays that Henry George had to be neutralised? After all, he wrote his books and did his public speaking and touring from 1870 to 1897.

It was in these five Universities that neoclassical economics developed to the stage where it has almost completely taken over from classical economics, and it was out of these universities that the American Association of Economists was founded in 1885 by Ely, Walker, Edwin Seligman and others. He notes they did not welcome ‘reformers’.

In addition, Richard Ely retired after a long career a John Hopkins University, to establish what he called The Institute for Research in Land and Public Utilities whose purpose was ‘to investigate all problems connected with land taxation’. Contributors included utilities, railways, building and loan associations, land companies, lumbermen, farmers, bankers, lawyers and insurance men.

At least two of these academics were wealthy – E R A Seligman of Columbia came from a wealthy banking family. Richard Ely, who was known as the ‘Dean of American economists,’ was a well-connected land speculator, making a small fortune in Wisconsin real estate. He spent his life rationalising land speculation.

To give you another taste of Gaffney (take a big breath): ‘To most modern readers, probably George seems too minor a figure to have warranted such an extreme reaction. This impression is a measure of the neo-classicals’ success; it is what they sought to make of him. It took a generation, but by 1930 they had succeeded in reducing him in the public mind. In the process of succeeding, however, they emasculated the discipline, impoverished economic thought, muddled the minds of countless students, rationalised free-riding by landowners, took dignity from labour, rationalised chronic unemployment, hobbled us with today’s counterproductive tax tangle, marginalised the obvious alternative system of public finance, shattered our sense of community, subverted a rising economic democracy for the benefit of rent-takers and led us into becoming an increasingly nasty and dangerously divided plutocracy.’

Let’s turn a blind eye to money too

The omission of the words credit, banking and money or the downright distortion of facts in university teaching was also no accident. The publishing in 1906 of Silvio Gesell’s book The Natural Economic Order sparked a decades-long movement. Gesell has been described by Irving Fisher as a ‘strangely neglected prophet’. John Maynard Keynes wrote, ‘I believe that the future will learn more from the spirit of Gesell than from that of Marx.’

For centuries American politicians and British politicians had been treating money creation as a political issue.Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are two who knew that banks create money. But after the arrival of neoclassical economics in the late nineteenth century, things started to change. To please the banks who profit from land ownership, mention of the words ‘money’, ‘credit’ and ‘banking’ was also omitted, especially after the widespread influence of both Major CH Douglas from the 1920s and Silvio Gesell’s advocacy of a decaying currency. It was a bit worrying for banks that the Social Credit Party in New Zealand won 12% of the vote in 1953. So a Royal Commission on Banking and Credit was set up. In 1956 it found that banks were ‘banks of issue as well as banks of deposit’. However, thanks to their spin doctors, politicians their  managed to misrepresent the findings well enough for the public to believe the Commission had ruled the opposite. Who knows what mischief went on behind the scenes? Universities fell into line. Academic teaching on money creation was reduced to a brazenly inaccurate paragraph or two, misleading generations of students. But money is really created by private banks as interest-bearing debt. This writes in a growth imperative, ensuring we depend on exponentially growing debt and continue to monetise and privatise the commons.

If universities are a vehicle for spreading misinformation about how money is created we can more easily understand the simple and chilling statement of Mayer Amschel Rothschild , “Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws.”

Predicting the Global Financial Crisis

The corruption of economics in universities is no trivial matter. Economic crises are serious matter involving loss of homes, savings and jobs and economists need the right tools to predict them so they can deal with them. Tragically only a handful of economists predicted the Global Financial Crisis  of 2007-8 and the Queen of England was known to ask, ‘Why didn’t anyone see this coming?’ Professor Steve Keen in his book Debunking Economics spends a chapter summarising the work of a Dutch economist, Dr Dirk Bezemer. After laying down certain criteria for selection, he concludes there were only 12 (two published together). He named Dean Baker, Wynne Godley, Fred Harrison (UK), Michael Hudson, Eric Janszen, Steve Keen (Australia), Jakob Madsen & Jens Kjaer Sørensen (Denmark), Kurt Richebächer, Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff and Robert Shiller. Subsequently Bezemer had the list at three dozen, but out of a total profession of at least 20,000 it is a very dismal record. If any other profession (e.g medicine) was so wrong in something that affected millions they would be sued. The universities who train economists should hang their heads in shame.

Hyman Minsky claimed that in prosperous times, when corporate cash flow rises beyond what is needed to pay off debt, a speculative euphoria develops, and soon thereafter debts exceed what borrowers can pay off from their incoming revenues, which in turn produces a financial crisis. He said we moved from a hedging stage where risk is low to a speculative stage and finally to a Ponzi stage. A key indicator was the growth of private debt as a fraction of GDP. The “Bezemer 12” quoted above had in common that they were concerned with the distinction between the financial economy (making money from money) and the real economy. Keen wrote in 2009, “Unfortunately after the crisis everything being done by policy makers around the world is instead trying to restart private borrowing.” Sadly Wikipedia notes that while Minsky's theories have enjoyed some popularity, they have had little influence in mainstream economics or in central bank policy.

These same people are among those now warning of a very much larger international financial collapse, as debt deflation takes hold and ongoing globalisation locks the global economy ever more tightly together. Economics is too important to be left to mistaught economists. The absence of good, reality-based economic theory in education leaves millions of environmental and social activists – along with the compassionate right – to flounder about helplessly trying to solve growing inequality and the climate crisis.

Challenging the universities Tackling the veracity of university teaching in economics is no job for a quitter. In 2013 a retired engineer started on a mission when he read the Bank of England paper on money creation. Peter Morgan wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University, Professor Ananish Chaudhuri:

‘The textbook used by the University of Auckland for its macroeconomics courses is Principles of Macroeconomics in New Zealand, by N. Gregory Mankiw, Debasis Bandyopadhyay and Paul Wooding. It contains several statements that are unequivocally fallacious. By way of example – by no means the only one in the textbook – the following is an example:

“Financial intermediaries are financial institutions through which savers can indirectly provide funds to borrowers.”’

He went on to quote from both the Royal Commission on Banking and Credit in New Zealand in 1956, but mostly from the Bank of England papers e.g. Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds – and why this matters by Zoltan Jakab and Michael Kumhof

Back came his answer:-

“Dear Mr Morgan:

Thank you for your recent letter to the Vice Chancellor which has now been sent on to me via the Dean of the Business School.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to write.

I begin by noting that the questions you have raised go to the heart of the debate raging around the world. There is no question that in the aftermath of the GFC, the state of macroeconomics globally is in a flux with possibly more questions than answers. As you must be well aware leading scholars as well as policy makers are currently engaged in a robust debate world-wide particularly as Greece and Germany enter into a stare-down which may result in the break-up of the European currency union.

Having said that let me make a few points:

First, the textbook at issue is the most popular textbook world-wide including most leading institutions of higher learning. Greg Mankiw is a leading scholar, a professor at Harvard (which I believe also teaches from this text) and was Chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. I expect that he is well aware of the state of the art in terms of both the theory and policy-making. There are local editions of this book written by leading scholars in those countries. The Australian edition was done by Joshua Gans of Melbourne and Stephen King (till recently Dean at Monash Business School). Their role is to provide a local perspective and local data but the major intellectual force is provided by Mankiw. It is important to understand that the scholarship in this area is still very much evolving and therefore a plausible counter-argument is that no matter which text-book we choose to use, it will suffer from some flaws and deficiencies.

Second, while authors do their best to keep up with evolving knowledge nevertheless it takes time to update textbook content, at least partly because it takes time to understand and absorb the lessons of history. As I noted above the state of macroeconomics is in a flux and new research needs to be integrated into future editions.

Third, I would disagree that the book contains fundamental errors. I think this may have more to do with differences in assumptions and philosophies rather than violations of some universally held truths. We and indeed all scholars welcome robust debate on such differences. They are part and parcel of the academic discourse. As the VC has already pointed out, at the end of the day, this is also an issue of academic freedom. I have absolutely no reservations about the use of this textbook in our degree program.”

So having acknowledged that economists have spent a fruitless seven years scratching their heads about what caused the GFC, or the crisis in Greece, the Head of Department, Professor Chaudhuri puts this major issue aside and declares the book valuable. He justifies using a textbook with fundamental inaccuracies by saying other universities are doing it too! In a subsequent letter he confesses that he is not an expert in monetary policy. They often do that –claim they are not a macroeconomist. This is rather like the head of a medical school saying he is not an expert in medicine or the head of an architecture school saying he is not an expert in building design. The sheer nerve of senior economists to think that they don’t need to come to grips with monetary policy when the world is awash with debt would be incomprehensible if one didn’t know their very jobs depend on their pulling the party line. Money is at the heart of economic life.

Perhaps we can get some clarity from Steve Keen here. In a 2014 blog, he explains the three options open to universities after the 2014 Bank of England paper that refuted the loanable funds model. ‘Now if I believed in the tooth fairy, I would hope this emphatic denunciation of the textbook model would cause macroeconomics lecturers to drastically revise their lectures for next week. But I’m too long in the tooth to have such a delusion. They’ll ignore it instead. Their dominant “tactic” – if I can call it that – will be ignorance itself: most economics lecturers won’t even know that the bank’s paper exists, and they will continue to teach from whatever textbook bible they’ve chosen to inflict upon their students. A secondary one will be to know of it, but ignore it, as they’ve ignored countless critiques of mainstream economics before. The third arrow in the quill, if they are challenged by students about it (hint hint!), will be to argue that the textbook story is a “useful parable” for beginning students, and a more realistic version is introduced in more advanced courses.’

He seriously doubts if the paper will cause senior economists to change their current position and explains that until you know that banks can create and cancel money, you will never be able to understand how demand rises and falls. ‘All the parables of conventional economics fly out the window once you know this. The level of economic activity now depends on the lending decisions of banks (and the repayment decisions of borrowers). If banks lend more rapidly, or if borrowers repay more slowly, there will be a boom; if the reverse, there will be a slump. If new loans simply make up for old ones being repaid, then there is no effect, but if new loans exceed repayment then aggregate demand will increase.’

The urgency of getting this right

If universities are failing us by misleading our young people, journalists and politicians, think how critical it is to reverse this. Naomi Klein says that the climate crisis came along at the just the wrong time – when neoclassical economics was at its zenith. No wonder there was a reluctance to do anything meaningful as it simply clashed with the dominant economic paradigm. She says, ‘Economics is at war with the planet’. According to many experts there is only a small window to reverse climate change, until 2017.

There is a long way to go to reverse public thinking. Neoclassical (or neoliberal) economics has a death like grip on us. In over a century the doctrine has succeeded in further privatising the commons, dismantling the state,  deregulating everything that moves and fooling the public over land and money. The economic theory that ignores the role of money and debt can’t possibly make sense of the economy in which we live. It should be jettisoned.

While the collapse of the global economy will be terribly painful and chaotic, it will certainly reduce carbon emissions dramatically. But as long as the economy holds up we need to get on our bikes and work. Whatever happens, no future economy should have the flaws we have now. It is time to get cracking, or as the sheep farmers of the South Island of New Zealand say – rattle our dags.  We can do it.

Do universities lead advances in economics?

During depressions great thinking is done, sometimes in universities, but more often not. Henry George, a journalist, wrote Progress and Poverty in response to abject poverty in San Francisco (1879 book), Silvio Gesell, a German businessman, wrote after an Argentinian depression of the 1880 and 1890s and John Maynard Keynes wrote after the Great Depression of the 1930s. As we descend into worldwide debt deflation today’s searchers now must urgently find and implement a new economic model. And that will involve a huge shift in thinking.

Keynes suggestions were widely adopted after the Great Depression. In 1933-4 Gesell’s currency was put into practice in a small town in Austria with spectacular results. People came from all over Europe to witness the ‘miracle of Wørgl’.  But it lasted a mere fifteen months, cut short by the influence of big banks over the Austrian government at the time, who made the ‘work certificates’ illegal. So despite considerable influence for three decades for his important thinking on currency design (a currency must only act as a medium of exchange and must rot like potatoes and rust like iron), Gesell is now all but forgotten. As central bankers grope helplessly for tools to stimulate the economy at the same time as controlling inflation, Gesell presents answers.

Gaffney’s description of how land barons, industrialists and bankers perverted university’s teaching, which in turn leads to  wrong government policy, is reminiscent of the story of the history of banking. Banks have been a powerful influence on governments ever since governments allowed banks to create credit that could be used to pay taxes. This may have happened in Europe centuries ago after the goldsmiths.

To add to our troubles universities, under the influence of neoclassical economists, have all but stopped teaching economic history so no one can study Gesell or George.

The tie-up between universities and neoclassical economists also influences the relationship of politicians to bankers. Nomi Prins in her landmark book All the Presidents Bankers sheds light on the symbiotic relationship of a century of American presidents with the top bankers of the country, and how elite bankers can even dictate foreign policy. The dust cover of her book says she ‘ushers us into the intimate world of exclusive clubs, vacation spots, and Ivy League universities that binds presidents and financiers. She unravels the multi-generational blood, intermarriage, and protege relationships that have confined national influence to a privileged cluster of people. These families and individuals recycle their power through elected office and private channels in Washington, DC.’

Bankers admit they create money

Of course the bankers themselves know better than the universities who prefer to be complicit in keeping the secret. Graham Towers, Governor of the Bank of Canada and Lord Josiah Stamp of the Bank of England have been quoted regularly in the monetary reform literature. Even in New Zealand in 1955 we had H W White, Chairman of the Associated Banks telling the Royal Commission on Banking and Credit:

“The banks do create money. They have been doing it for a long time, but they didn't realise it, and they did not admit it.”

Minsky a good economist but missed Henry George and Silvio Gesell

Why Minsky matters : An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist by Randall Wray.

My thoughts after reading this nice clear book are that Hyman Minsky, with his yearning for full employment, more equality and a stable financial system, would have revelled in the books of two non-economists – Henry George 1879 and Silvio Gesell 1906. Henry George’s writings would have given him answers to the eternal social justice conundrum and satisfied his curiosity about why Keynesian solutions tend to be inflationary. The route to full employment and more equality would then be staring him in the face. He wouldn’t  have had to struggle round arguing against a payroll tax when George had argued for a logical tax system so well. Minsky doesn’t quite get there. Wray merely implies he approached it when he said Minsky ‘did not see public purpose in discouraging work.’  And while he knew that boom and bust were inevitable, with exposure to Fred Harrison’s writings or those of Bernard Lietaer he would have understood the underlying causes.

Nor did Minsky get currency design, though he did say, ‘Anyone can create a currency. The problem is to get it accepted.’ Silvio Gesell would have provided a fundamental understanding of the importance of currency design. The idea that people can design currencies for different purposes is new to most people and, given Minsky’s mainstream education, he was probably never exposed to that. I think he would have been excited to read Gesell as it would have turned his knowledge of capital formation, interest rates, risk and banking upside down. But Minsky had to earn a living and couldn’t afford to stray this far from orthodox economic thinking. It was enough to argue against mainstream beliefs of macroeconomics like that the economy is naturally stable because the market moves it back to equilibrium. That was a life’s work.

Minsky is a clever mainstream economist, educated in universities that didn’t expose their students to Henry George or Silvio Gesell or even Bernard Lietaer. But within those limitations Minsky in 1987 predicted the explosion of home mortgage securitisation that eventually led to the Global Financial Crisis. He leaves us with a legacy of sentences and phrases like ‘Stability is destabilising’, ‘that which can be securitised will be securitised’, ’money manager capitalism’ and prescribes clear methods of reintroducing bank regulation. He explained debt on debt on debt layering, leveraged buyouts and many other otherwise obscure terms.

Well done Randall Wray for explaining the work of Hyman Minsky to the general public in such readable form. I am conscious that I have not read the original Minsky so hope I will not have been mistaken.

Reserve Bank of NZ may explain money creation to the public in a new video

Reserve-Bank-of-New-Zealand-generic-GettyHere is our 8 Nov 2014 letter to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand on money creation and their reply. It is encouraging to think that they are contemplating producing a video explaining how money is created in New Zealand and we await it with interest. Hopefully it will start to make an effect on the media and will start to change their erroneous and misleading reports that the banks are only intermediaries. The public owns the Reserve Bank of NZ and we deserve to have the truth. Moreover they have an obligation to train the media on the topic of money creation and to correct any wrong impressions that are given by any media. The public is not stupid. More and more people are starting to understand that the bulk of the money in the country is created by private banks as credit and are starting to ask whey private banks should have this unique privilege.

We also note in their reply they didn't challenge our statement about over 98% of the money supply being created by private banks.

The Governor
Reserve Bank of New Zealand
PO Box 2498
Wellington 6140

Dear Sir,

Re What is Money video
You posted your animated video What is Money? at http://www.rbnz.govt.nz/research_and_publications/videos/whatismoney.aspx
We have some questions to ask you:

1. Why don’t you tell the truth about money creation to the public of New Zealand? You give the impression that the Reserve Bank issues all of it – not just coins, notes. It makes no mention of the fact that over 98% of our money is created by banks as credit. It tells us that notes and coins are backed by the government, but fails to mention that bank credit is backed by government too. It omits any mention of bank credit, a major flaw in the whole video.

2. Are you aware that economists from the IMF have recently published papers on money creation, (see Michael Kumhof and Jaromir Benes https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp12202.pdf)? The Bank of England’s Michael McLeay, Amar Radia and Ryland Thomas have also published papers and released videos (see http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/quarterlybulletin/2014/qb14q1.aspx) Both of them tell the truth to the public that the bulk of money comes from interest bearing debt created by banks.

3. Will you now do a video as a real contribution to Money Week, telling the public the truth?

4. Are you aware that the UK Parliament will have a three hour debate on money creation on November 20th? See http://www.positivemoney.org/2014/11/uk-parliament-debate-money-creation-first-time-170-years/

Yours sincerely
Deirdre Kent and Phil Stevens
New Economics Party

And here is the reply on email 9 December 2014:

Dear Ms Kent and Mr Stevens

Re What is Money video

Thank you for your interest in the animated video What is Money? that we published recently on our website, and thank you again for following up on the lack of response to your letter.

In response to your specific questions:

1. As implied by the title, the video explains what money is and as you’ve clearly identified it does not attempt to explain money creation. I note that the video is not titled “Where does money come from?”

2. Yes, the Reserve Bank is aware of papers from the IMF and the Bank of England and the associated video. Indeed, we’ve published similar material ourselves here:www.rbnz.govt.nz/research_and_publications/reserve_bank_bulletin/2008/2008mar71_1lawrence.pdf

3. We are currently planning our multimedia and web content for the next year and we may indeed create a video that covers money creation. As you’re not doubt aware, it is a popular topic and the paper referred to above is unlikely to be as accessible as a video presentation.

4. Yes, the Reserve Bank is aware of the UK Parliamentary debate. The Hansard record is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141120/debtext/141120-0001.htm#14112048000001

Regards

Deirdre Hanlon
Knowledge Advisor
RBNZ


We urge you to write to the Reserve Bank to ask them to create and publicise this video on money creation and to take responsibility for educating the media on the topic of money creation. Either a hard copy letter to the Governor, RBNZ, PO Box 2498, Wellington 6140 or send an email rbnz-info@rbnz.govt.nz to them.

High time the universities changed their teaching on money creation

It’s disturbing when university professors tell lies about the money creation process. I thought universities were supposed to be repositories of knowledge and their statutory duty was to pass on knowledge. And when they fail in that duty and pass on myths to their students who then go on to hold jobs in banking, media and all the related jobs, how much greater the crime? And when journalists pick up untruths from the academics and their graduates, how can a society learn the truth?

Some years ago I was contemplating spending my remaining years suing a university for inaccurate teaching about money creation. I was enraged that a trusted societal institution should fail so profoundly in its statutory duties when the consequences were so enormous and profound. But I chose instead to co-found the New Economics Party and I don’t regret it.

Every now and then Professor Steve Keen from Sydney has a sparring match with Paul Krugman, the former Nobel Prize winner in economics and columnist for the New York Times. The publishing of a paper by three Bank of England economists – Michael McLeay, Amar Radia and Ryland Thomas – dispelling myths about money creation would have set it off again. They were so keen, they even did a youtube video filmed in the gold vaults of the bank. Writing on his debtdeflation blogspot, Keen said he eagerly awaited Krugman’s reaction to Threadneedle Street’s paper. He is not expecting university lecturers to change their lectures any time soon.

As for me I am a bit embarrassed that the first chapters of my book Healthy Money Healthy Planet – Developing Sustainability through New Money Systems pbl Craig Potton 2005 refer to “fractional reserve banking” and the “money multiplier effect” which, according to both the Bank of England and to Michael Kumhof and Jaromir Benes of the IMF are just plain wrong. I wish I could change it.

So how is money created? Well I actually wrote both versions of money creation in my book and the second one is right. I must have confused many readers and apologise.

The Bank of England paper dispels two myths. It says:

“Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in some economics textbooks:

• Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits.

• In normal times, the central bank does not fix the amount of money in circulation, nor is central bank money ‘multiplied up’ into more loans and deposits.”

They say “This article explains how, rather than banks lending out deposits that are placed with them, the act of lending creates deposits — the reverse of the sequence typically described in textbooks.”

It’s a lovely clear paper, accessible and readable. The two videos with it are filmed against the unforgettable and authoritative background of gold nuggets in the vaults in the Bank of England, a clear statement in itself. It describes how some money is created by buying assets, outlines the constraints on bank lending and reminds us the way money is destroyed is by paying back loans. It says clearly “Banks do not act simply as intermediaries, lending out deposits that savers place with them”.

Knowing that commercial banks create most of the broad money supply and that savings takes money out of the total in circulation, I have always been suspicious of comments of bank economists, journalists and politicians who urge more savings. So here is a quote on saving that I like. “When households choose to save more money in bank accounts, those deposits come simply at the expense of deposits that would have otherwise gone to companies in payment for goods and services. Saving does not by itself increase the deposits or ‘funds available’ for banks to lend.” I like it. It makes sense.

So are universities the right place to start? I am not sure. It is logical enough to argue they train society’s professional economists and influence journalists and politicians. But it may also be useful to focus on educating journalists to be suspicious of academics in economics. After all do other disciplines have websites and books similar to “Unlearning Economics” and “Sack the Economists” and jokes about not letting facts get in the way of a good theory?

This blog is not about solutions. It is about getting the facts about banking and money creation right in the first place. When solving problems you have to start with facts not myths. And whether you are a Social Creditor, Positive Money adherent, New Economics Party member or anything else you will have your solutions to public money creation. This is not the forum to debate solutions.

Well so what should we all do? Any of these would be a start.

1. Send the paper’s link to top politicians through whatever media you fancy, be it twitter, facebook, email or snailmail.

2. Get active in any organisation or group that tells it like it is.

3. Have a look at a student’s economic textbook and write to the university who prescribed it pointing out the authoritative paper and urging they teach facts not myths.

4. Ring up any radio station that perpetuates the myth of intermediation pointing out it is wrong.

5. Join with others in this campaign.

6. Offer to help the New Economics Party

7. If you are a student, then organise petitions to your academic staff and changing the textbooks.

Why not create a national currency at local level?

upmapOver a period of two years or more we have proposed:

1. A second national currency. The currency to be issued by Treasury, spent into existence to buy land. The new currency will have no other taxes than land rents, natural resource rents and taxes on bads. We aim to move to a tax system that taxes the monopoly use of the commons rather than labour and sales. Some revenue will be distributed as a Citizens Dividend to all citizens who have lived there for a year or more, the rest will be shared by all levels of government. We advocate a Land Rental Index to be set up in each area, with land rents being adjusted annually according to the index. Land rentals are relatively very stable over time. It is only when there is a major event like and earthquake that they decline or when a railway is put in or a labour intensive business arrives that they rise more than just a tiny bit. The new money would be good for the payment of rates and taxes. No further rates would be payable.

2. We have occasionally advocated a Christchurch currency and an Auckland currency created by spending it into existence to buy land. This would require complete cooperation from the central government as legislation would be needed to make it free of income tax, GST and company tax as before. Rents would be shared as a small Citizens Dividend. The rest would be shared with central government. So a similar design but a city currency as well as a national one.

3. Then very recently we went a step further and suggested that Local Boards (the Auckland supercity calls them this and there are 21 Local Boards as shown on graphic) create the currency, spend it into existence to buy land. A monetary authority will have to be set up to ensure there is no inflation. Revenue from land rents and some natural resource rents can be gathered by Local Boards and first distributed to the local citizens then the rest used at local board level and then sent up the line to supercity and to central government. Supercities would have power to impose taxes on water pollution e.g. leaching of nitrates that uses the commons of the aquifers and rivers. (and to tax the use of water for commercial purposes.)

This option 3 would require several currencies to co-exist. The usual NZ dollar, the new NZ dollar, the supercity dollar and the Local Board dollar. We had considerable difficulties and confusion when discussing exchangeability of currencies.

images

4. Option 4 arrived a couple of days after I spoke to a meeting at a Motueka ecovillage in response to the questions and problems. This one is simpler and is like the formation of a river from the small streams to the river to the sea. Create the new national currency at Local Board level and pass it up the line. Local Boards would set up a Land Committee to decide which land should be bought first. Each local board might decide differently in consultation with its community. Every decision has the right to be vetoed by the local hapu or iwi and where applicable the Maori Land Court should be involved. You would also need a local committee (perhaps the same one) to administer a Land Rental Index or where appropriate because of different desirabilities of sites e.g. Wellington hill suburbs for sun. You would also need a local Monetary Authority to monitor inflation. It would work closely with the Supercity Monetary Authority and the Treasury Monetary Authority to ensure there is no inflation and that no local board would issue too much or too little new money. These are such important entities that they would have to be voted in.

There are so many issues to comment on here, it would be really good to have a general discussion. Then we can perhaps divide up the discussions. Option 4 finally gives real powers to the local economy, which is in line with our policy. The land board may, after consultation with the local community, choose a local business which needs capital, or choose undeveloped land owned by absentee speculators or the local iwi may have very strong preferences.

For instance, if the local committee chose five sections each valued at $200,000 it would create $1m of national currency. If the committee chose to purchase the land of a speculator, that speculator, seeing no future, might sell the lease and thus release the land for genuine use. Many with mortgages will want their mortgage reduced and, because the new currency is legal tender, the bank would have to accept it for paying off a mortgage. Or the committee may be persuaded that a local business needed capital to employ local labour and grow. A community land trust might ask for their land to be bought so they can take land out of the market. This would enable them to sell houses to younger people to join their village, as otherwise the cost would be unaffordable. They could then use the considerable injection of capital to develop their labour intensive businesses and the ones that use local materials.

Then the monetary authority, in conjunction with the monetary authorities of the supercities and the government would make sure the local board did not issue more money than it was allowed, as inflation must be kept strictly under control.images-1There could be problems with certain rogue local boards. Either they issued too much money and wouldn’t cooperate with the monetary authorities elsewhere, or their leadership was questionable. In that case there should be provision in law to instal a Commissioner until the Board's administration improved.

In models 1-3 we have designed in a circulation incentive in the form of a dated currency. However perhaps in model 4, since all money flows downstream from local to central, there may be no need of this.

My questions are (and you will raise plenty too):
  1. Exchangeability with the national currency NZ dollar? We had it as they are issued at par and redeemed at par and in between the value changes according to the market. Some have argued there should be no exchangeability with the old national currency.


  2. Will the creation of a second national currency at local board level stimulate the local economy?


  3. How does this all line up with the Maori Land Trust boards and Incorporations situation?


  4. How would the public be protected from local board that go rogue and how would the wider public ensure that local boards representatives can deal with this level of responsibility?


Now there is one more thing that comes before any of this. Councils and Government should never sell land. The idea of the government buying up the land in the Green Frame and then selling it off into private hands is unacceptable. They should keep it and auction the leases to the highest bidder, then share that revenue with the public (via a Citizens Dividend) and the central government. This should be entrenched in law somehow. Meanwhile a private bidder Auckland City Council has been offered $75,000,000 for a council car park. What a dreadful thing that would be if the council sold off this prime city land for cars to park and for a private enterprise to gain, both in car parking, and in capital gain. As they said in a The Nation programme on TV3, they are developing around traffic hubs. Of course. That means the public pays for the transport infrastructure and private land "owners" benefit from rising land values. Not fair, all wrong. Let logic prevail!

Reservations about Crown Leasehold Land. There are many who will have reservations about the government or the local board buying up their land. The alternative we used to have was that the Government pays you for your land, and the title of your property then bears a covenant, an obligation to pay a ground rent from then on, whoever owns the land. While it is more difficult to explain to the public, a covenant of this nature would give much more peace of mind when it comes to secure tenure of the land. "Leasehold title" has such a bad reputation that it is difficult to explain there are no sudden rent rises if the rent is linked to an index and that the tenure is for a lifetime, with rights that your descendants can get the next lease. No matter how much this is explained it may be better to have a covenant.

Banks culpable in Auckland housing crisis

The following letter was sent to the editor of the Listener but not published, so we publish it here.

Absent from the vigorous discussion of the Auckland housing crisis on The Vote (Sept 11, TV3) was mention of the role of banks in creating this crisis. They stand to gain billions not just from the rising price of houses but from the eventual crash.

In a January 2013 seminar IMF economist and former Barclays Bank manager Michael Kumhof makes it clear that the role of banks is not intermediation but to create credit and control its supply.

“The key function of banks is money creation not intermediation. What that means is that it becomes very easy for banks to start or lead a lending boom even though policy makers might not, because if they feel that the time is right, they simply expand the money supply. There is no third party involved, just the bank and the customer and I make the loan.”

Yes the banks have started a lending boom in Auckland, rewarding staff who issue more loans. Banks find it more profitable to row the economy between easy money and tight money then “laugh all the way to the bank when it finally collapses”. Loan to value restrictions will not help.

Alan Dudson, an Auckland accountant, says “In Auckland it is not uncommon for residential real estate investors to own five, 10, 20, 50, or even 100 houses.”

And all the while Government collaborates by making the interest, insurance, rates and maintenance tax deductible. So Dudson says there is hardly any tax to pay.

When we have a government and opposition both blind to the true role of banks, banks are almost in complete charge. A tax policy favouring property investment and making it easy to hold land without financial penalty will see to that.

The opposition solutions are little better. A capital gains tax doesn’t hold down prices when too weak and just keeps land off the market when it is strong.

It can only end in tears.

References
1. Michael Kumhof
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnAtHbDptj8
2. Alan Dudson. NZ Herald Let’s stop subsidising property investors. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10865946

Deirdre Kent
Spokesperson New Economics Party

IMF economist Michael Kumhof says the key function of banks is to create money

imfToday I made the mistake of going to a website where there was a sentence which made me mad. It said that in New Zealand, banks like finance companies can only lend out deposits made with them. Well I rarely get mad these days but I don't like untruths being perpetrated. So I thought the best way to recover would go and transcribe the first seven minutes of a talk Michael Kumhof, economist from the IMF made to a seminar in January 2013.  It is on youtube here and here is my transcript, give or take the odd aside I left out.

"Virtually all money is bank deposits.

The key function of banks is money creation not intermediation. The entire economics literature that you see out there today is that it is intermediation, taking the money from granny, storing it up and then when someone comes and needs it I can lend it out to them. That is complete nonsense. Intermediation of course exists, but it is incidental and secondary and it comes after the actual money creation. Banks do not have to attract deposits before they create money. I’m a former bank manager. I worked for Barclays for five years. I’ve created those book entries. That is how it works. And if a leading light economist like Paul Krugman tries to tell you otherwise, he does not know what he is talking about.

When you approve a loan, as a bank manager you enter on the asset side of your balance sheet the loan, which is your claim against this guy and at the exact same time you create a new deposit on the liability side. You have created new money because this gives this guy purchasing power to go out and buy something with it. Banks have created money at that point. No intermediation, because the asset and liability are in the same name at that moment. What happens afterwards is that that guy can spend it somewhere else later but it is still in the banking system. I care about the aggregate banking system. Looking at the microeconomy and transferring the logic to the macroeconomy is really wrong. Someone will accept that payment.

money

What that means is that it becomes very, very easy for banks to start or lead a lending boom even though policy makers might not, because if they feel that the time is right, they simply expand the money supply. There is no third party involved, just the bank and the customer and I make the loan. The only thing that is required is that someone else will accept that deposit, say as payment for a machine, and he knows that is acceptable because it is legal fiat.

There is an important corollary to this story. A lot of loans are not for investment purposes, in physical capital. Loans that are for investment purposes are a small fraction. The story that is often told in development economics is that first you need to have savings, then once you have the savings, you can have investment. So a country needs to have sufficient savings in order to have enough investment. Nonsense too – at least for the part of investment that is financed through banks because when a bank makes a new loan it creates new purchasing power for the investment to go ahead. The investment goes ahead. Then the investor takes his new bank deposit and gives it to someone else In the end someone is going to leave that new deposit in the bank. That is saving.  The saving is created along with the investment. It’s not that saving has to come before investment. Saving comes after investment, not before. This is important for development economics.

The deposit multiplier that is taught in economics textbooks is a fairytale. I could use less polite terms. The story goes that central bank creates narrow money and there is a multiplier because banks can lend out a fraction. It is actually exactly the opposite. Broad monetary aggregates lead the cycle and narrow monetary aggregates lag the cycle."