Why we need a parliamentary enquiry into the best methods of making banks stable

Submission of Deirdre Kent in support of petition 2011_78 to Parliament

This submission is substantial. It outlines why banks are unstable, includes charts on banks assets compared with their exposure to derivatives and on housing bubbles. In a hyperconnected world New Zealand’s four Australian owned banks are not going to be immune to shocks. Now instead of taxpayer bailouts, it seems depositors will bailout the banks. The Reserve Bank has in place a system called Open Bank Resolution. We would rather the banks were stable in the first place.

What the Chicago Plan Revisited proposes

The Chicago Plan Revisited
Michael Kumhof

1. This is a proposal for the most profound monetary and banking reform in centuries. It is based on the work of a long line of distinguished economists, including Irving Fisher, Milton Friedman and the founders of the Chicago School of Economics, who advocated laissez-faire in industry but not in banking.
2. The work is motivated by Irving Fisher’s 1936 book “100% Money”, with actual quantitative results worked out for the US economy today.
3. The paper was written by two IMF economists, Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof. Kumhof was a Barclays Bank PLC manager for five years.
4. An extensive section on monetary history shows that government control over money creation has generally been superior to private control.
5. There is also an exhaustive explanation of the current money creation process, supported by many statements from eminent economists and central bankers.
6. The Chicago Plan ensures that the central bank, rather than private banks, creates the country’s money supply.
7. Deposits in banks would no longer be backed by loans, which are volatile because they depend on banks’ willingness to lend.
8. Deposits in banks would instead be backed by 100% of government-created money – indestructible money.
9. Credit creation would remain private, but could no longer be financed by private money creation.

How it is done
1. The government creates sufficient indestructible reserve money to provide 100% backing for all deposits. It lends this money to banks at a small interest rate. The government is left with a very large claim against banks.
2. The reserve money represents equity in the commonwealth, not debt.
3. The government repays part or all of outstanding government bonds, against the cancellation, or the transfer to households, of part of its claim against banks.
4. The government pays a one-off citizens dividend, through a transfer to households of part of its claim against banks. Households use this to repay a large portion of private debt.
5. The credit part of banks is separated from the deposit part. The bank becomes a true intermediary that has to attract reserve money before being able to lend it. This makes it much easier to prevent credit-driven business cycles.

1. Money creation no longer requires private debt creation.
2. The quantity of money is directly controlled by the central bank, not by private banks.
3. Credit creation remains private, and on a much sounder long-term basis than before.
4. Banks become true intermediaries that can be run conservatively for the public benefit.
5. Financial crises do not affect the quantity of money or the safety of the payments system.
6. Dramatic reduction or even complete elimination of the public debt.
7. Dramatic reduction of private debt.
8. Credit-driven business cycles are not eliminated but significantly reduced if the Chicago Plan is combined with quantitative lending guidance, a policy that can be much more effective in a world where banks cannot create money.
9. No bank runs are possible because all money is 100% backed by public reserves.
10. There can be no liquidity traps, as central banks can always stimulate a severely recessionary economy through money injections or through below-zero interest rates.
11. Inflation can drop to zero without posing problems for monetary policy.
12. Real interest rates drop dramatically because equity, not debt, becomes the norm.
13. The government can use revenue from money creation to dramatically lower taxes.
14. Lower interest rates and taxes lead to potentially very large output gains.

If you look on youtube you will see some presentations by Michael Kumhof. The most recent of his slideshows is one he did in Stockholm on Sept 12, 2013 and it is here.

However, despite its good intentions and sound theory, I believe with others that it is politically unrealistic to think it could be implemented. There are three high level bank lobbyists for every elected member in Washington. Moreover, the New York Times article of 21 October 2011 said the banking industry had spent $2.3billion on campaign donations from 1990 to 2010.

Lietaer, Arnsperger, Groener and Brunnhuber in their Club of Rome book Money and Sustainability 2012, also point out that “although it would eliminate the risk of widespread banking crashes and of sovereign debt crises, there would still be monetary crises. ..The 2008 monetary crashes would not necessarily have been avoided.” They also point out that nationalisation of money creation process can’t be done on a small scale and any change involves risk. Large scale change involves greater risk. Moreover there could still be a risk of inflation if governments were the only ones in charge of creating money. The hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar could happen if another Mugabe got into power.

Minister of Finance’s reply to our letter on The Chicago Plan Revisited

You will recall we wrote to the Minister of Finance on 18 December regarding the The Chicago Plan Revisited. We have now received a reply. It seems the Government no longer wants the taxpayer to bail a bank out in the event of failure, so it is setting in place this thing called the Open Bank Resolution (they say by 30 June) This is a process in which in the event of a bank failure, banks will be able to give your deposits a ‘haircut’. Any bank creditor is vulnerable. But burdening savers with this risk is no more desirable than burdening taxpayers. We want banks fundamentally structurally reformed so that there is no risk of a run on the bank. You see while banks have the power to create the money supply, if everyone came to the bank for their money at once there wouldn’t be enough for everyone.

Anyway we are contemplating our next step. We would far prefer the The Chicago Plan Revisited and want to make it work. It would have to be implemented internationally simultaneously and New Zealand should play its part in making this happen to protect us from financial contagion. Here is the letter

1 February 2013

Dear Deirdre Kent and Phil Stevens,

Thank you for your email of 18 December 2012 regarding the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) paper on the ‘Chicago Plan’ by Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof.

Their paper has stimulated significant debate among economists. While some economists have supported the arguments made in the paper, others have questioned the desirability and the practicality of its proposals. For example, I refer you to a recent paper by Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority in the United Kingdom, which discussed the Chicago Plan (http://www.faa.gov.uk/static/pubs/speeches/1102-at.pdf). Turner argued that even if implementing the plan was practical, it may not be ideal, given the role of private banks in risk pooling, maturity transformation and their ability to allow consumers to smooth their consumption through their lifetime.

Despite the issues relating to the feasibility of the plan, many of its aims are consistent with the Government’s policy objectives. As confirmed in the recent Half Year Economic and Fiscal Policy Update (HYEFPU), the Government is committed to reducing net public debt to below 20% of Gross Domestic Product by 2020. In addition the Policy Targets Agreement (PTA) signed with the new Governor of the Reserve Bank includes a commitment to take account of the efficiency and soundness of the financial system when setting monetary policy (http://rbnz.govt.nz/monpol/pta/4944840.html). The RBNZ Governor, Graham Wheeler’s recent speech also notes the Reserve Bank’s current work on developing macro-prudential policy instruments and an Open Bank Resolution system to maintain a stable financial system and minimise the damage to the wider economy in the event of a bank failure (http://rbnz.govt.nz/speeches/5005204.html).

Thank you for taking the time to write. I hope you have found my comments helpful.


Yours sincerely,


Hon Bill English

Minister of Finance


We write to the Minister of Finance about the IMF paper The Chicago Plan Revisited

This week we wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance and look forward to the response

Dear Mr English

Re The IMF Paper ‘The Chicago Plan Revisited’

Our attention has been drawn to a working paper published on the website of the International Monetary Fund entitled The Chicago Plan Revisited by Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof and dated August 2012.

Its abstract reads as follows:-

At the height of the Great Depression a number of leading U.S. economists advanced a proposal for monetary reform that became known as the Chicago Plan. It envisaged the separation of the monetary and credit functions of the banking system, by requiring 100% reserve banking for deposits. Irving Fisher (1936) claimed the following advantages for this plan:

(1)           Much better control of a major source of business cycle fluctuations, sudden increases and contractions of bank credit and of the supply of bank-created money.

(2)           Complete elimination of bank runs.

(3)           Dramatic reduction of the (net) public debt.

(4)           Dramatic reduction of private debt, as money creation no longer requires simultaneous debt creation.

We study these claims by embedding a comprehensive and carefully calibrated model of the banking system in a DSGE model of the U.S. economy. We find support for all four of Fisher’s claims. Furthermore, output gains approach 10 percent, and steady state inflation can drop to zero without posing problems for the conduct of monetary policy.

(There has also been a recent paper from the Bank of International Settlements site by the economist Borio http://www.bis.org/publ/work395.pdf, which calls for a rethink of the business cycle model and for significant adjustments to macroeconomic policies, and to an article in the Economist Dec 14, 2012, discussing that paper at http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2012/12/reforming-macroeconomics)

We therefore ask you, as Minister of Finance:-

a) Are you aware of the existence of the IMF paper, the Chicago Plan Revisited?

b) Does your government agree that the four results outlined in this paper are desirable?

c) Does your government support the method used to achieve these four goals?

d) If you differ from the method outlined in the paper to achieve these four goals or argue with it in any way, could you outline your disagreement and how would you achieve these goals differently?

Yours sincerely

Deirdre Kent and Phil Stevens

New Economics Party