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Monday, September 27, 2010

Stopping the Debt Driver

Why Reforming the Way our Money is Created Holds the Key to Halting Unsustainable Growth

by Alistair McConnachie

Prosperity (October 2006)

The following is a transcript of the lecture, with the above title, given by Alistair McConnachie in the Cultivate Centre, Essex Street West, Dublin on the 3rd October 2006, as part of FEASTA's "Understanding the Economics of Sustainable Development" course. The lecture was delivered with a Powerpoint presentation based around the 1968 Warner Bros film, "Bullitt", starring Steve McQueen.

Central to our lecture tonight is our concept of the Debt Driver.

This is shorthand for the element of debt intrinsic to the economy which impels it, at breakneck speed, on the route towards unsustainable growth. As we will demonstrate, this debt has its base, its source, its point of origin, its genesis, in the very way in which our money is created.

We will argue that if we are to restrain, and ultimately to stop, that Debt Driver, then we need to switch from a system in which almost all our money is created privately by the commercial banks as a debt ... to a system where all our money is created publicly by a public authority, free of debt.

In short, we will argue that the debt-based way in which money is created, is to the world's economic system what high-octane fuel is to a jet engine or a performance sports car. It is an accelerant, blasting the car, or the economy off at almost unstoppable speed. Changing the way our money is created holds the key to stopping that reckless journey!

So, with that automotive thought in mind ... buckle up ... for the ride of your life ... [switch onto Powerpoint presentation] ... some of you may be old enough to remember Steve McQueen as Detective Frank Bullitt in the 1968 film called Bullitt - which is renowned for its ground-breaking car chase scene.

However, we're not watching Bullitt tonight, we're watching the re-make which is called, "Stopping the Debt Driver" ... co-starring Alistair McConnachie - that's me!

So let's sit in the back seat of Detective Frank Bullitt's Ford Mustang as he patrols the streets of San Francisco ... looking out for the bad guys!

What is Money?

Money can be defined as anything that is readily acceptable in settlement of a debt, or taxes.

Thus you may be able to settle a debt with a neighbour by exchanging something, which may be your time, your skills, or your possessions. That is bartering, and that which we barter is a form of money. However, you can't pay your taxes by bartering, so the state regards money as that in which you can pay your taxes.

This is either cash money - banknotes and coins - or non-cash money, that is the account entry money which exists only as an account entry in a ledger or in electronic format on a computer screen, and which you use your cheque book or plastic card or internet facility to exchange.

Today, cash money represents around three per cent of money in circulation, and non-cash money represents around 97% of money in circulation.

What is Money Reform?

"Money Reform" also called "Monetary Reform" addresses

1. How money is created at source, that is, how it is created at its point of origin and

2. Who creates this money.

We are not speaking about anything else when we use the term "Money Reform". We're not talking about alternative economic forms of trading, such as LETs systems. We're not talking about Time Dollars. We're not talking about Barter - good and useful and important as these alternative systems often are. We are talking about How money is created and Who gets to create it.

And we are going to investigate tonight if there is something in the How and the Who, which is driving unsustainable growth in our society.

Publicly-Created Money

This is money created by a public body - for example, an accountable public body which is an arm of government, which has been created by statute, and which has the power to create money on behalf of the people, and where the profit from creating this money goes directly to the Exchequer - which is to say, directly into the public purse, so that we the people benefit financially from that creation of money.

We have a phrase for this: Publicly-created money is Money by the People and for the People.

We already have such a body, here in Dame Street, in Dublin. The Central Bank of Ireland creates a proportion of the money supply in a public manner, open and accountable, and the profits go to the Exchequer.

So, publicly-created money ... Money created by a public body, the profit of which benefits the people.

Creation of Money at its Point of Origin

Money can be created free of debt - which is to say, it is created and given, granted - to the recipient and there is no requirement to pay it back. Or it can be created as a debt - which is to say it is created and has to be paid back.

So, money can be debt-free or it can be debt-based. Created at its point of origin free of debt, or created at its point of origin as a debt.

An example of debt-free money would be money created either as paper notes and coins, or as account entries in a computer screen, and granted free from any requirement to pay it back.

That kind of money can only be created by a public body which is authorised so to do. It would never profit a private company to do that! It would never profit a private bank to create money out of nothing and give it to people with no requirement to pay it back!

How Our Public Bank Created Debt-Free Money

And we have the example of the Central Bank of Ireland, or the Bank of England in the UK. These bodies have the authority to print the cash - that is, the notes and coins - and to sell them to the private banking system as it is demanded, at face value. The money it makes from this sale, it gives directly to the Exchequer - which is to say, the public purse.

The word for that is "seigniorage". We can define seigniorage as the revenue which accrues to the State as a result of creating money - at the moment, this is only the cash money. It is the face value of the cash, minus the relatively very small cost of printing, minting and distributing.

This is money which has been created out of nothing by a public authority, and an amount virtually equivalent to its face value has been credited to the public purse.

The Exchequer will then spend this money into society via its spending projects and that money will circulate throughout society and it will be money which was created free of debt at its point of origin.

It is utterly free from a background of debt.

For example, in relation to coins, we see from the Central Bank of Ireland's Annual Report 2005, on page 122 quote:

As a result of the Finance Act 2002, the Bank is permitted to transfer the net proceeds from the issue of coin directly to the Exchequer. In 2005, net proceeds of coin issue amounting to 45 million euros were transferred to the Exchequer.

Thus we can conclude, the cash money circulating in society is created by the state and is effectively debt-free as far as we the people, and the public purse is concerned. This is publicly-created, debt-free money.

The bad news is that money only makes up three per cent of money.

That's because there's a bad guy on the scene and we've spotted him!

Privately-Created Money

Privately-created money is money which is created by private organisations for their own private profit and which benefits nobody but themselves.

These private organisations are the High Street banks, that is to say, the commercial banks, all the banks other than the nation's Central Bank.

And this guy is the Debt Driver and he's getting away with the crime of the century, and last century, and the century before that, and the century before that, and the century before that! He's creating money for his own private profit and he's getting away with 97% of our money supply!

We said three per cent of money is cash money, created free from debt ... Well, the other 97% of all money in circulation is debt-based money ... money which is created at its point of origin - at its base - as a debt.

That is, all account entry money which exists only as numbers ... in your account, and which you transfer electronically by means of cheque book, plastic card or internet facility.

Now what I have just said may be surprising to many people.

Many people imagine that the government somehow creates all the money and that the private banks are just recycling it and moving it about. No, the private banking system creates almost all the money - and as we say, it is around 97% of all money in circulation. All of this 97% is debt-based money ... created, at its point of origin, as a debt.

This is money that banks created out of nothing in the first place.

It did not exist before the bank created it.

How the Private Banks Create Debt-Based Money

How do they do this? How do the private banks create money?

Simple, for example, if you take out a 100,000 euro mortgage, the bank doesn't have that money, but using your house as collateral, it has the legal authority to create that money out of nothing, by writing that amount of money as an account entry in its books, and lending it to you at interest, allowing you to draw cheques on that sum.

That money didn't exist before the bank created it. They created that money - they originated that money - as a debt. Debt-based money.

And they ask you to pay it back ... it's good business!

Now Money Reformers accept that banks are always going to be lending money. We don't want to stop banks lending money, per se. We recognise that when people borrow money from banks they will be "in debt" to the commercial bank for that sum and they'll have to pay it back.

However, our concern is: Are we going to keep allowing private banks to create that money in the first place - money which didn't exist until they brought it into being for their own private profit.

Or are we going to get them back to what banks were originally intended to do - and what most people imagine banks still do! - which is to loan money, which already exists - and which has been previously created by a public authority deliberately tasked with that money creation job.

So now we are in hot pursuit of this bad guy ... and this is the basic question which we are asking ourselves ...

How Should Money, at Its Point of Origin, Be Created?

Should it be privately-created, as a debt, by private organisations for private profit, as is 97% of money in circulation at the present time?

Or should it be publicly-created, free of debt, by a public body for the public good, as is three per cent of money in circulation at the present time? Privately-created, debt-based money or publicly-created, debt-free money?

Are we going to remove from the commercial banks the privilege of creating money out of nothing, and return the money creation privilege to the public sphere, back to the people where this power rightfully belongs and where the benefits of so doing should accrue?

Are we to ensure that banks will only be able to lend money which has already been created by a public authority tasked with that matter?

As we've seen, almost all money comes into society at its point of origin as a debt, which has to be paid back.

Private banks, creating money out of nothing, as a debt to be paid back, with interest, has become the way in which virtually all money is supplied to our economy!

The government chooses to rely on people going into debt in order to provide the means of exchange!

The private debt-based system is the way money is supplied to the economy. We have to go into debt just to provide our medium of exchange. We are utterly without a debt-free, stable circulating medium of exchange.

Having a money supply created as a debt creates systemic debt throughout society, because these debts feed into all other debts in society, and debts pile on debts, creating economic instability, and leading to all the negative aspects associated with personal, commercial and national debts.

Now, when virtually all our money - our medium of exchange - can only come into existence as a debt then ... we cannot express any surprise when debt becomes a problem throughout society.

And we cannot express any surprise about our relentless drive for growth, because as we will show now, it is the debt-based nature of our medium of exchange which compels the economy to grow.

Debt Drives Inflation and Growth

It is the debt in the system which institutes an intrinsic inflationary imperative into the economy, driving itself, and us, recklessly onward.

Debt is the Driver. For example, debts for industry mean that industry has rising costs of production and has to raise its prices.

Debts, for individuals mean less disposable income, depressing consumer spending power, leading to wage demands.

Systemic debt in society tends to constantly work to push costs and prices upwards and disposable income downwards and wage demands upwards.

And the only way the economy can try to meet these demands is to keep growing and growing. The economy has to keep growing to meet the demands of these debts.

We spoke earlier about debt being to the economy as high-octane fuel is to a jet engine. Well this is not jet-propelled growth, its ...

Debt-Propelled Growth

Endless debt leads to endless pressure for endless growth.

To summarise, when money is being created as a debt at its point of origin, then it will feed into other debts throughout the economy and require more people and businesses to go into debt to service them, which leads to another increase in the debt-based money supply, which leads to more people and companies acquiring debt, and so on and on.

A money supply based on debt is compelled to keep growing unsustainably like a vicious Towering Inferno. And like Steve McQueen's character, Fire Chief O'Hallorhan said in that film: "It's out of control, and it's coming your way!"

Removing the Debt Driver: Seigniorage Reform

So, is there some way we can damp the flames of this Towering Inferno of debt-based finance? Is there some way we can put out the fire? Is there some way we can make The Great Escape! Is there some way we can ... put the system into reverse? Can we stop the Debt Driver?

This is where James Robertson's Seigniorage Reform comes in.

Essentially, it is this - and we don't need to go into the technicalities of it - which he explains in his book, Creating New Money (2000) which is available from the contact addresses on the handout:

1. Forbid private banks from creating money.

2. An independent public body - most likely a branch of the Central Bank, creates all the money debt-free, on a regular basis.

As we've seen, they already have the power to create notes and coins - we would simply be extending their power to create non-cash money too. The amount it would create would be determined in accord with the monetary objectives set by the government, and the Committee would be responsible directly to Parliament for so doing. Robertson emphasises that the government would not be able to interfere with the operational decision on how much money to create on any occasion. The Committee would not take instructions from the government. The decisions on how to use the money would, of course, be made by the government according to the normal political process.

3. Government spends this money into society via its spending projects.

The money would enter society by being spent, not lent, by government, on projects in the public or private sphere. This money would amount to billions a year, depending on what country we are talking about.

4. It is that money which private banks would now compete to attract into their savings accounts, in order to lend out to their customers.

Catching Up with the Debt Driver

The debt-free money will work to neutralise the effects of the debt-based money. Like water on a fire, the debt-free money will dampen, and then put out the flames of the debt-inferno.

In time, all money circulating in society would have been created in this debt-free manner. The debt-driver element in the economy would have been neutralised, and the economy would stabilise.

We would now have a stable medium of exchange circulating free from a background of debt.

The first consequence of a debt-free money supply is that there is going to be less debt in society. More people will be able to pay off their loans. And less people will need to borrow in the first place.

The debt which drives costs, prices and wages upwards will slow and then stop. The economy will stabilise. Not only will the Debt Driver be stopped by this reform, but the damaging effects of currency speculation will also be stopped.

Putting the Brakes on Speculation

The problem at the moment is that the big boys in the markets are gambling with money which they have borrowed from private banks specifically for this purpose. The banks have created this money out of nothing for the specific purpose of gambling and it is this borrowed money which is doing the damage.

Now, after this reform has been brought in, banks will still be able to lend to whomever they choose, including billionaire speculators.

However, if banks were forbidden from creating money out of nothing, they wouldn't have so much money to throw around. These speculators would not have access to such massive sums.

The banks will have to find the real money from somewhere before they lend it to the speculators. That is going to put a real brake on the amount of money that speculators can play with, and consequently, the amount of damage they can do.

Speculation with money that already exists, rather than money which has been created for the purposes of speculation, is not so much of a problem, and may even help these currency markets return to their original purpose of evening-out trade related imbalances.

Why it is an Ecological and Democratic Imperative

Now, we've spoken about how changing the way in which our money is created - from privately-created, debt-based money to publicly-created, debt-free money - will have economic effects which will lessen and eventually neutralise the drive for endless growth.

Clearly that is an ecological imperative. But at this point we come back to answer a question we started with: Who should create our money?

To whom does the power to create money belong?

And if we answer, "the People" then we cannot morally go back. We cannot say "sometimes" or "mostly".

If it belongs to the People, it belongs to the People, it belongs to the People, and we need to demand the social ownership of the power to create money. This is a huge democratic issue which our present political parties are either missing or avoiding.

So Here's Your Take-Away Message

To stop the Debt Driver which propels us towards endless growth, we need to switch from the privately-created, debt-based money supply, which we have at present, to a publicly-created, debt-free money supply. That is, we need to switch from the present system where private banks create 97% of the money supply, out of nothing as a debt, for private profit, to one where the private banks can only lend money which already exists, and which has already been created by an independent public body, debt-free for the public good, and spent into circulation by government.

James Robertson explains in his book Creating New Money how this can be done. Banks will be forbidden from creating new money, and will become brokers, lending money which has already been publicly-created, debt-free by an independent, accountable, statutory authority.

Bill Totten


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