Money Creation by a Single Bank
Banks and money are intertwined. It is not just that most money is in the form of bank accounts. The banking system can literally create money through the process of making loans. Let’s see how.
Start with a hypothetical bank called Singleton Bank. The bank has $10 million in deposits. The T-account balance sheet for Singleton Bank, when it holds all of the deposits in its vaults, is shown in Figure 13.6. At this stage, Singleton Bank is simply storing money for depositors and is using these deposits to make loans. In this simplified example, Singleton Bank cannot earn any interest income from these loans and cannot pay its depositors an interest rate either.
Singleton Bank is required by the Federal Reserve to keep $1 million on reserve (10% of total deposits). It will loan out the remaining $9 million. By loaning out the $9 million and charging interest, it will be able to make interest payments to depositors and earn interest income for Singleton Bank (for now, we will keep it simple and not put interest income on the balance sheet). Instead of becoming just a storage place for deposits, Singleton Bank can become a financial intermediary between savers and borrowers.
This change in business plan alters Singleton Bank’s balance sheet, as shown in Figure 13.7. Singleton’s assets have changed; it now has $1 million in reserves and a loan to Hank’s Auto Supply of $9 million. The bank still has $10 million in deposits.
Singleton Bank lends $9 million to Hank’s Auto Supply. The bank records this loan by making an entry on the balance sheet to indicate that a loan has been made. This loan is an asset, because it will generate interest income for the bank. Of course, the loan officer is not going to let Hank walk out of the bank with $9 million in cash. The bank issues Hank’s Auto Supply a cashier’s check for the $9 million. Hank deposits the loan in his regular checking account with First National. The deposits at First National rise by $9 million and its reserves also rise by $9 million, as Figure 13.8 shows. First National must hold 10% of additional deposits as required reserves but is free to loan out the rest.
Making loans that are deposited into a demand deposit account increases the M1 money supply. Remember the definition of M1 includes checkable (demand) deposits, which can be easily used as a medium of exchange to buy goods and services. Notice that the money supply is now $19 million: $10 million in deposits in Singleton bank and $9 million in deposits at First National. Obviously these deposits will be drawn down as Hank’s Auto Supply writes checks to pay its bills. But the bigger picture is that a bank must hold enough money in reserves to meet its liabilities; the rest the bank loans out. In this example so far, bank lending has expanded the money supply by $9 million.
Now, First National must hold only 10% as required reserves ($90,000) but can lend out the other 90% ($8.1 million) in a loan to Jack’s Chevy Dealership as shown in Figure 13.9.
If Jack’s deposits the loan in its checking account at Second National, the money supply just increased by an additional $8.1 million, as Figure 13.10 shows.
How is this money creation possible? It is possible because there are multiple banks in the financial system, they are required to hold only a fraction of their deposits, and loans end up deposited in other banks, which increases deposits and, in essence, the money supply.
Money and banks are marvelous social inventions that help a modern economy to function. Compared with the alternative of barter, money makes market exchanges vastly easier in goods, labor, and financial markets. Banking makes money still more effective in facilitating exchanges in goods and labor markets. Moreover, the process of banks making loans in financial capital markets is intimately tied to the creation of money.
But the extraordinary economic gains that are possible through money and banking also suggest some possible corresponding dangers. If banks are not working well, it sets off a decline in convenience and safety of transactions throughout the economy. If the banks are under financial stress, because of a widespread decline in the value of their assets, loans may become far less available, which can deal a crushing blow to sectors of the economy that depend on borrowed money like business investment, home construction, and car manufacturing. The Great Recession of 2008–2009 illustrated this pattern.
THE MANY DISGUISES OF MONEY: FROM COWRIES TO BITCOINS
The global economy has come a long way since it started using cowrie shells as currency. We have moved away from commodity and commodity-backed paper money to fiat currency. As technology and global integration increases, the need for paper currency is diminishing, too. Every day, we witness the increased use of debit and credit cards.
The latest creation and perhaps one of the purest forms of fiat money is the Bitcoin. Bitcoins are a digital currency that allows users to buy goods and services online. Products and services such as videos and books may be purchased using Bitcoins. It is not backed by any commodity nor has it been decreed by any government as legal tender, yet it used as a medium of exchange and its value (online at least) can be stored. It is also unregulated by any central bank, but is created online through people solving very complicated mathematics problems and getting paid afterward. Bitcoin.org is an information source if you are curious. Bitcoins are a relatively new type of money. At present, because it is not sanctioned as a legal currency by any country nor regulated by any central bank, it lends itself for use in illegal trading activities as well as legal ones. As technology increases and the need to reduce transactions costs associated with using traditional forms of money increases, Bitcoins or some sort of digital currency may replace our dollar bill, just as the cowrie shell was replaced.