Monetary reform is any movement or theory that proposes a system of supplying money and financing the economy that is different from the current system.
Monetary reformers may advocate any of the following, among other proposals:
Of all the aspects of monetary policy, certain topics reoccur as targets for reform:
Main article: Fractional-reserve banking
Banks typically make loans to customers by crediting new demand deposits to the account of the customer. This practice, which is known as fractional reserve banking, permits the total supply of credit to exceed the liquid legal reserves of the bank. The amount of this excess is expressed as the "reserve ratio" and is limited by government regulators not to exceed a level which they deem adequate to ensure the ability of banks to meet their payment obligations. Under this system, which is currently practiced throughout the world, the money supply varies with the quantity of legal reserves and the amount of credit issuance by banks.
Several major historical examples of financial regulatory reform occurred in the 20th century relating to fractional-reserve banking, made in response to the Great Depression and the many bank runs following the crash of 1929. These reforms included the creation of deposit insurance (such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) to mitigate against the danger of bank runs. Countries have also implemented legal reserve requirements which impose minimum reserve requirements on banks. Mainstream economists believe that these monetary reforms have made sudden disruptions in the banking system less frequent.
However, some critics of fractional reserve banking[who?] argue that the practice inherently artificially lowers real interest rates and leads to business cycles propagated by excessive capital investment and subsequent contraction. A small number of critics, such as Michael Rowbotham, equate the practice to counterfeiting, because banks are granted the legal right to issue new loans while charging interest on the money thus created. Rowbotham argues that this concentrates wealth in the banking sector with various pernicious effects.
Some critics[who?] discuss the fact that governments pay interest for the use of money which the central bank creates "out of nothing".[non-primary source needed] These critics claim that this system causes economic activity to depend on the actions of privately owned banks, which are motivated by self-interest rather than by any explicit social purpose or obligation.
Some monetary reformers[who?] criticise existing global financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Bank of International Settlements and their policies regarding money supply, banks and debt in developing nations, in that they appear to these writers to be "forcing" a regime of extortionate or unpayable debt on weak Third World governments that do not have the capacity to pay the interest on these loans without severely affecting the well-being or even the viability of the local population. The attempt by weak Third World governments to service external debt with the sale of valuable hard and soft commodities on world markets is seen by some to be destructive of local cultures, destroying local communities and their environment.
Among the arguments for a transition to full-reserve banking or sovereign money are as follows:
Among the arguments for keeping the current system of money creation based on the credit theory of money or fractional reserve banking are as follows:
To regulate credit creation, some countries have created a currency board, or granted independence to their central bank. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Federal Reserve, and the Bank of England are examples where the central bank is explicitly given the power to set interest rates and conduct monetary policy independent of any direct political interference or direction from the central government. This may enable the setting of interest rates to be less susceptible to political interference and thereby assist in combating inflation (or debasement of the currency) by allowing the central bank to more effectively restrict the growth of M3.
However, given that these policies do not address the more fundamental issues inherent in fractional reserve banking, many suggest that only more radical monetary reform such as government directly taking over central banks such as the China or Swiss models can promote positive economic or social change. Although central banks may appear to control inflation, through periodic bank rescues and other means, they may inadvertently be forced to increase the money supply (and thereby debase the currency) to save the banking system from bankruptcy or collapse during periodic bank runs, thereby inducing moral hazard in the financial system, making the system susceptible to economic bubbles.
Theorists such as Robert Mundell (and more radical thinkers such as James Robertson) see a role for global monetary reform as part of a system of global institutions alongside the United Nations to provide global ecological management and move towards world peace, with Robert Mundell in particular advocating the revived use of gold as a stabilising factor in the international financial system. Henry Liu of the Asia Times Online argues that monetary reform is an important part of a move towards post-autistic economics.
While some mainstream economists[who?] favour monetary reforms to reduce inflation and currency risk and to increase efficiency in the allocation of financial capital, the idea of all-encompassing reform for green or peace objectives is typically espoused by those[who?] on the left-wing of the subject and those associated with the anti-globalization movement.
Still other radical reform proposals emphasise monetary, tax and capital budget reform which empowers government to direct the economy toward sustainable solutions which are not possible if government spending can only be financed with more government debt from the private banking system. In particular, a number of monetary reformers, such as Michael Rowbotham, Stephen Zarlenga and Ellen Brown, support the restriction or banning of fractional-reserve banking (characterizing it as an illegitimate banking practice akin to embezzlement) and advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with government-issued debt-free fiat currency issued directly from the Treasury rather than from the quasi-government Federal Reserve. Austrian commentator Gary North has sharply criticized these views in his writings.
Alternatively, some monetary reformers such as those in the social credit movement, support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank to fund infrastructure and sustainable social projects. This social credit movement flourished briefly in the early 20th century, but then became marginalized. In Canada, it was an important political movement that ruled Alberta through nine legislatures between 1935 and 1971, and also won many seats in Québec. It died out in the 1980s.
Both these groups (those who advocate the replacement of fractional-reserve banking with debt-free government-issued fiat, and those who support the issuance of repayable interest-free credit from a government-owned central bank) see the provision of interest-free money as a way of freeing the working populace from the bonds of "debt slavery" and facilitating a transformation of the economy away from environmentally damaging consumerism and towards sustainable economic policies and environment-friendly business practices.
Some governments have experimented in the past with debt-free government-created money independent of a bank. The American Colonies used the "Colonial Scrip" system prior to the Revolution, much to the praise of Benjamin Franklin. He believed it was the efforts of English bankers to revoke this government-issued money that caused the Revolution.[unreliable source?]
Abraham Lincoln used interest-free money created by the government to help the Union win the American Civil War. He is sometimes quoted (probably apocryphally) calling these 'Greenbacks' "the greatest blessing the people of this republic ever had."
Some[who?] go further and suggest that wholesale reform of money and currency, based on ideas from green economics or Natural Capitalism, would be beneficial. These include the ideas of soft currency, barter and the local service economy.
Local currency systems can operate within small communities, outside of government systems, and use specially printed notes or tokens called scrips for exchange. Barter takes this further by swapping goods and services directly; a compromise being the Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) scheme: a formalised system of community-based economics that records members' mutual credit in a central location.
Some proponents of monetary reform[who?] desire a move away from fiat money towards a hard currency or asset-backed currency, which is often argued to be an antidote to inflation. This may involve using commodity money such as money backed by the gold, silver or both, commodities which supporters argue possess unique properties: their extraordinary malleability, their strong resistance to forgery, their character as stable and impervious to decay, and their inherently limited supply.[non-primary source needed]
Digital means are also now possible to allow trading in hard currencies such as gold, and some believe a new free market will emerge in money production and distribution, as the internet allows renewed decentralisation and competition in this area, eroding the central government's and bankers' old monopoly control of the means of exchange.
Some monetary reformers[who?] favour permitting competing banks to issue private banknotes whilst also eliminating the central bank's role as lender of last resort. In the absence of these factors, they believe a gold standard or silver standard would arise spontaneously out of the free market.