Ryland, your article is about how money gets
created. We’re surrounded here by gold in the vaults of the Bank of England and historically
in the Gold Standard, the amount of gold would have been related to the stock of money in
the economy. Things are very different now. In the modern economy, where does money come
from? Well, let’s start off with narrow, or central
bank money. As the name suggests, central bank money is determined by the Bank of England
and consists of notes and reserves. In normal times, at least, notes and reserves
are determined by the amount of notes that people want to hold or need for their transactions
and the amount of notes and reserves the banks want to hold, given the level of interest
rates in the economy. It is not chosen or fixed by the central bank, as is sometimes
described in some economics textbooks. Your article focuses on broad money. What
determines how much of that there is? Well, broad money, which in many ways is a
better measure of the amount of money circulating in the economy, includes all the bank deposits
of households and companies. And one of the key points of the article is that banks create
additional broad money whenever they make a loan. Now, while this is nothing new, it’s
sometimes overlooked as the main way in which money is created and it runs contrary to the
view sometimes put forward that banks can only lend out deposits that they already have.
In fact, loans create deposits, not the other way around. Now, your article explains in more detail
how lending creates money. It also explains how there are limits to how much banks are
likely to create new money as a result of lending. These could be profitability considerations
of the banks themselves through to how households and companies react in aggregate to having
increased deposits as a result of higher lending. That’s right. So if banks create money through lending,
what, then, is the role of the monetary policy of the central bank in this story? Well, you mentioned some of the limits to
how much banks will lend in practice. Monetary policy provides the ultimate limit. In normal
times, say, before the Great Recession, monetary policy is set through interest rates, and
that determines the loan rates that are faced by borrowers in the economy and the amount
of interest that banks pay out to depositors. And this directly affects the amount of lending
that goes on in the economy and the amount of broad money that’s created as a result. So, obviously, that’s normal times. In the
wake of the Great Recession, we’ve seen Bank Rate reduced to close to zero and the Monetary
Policy Committee embark on a series of asset purchases often referred to as quantitative
easing, or QE, to stimulate the economy further. Now, your article discusses a number of myths
relating to how QE affects the money supply. Now, QE serves to increase the number of reserves
that commercial banks hold at the central bank, but the first myth you discuss is the
idea that this, in some sense, represents free money for banks. What’s wrong with that
account? Well, it’s true, as you say, that QE will
lead to an increase in the reserves that banks hold with the Bank of England. But if you
consider what’s going on in the balance sheets of the parties involved, you can see that
it’s not really free money. The main point is that QE mainly involves
buying government bonds from pension funds and other asset managers, not from banks.
The pension fund in this example receives money in their bank accounts, shown here in
red, in exchange for those government bonds, shown in purple. The banks simply act as an
intermediary to facilitate this transaction between the central bank and the pension fund.
The additional reserves, shown in green, are simply a by product of this transaction. Now, while banks do earn interest on the newly
created reserves, the key point is that QE also creates an accompanying liability for
the bank in the form of the pension fund’s deposit, which the bank will itself pay interest
on. In other words, QE leaves banks with both a new IOU from the Bank of England but also
a matching IOU to consumers — in this case, the pension fund — so in that sense it’s
not really free money. Also, starting from the fact that QE increases
reserves, the second myth that you discuss is the idea that these reserves are then multiplied
up into additional loans and this is what gets the economy going. Indeed, this is the
essence of the so-called money multiplier theory of monetary policy and how that stimulates
the economy found in many economics textbooks. How is this account misleading? Well, it’s true, as we’ve discussed, that
QE will lead to additional reserves held by the banking system, but banks cannot lend
those reserves directly to households and companies; they have to make additional loans
and matching deposits. And the simple fact of banks having more reserves will not materially
affect their incentive to make lots and lots of additional loans to households and companies
in the way the money multiplier mechanism that you mentioned would suggest. So, how does QE affect the economy? QE affects the economy mainly through the
extra bank deposits that pension funds and other asset managers end up holding. Those
asset managers will use those deposits to buy higher yielding assets, such as bonds
and equities that companies issue, that will raise the value of those assets and lower
the cost to companies of borrowing using those instruments. That’s the key way in which spending
in the economy is affected. But that could also mean that QE might reduce bank borrowing
if companies use some of the funds raised by issuing bonds and equities to repay some
of their bank loans.