Tag Archives: Money

On Cheques

On his blog, JP Koning discusses the versatility of cheques:

  • A cheque instructs a bank to transfer deposits.
  • It is a derivative on bank deposits.
  • A post dated cheque serves as debt instrument, e.g., vis-a-vis pay day lenders.
  • An uncashed cheque may serve as money if marked “to bearer” or endorsed by the recipient. Laws grant cheques currency status.
  • A cheque may be used for payments even if other payment mechanisms break down. During the Irish banking strike of 1970, “for six months post-dated cheques circulated as the main form of money.”
  • A cheque can be used by the unbanked.

This combination of negotiability, robustness, openness, and decentralization means that long before bitcoin and the cryptocoin revolution, we already had a decentralized payments system that allowed pretty much everyone to participate and, indeed, fabricate their own personal money instruments! …

… a whole language of cheques has emerged, allowing for significant customization. By putting crossings on cheques, like this the cheque writer is indicating that the only way to redeem it is by depositing it, not cashing it. This means that the final user of the cheque will be easy to trace, since they will be associated with a bank account. Affix the words non-negotiable within the cross on the front of the cheque and it loses its special status as currency. Should it be stolen and passed off to an innocent third-party, the victim can now directly pursue the third-party for restitution. To even further limit the power of subsequent users to use the cheque as money, the writer can indicate the account to which the cheque must be deposited. This language of checks can be used not only by those that have originated the cheque, but also by those that receive it in payment. On the back of any check, any number of endorsements can be written, effectively allowing for the conversion of someone else’s payment instructions into your own unique medium of exchange.

Currency Status

On his blog (here and here), JP Koning discusses currency status:

… laws that … grant … currency status. … Say that person A is carrying some sort of financial instrument in their pocket and it is stolen. The thief uses it to buy something from person B, who accepts it without knowing it to be stolen property. If the financial instrument has not been granted currency status by the law, then person B will be liable to give it back to person A. If, however, the instrument is currency, then even if the police are able to locate the stolen instrument in person B’s possession, person B does not have to give up the stolen [instrument] to person A. We call these special instruments negotiable instruments.

Stable Long-Run Money Demand

On VoxEU, Luca Benati, Robert Lucas, Juan Pablo Nicolini, and Warren Weber argue that long-run money demand in many countries is rather stable.

… using a specific, narrow monetary aggregate, M1, we study a dataset comprising 32 countries since the mid-19th century (Benati et al. 2016). The main finding of this large-scale investigation is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, in most cases statistical tests do identify with high confidence a long-run equilibrium relationship between either M1 velocity and a short-term interest rate, or M1, GDP, and a short rate – that is, a long-run money demand.

Money, Banking, and Dreams

In another excellent post on Moneyness, J P Koning likens the monetary system to the plot in the movie Inception, featuring

a dream piled on a dream piled on a dream piled on a dream.

Koning explains that

[l]ike Inception, our monetary system is a layer upon a layer upon a layer. Anyone who withdraws cash at an ATM is ‘kicking’ back into the underlying central bank layer from the banking layer; depositing cash is like sedating oneself back into the overlying banking layer.

Monetary history a story of how these layers have evolved over time. The original bottom layer was comprised of gold and silver coins. On top this base, banks erected the banknote layer; bits of paper which could be redeemed with gold coin. The next layer to develop was the deposit layer; non-tangible book entries that could be transferred by order from one person to another.

The foundation layer has changed over time:

One of the defining themes of modern monetary history has been the death of the original foundation layer; precious metals. … as central banks chased private banks from the banknote layer … and then gradually severed the banknote layer from the gold layer. By 1971, … [b]anknotes issued by the central bank had become the foundation layer. The trend towards a cashless world is a repeat of this script, except instead of the gold layer being slowly removed it is the banknote layer.

Fintech improves the efficiency of the layer arrangement and its connections. It also adds new layers: For instance, some payments made via mobile phone effectively transfer claims on deposits. And it may circumvent layers:

In U.K., the Bank of England is considering allowing fintech companies to bypass the banking layer by offering them direct access to the bottom-most central banking layer.

In contrast, a krypto currency like bitcoin establishes a new foundation layer, on which new layers may be built:

Even now there is talk of a new layer being developed on top of the original bitcoin foundation, the Lightning network. The idea here is that the majority of payments will occur in the Lightning layer with final settlement occurring some time later in the slower Bitcoin layer.

I fully agree with this characterization. In addition to the theme emphasized by Koning—adding layers—I would also stress the theme of untying higher-level layers from lower ones: Central bank money typically is no longer backed by gold; deposits typically are not fully backed by notes; and mobile phone credits may no longer be backed by deposits. The process of untying layers relies on social conventions and trust, and it is fragile. Important questions concern the cost of such fragility, and its necessity. Fragility is not necessary when the social cost of liquidity provision at the foundation layer is negligible.

Money without a Government

In the FT, David Pilling reports about Somalia which has managed without central bank issued money for decades.

… up to 98 per cent of local banknotes are fake … With the help of the International Monetary Fund, Mogadishu plans to print official banknotes for the first time in more than a quarter of a century … No official Somali currency has left the presses since the Horn of Africa nation descended into clan warfare after the collapse of the government in 1991.

… warlords, businessmen and breakaway regions printed counterfeit notes or shipped them in from abroad. … several important issues, including what the government would use to back its new currency, were still being discussed. So was the question of what the conversion rate would be of fake Somali shillings for the new official ones. Use of Somali shillings, largely limited to the less well-off rural population, comes a poor third to US dollars and electronic money in what is a mostly dollarised economy. … Some dollars in circulation are also fake …

“Vollgeld, the Blockchain, and the Future of the Monetary System”

Presentation at the Liechtenstein Institute about the Vollgeld initiative, the blockchain revolution, and their possible effects on banks and the monetary system.

Report in Liechtensteiner Vaterland, February 1, 2017. HTML.

Interview in Wirtschaft Regional, February 4, 2017. PDF.

The Early Bank of England and its Contemporaries

In the Journal of Economic Literature, William Roberds reviews Christine Desan’s “Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism” and he provides his own perspective on European monetary history.

… the transition of the Bank of England’s notes from the status of experimental debt securities (in 1694) to “as good as gold” (1833) required more than a century of legal accommodation and business comfort with their use.

Desan emphasizes England’s traditions of nominalism (as opposed to metallism) and monetary restraint as well as early experiments in monetary substitution in laying the foundations for the Bank of England’s success. Lobbying played its role, too.

Roberds discusses the experience of note issuing institutions in other countries.

At the time of the Bank’s founding, there were about twenty-five publicly owned or sponsored banks operating in Europe. These institutions are largely forgotten today; most were dissolved by the early nineteenth century and only one continues in existence, Sweden’s Riksbank. …

These banks were run by and for the merchant communities in their respective cities [Amsterdam, Genoa, Hamburg, and Venice] … The existence of the early municipal banks depended on a form of nominalism more extreme than what prevailed in contemporary England. Merchants in these “banking cities” were required by law and by custom to settle all bills of exchange (the dominant form of commercial credit) with transfers of money on the ledgers of the local public bank. The practical advantage of such a restriction was that it reduced or eliminated the possibility of settlement in the debased coins … the municipal banks’ ledger money was often seen as more reliable than the typical coin in circulation …

Most of these banks failed after getting involved in speculative episodes, hyperinflation, or political turmoil. The Bank of England was lucky.

“Kosten eines Vollgeld-Systems sind hoch (Costly Sovereign Money),” Die Volkswirtschaft, 2016

Die Volkswirtschaft 1–2 2017, December 21, 2016. HTML, PDF.

Banning inside money creation would be unnecessary, insufficient, not enforceable, and besides the point. The way forward is to grant everyone access to central bank reserves and let investors choose between reserves and deposits.

Seignorage and Cantillon Effects in India

On Alt-M, Larry White discusses three aspects of the Indian “demonetization” experiment.

The transition from old notes blocks “honest” currency transactions, reduces income, and harms the poor who don’t have access to alternative means of payment. Because not all old notes will be redeemed, the transition into new notes will generate seignorage revenue for the government on the order of USD 40 billion, according to White’s estimates. Not all groups or industries get access to the new notes at the same time; this changes the terms of trade (Cantillon effects).


At the recent Karl Brunner Centenary event, Ernst Baltensperger characterized Monetarism as a set of five convictions:

  • Money matters (as accepted in the neoclassical synthesis)
  • Rules are preferred over discretion (in contrast to the views of Modigliani, Samuelson or Klein), but some flexibility is accepted
  • Inflation and inflation expectations are key (in contrast to traditional Keynesian views)—adaptive expectation formation, parallels to Phelps
  • Money growth targeting is useful—Brunner and Meltzer favored the monetary base, Friedman M1
  • Money, credit and the “details” of financial markets matter for the monetary transmission mechanism—Brunner and Meltzer pushed the credit view, parallels to Tobin

Baltensperger concluded that the macroeconomic mainstream has absorbed many of these convictions, as it has absorbed many pillars of Keynesian thought.

McMillan’s “The End of Banking”

Jonathan McMillan proposes a systemic solvency rule which stipulates that

[t]he value of the real assets of a company has to be greater than or equal to the value of the company’s liabilities in the worst financial state. (p. 147)

That is, the financial assets of a company have to be financed by equity. This reminds of Kotlikoff’s limited purpose banking, see here and here. McMillan (who is actually two persons, a banker and a journalist) argues that Kotlikoff’s proposal

is a step in the right direction to address the boundary problem, [but] it creates an overwhelming public authority [that monopolizes monitoring]. Moreover, it does not solve the boundary problem. Limited purpose banking requires the regulator to differentiate between financial and nonfinancial companies. … Finding clear legal criteria to categorize a company as financial is impossible. (p. 140)


In the FT, Philip Stafford reports about a digital currency initiative by the Bank of Canada and commercial banks. It

will involve issuing, transferring and settling central bank assets on a distributed ledger via a token named CAD-Coin.


The Bank of Canada said the experiment was a proof-of-concept and confined to interbank payment systems. … “None of our experiments are to develop central-bank issued e-money‎ for use by the general public.”

Binswanger’s “Money Out of Nothing”

In his recent book Geld aus dem Nichts (Money out of Nothing), Mathias Binswanger discusses the role of banks in creating money, and money’s role in affecting the macro economy. The book is written for a non specialist audience and the arguments are often quite loose.

In the first part of the book, Binswanger describes how money mostly is created by commercial rather than central banks.

Part II provides a nice historical overview. Binswanger describes the origins of modern banking with goldsmiths first storing gold for their merchant clients, then lending some of the stored gold to third parties, and finally issuing more “receipts” than what corresponds to the gold deposits they actually accepted. From there, he argues, it was a small step to state licensed national banks like the Bank of England. On p. 120 Binswanger describes how minimum reserve requirements got out of fashion, not least because they suffered from circumvention when they were binding.

Part III lacks precision and is misguided (see also pp. 30 or 66). It covers the link between money creation and growth but confuses national accounting concepts and their relation to money and credit. Clearly, growth can occur without credit (think of an economy with just one agent to see this most directly) but Binswanger seems to dispute this point, in line with earlier writings by his father. A “model” on p. 144 does not help to clarify his views because it is orthogonal to the argument. Binswanger criticizes mainstream economics for refusing to accept the presence of long-run links between money and growth but this critique remains vain. Part IV deals with money creation and its effect on financial markets.

Part V, on reform, is sensible. Binswanger rejects proposals to move (back) to the gold standard or a 100%-money regime (or, essentially equivalent, “positive money”). His arguments against the Swiss “Vollgeld” initiative resonate with points I made here and elsewhere, including the point that it would be difficult to enforce a “Vollgeld” regime (see also p. 122). Binswanger criticizes the “Vollgeld” initiative’s vagueness concerning actual implementation of monetary policy. He ends with more limited, rather standard proposals (relating to regulation, monetary policy objectives and capital requirements) to address problems in financial markets.

Central Bank Reserves: Debt vs. Equity

In jusletter.ch, Corinne Zellweger-Gutknecht argues that the legal status of central bank reserves is more equity- than debt-like—at least as far as the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is concerned. According to Zellweger-Gutknecht, reserves constitute debt only if the SNB is legally obliged to redeem them in exchange for central bank assets.

If the SNB purchases dollars against Swiss Francs in an open market operation, it creates reserves which are equity-like. But if it acquires dollars against Swiss Francs and is committed to engage in a reverse transaction in the future (a swap), then it (temporarily) creates reserves which are debt-like.

Banks Are Not Intermediaries of Loanable Funds

In a recent Vox blog post, Zoltan Jakab and Michael Kumhof argue that macroeconomic models where banks intermediate loanable funds get it seriously wrong.

In the intermediation of loanable funds model, bank loans represent the intermediation of real savings, or loanable funds, between non-bank savers and non-bank borrowers … [but in reality] [t]he key function of banks is the provision of financing, meaning the creation of new monetary purchasing power through loans, for a single agent that is both borrower and depositor.

This difference has important implications. Compared to intermediation of loanable funds models, money creation models predict larger and faster changes in bank lending and real activity; pro- or acyclical rather than countercyclical bank leverage; and quantity rationing of credit after contractionary shocks. New loans in loanable funds model are accompanied by additional savings and thus, higher production or lower consumption. In money creation models, in contrast, they simply reflect an expansion of banks’ balance sheets that is only checked by profitability and solvency consideration. Moreover, “the availability of central bank reserves does not constitute a limit to lending and deposit creation. This … has been repeatedly stated in publications of the world’s leading central banks.”

A large part of [money creation banks’] response [to a contractionary shock], consistent with the data for many economies, is … in the form of quantity rationing rather than changes in spreads. … In the intermediation of loanable funds model leverage increases on impact because immediate net worth losses dominate the gradual decrease in loans. In the money creation model leverage remains constant (and for smaller shocks it drops significantly), because the rapid decrease in lending matches (and for smaller shocks more than matches) the change in net worth. … As for the effects on the real economy, the contraction in GDP in the money creation model is more than twice as large as in the intermediation of loanable funds model, as investment drops more strongly than in the intermediation of loanable funds model, and consumption decreases, while it increases in the intermediation of loanable funds model.

Non-Neutral Helicopter Drops

In an August 2014 Economics article, Willem Buiter discussed the conditions for a Friedman-type helicopter drop of money to be effective.

First, there must be benefits from holding fiat base money other than its pecuniary rate of return. Only then will base money be willingly held despite being dominated as a store of value … Second, fiat base money is irredeemable: it is view[ed] as an asset by the holder but not as a liability by the issuer. … Third, the price of money is positive.

Deflation … are therefore unnecessary. They are policy choices. This effectiveness result holds when the economy is away from the zero lower bound (ZLB), at the ZLB for a limited time period or at the ZLB forever.

The feature of irredeemable base money that is key … is that the acceptance of payment in base money by the government to a private agent constitutes a final settlement … It leaves the private agent without any further claim on the government, now or in the future. The helicopter money drop effectiveness issue is closely related to the question as to whether State-issued fiat money is net wealth for the private sector, despite being technically an ‘inside asset’ …

… because of its irredeemability, state-issued fiat money is indeed net wealth to the private sector … even after the intertemporal budget constraint of the State (which includes the Central Bank) has been consolidated with that of the household sector.