The Federal Reserve: Fractional Reserve Lending

By: Douglas V. Gnazzo | Tue, Nov 29, 2005
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"All the perplexities, confusion and distresses in America arise not from defects in the Constitution or confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, as much from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation." [1]

Abstract

Ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law does not excuse) is a well established principle dating back thousands of years. Roman and English law, precursors of the American system of jurisprudence, both recognized the maxim.

Be it not forgotten - justice excuses not the law. The laws of the land are to be made in pursuance of the Constitution. The Constitution has precedent. Any law not in pursuance of the Constitution is null and void, as if it never occurred. So the court has ruled.

"And there is virgin Justice, the daughter of Zeus, who is honored and reverenced among the gods who dwell on Olympus, and whenever anyone hurts her with lying slander, she sits beside her father, Zeus the son of Cronos, and tells him of men's wicked heart, until the people pay for the mad folly of their princes who, evilly minded, pervert judgement and give sentence crookedly." [2]

No man is above the law - not even the King. No law is above the Constitution - not even the King's. All men are created equal. All men are judged accordingly. He without sin cast the first stone.

The ignorance of coin, credit, and circulation is unfortunately, a widespread occurrence - causing perplexities, confusion, and distress, all tearing at the social fabric of our nation. But who is guilty of these defects - who has caused them to be?

Is it the fault of the common man that he cannot understand the complexities of a monetary system that moved Lord Keynes to say that not one man in a million understands money?

No, the common man is not at fault, the blame lies elsewhere: it rests with those who have purposefully made the monetary policy so bizarre that even its keepers have a hard time understanding the delusion they have created.

John Kenneth Galbraith clearly understood the illusionary nature of the elite's monetary economists when he stated that they:

"use complexity to disguise or to evade the truth, rather than to reveal it." [3]

Fractional Reserves

The most dishonest monetary illusion is the shadow cast by fractional reserve lending.

"Because of 'fractional' reserve system, banks, as a whole, can expand our money supply several times, by making loans and investments." [4]

Let's take a closer look at the sword of State the magi use to create their tricks of prestidigitation - the scepter of fractional reserves.

What is meant by fractional reserves? It would seem that reserves are reduced to a fraction, but a fraction of what? Perhaps we should seek the wise counsel of the Federal Reserve, as this is their raison d'etre.

Required Reserve Balances

"Required reserve balances are balances that a depository institution must hold with the Federal Reserve to satisfy its reserve requirement. Reserve requirements are imposed on all depository institutions - which include commercial banks, savings banks, savings and loan associations, and credit unions - as well as U.S. branches and agencies of foreign banks and other domestic banking entities that engage in international transactions.

Since the early 1990s, reserve requirements have been applied only to transaction deposits, which include demand deposits and interest-bearing accounts that offer unlimited checking privileges. An institution's reserve requirement is a fraction of such deposits; the fraction - the required reserve ratio - is set by the Board of Governors within limits prescribed in the Federal Reserve Act." [5]

According to the above, the Board of Governors set required reserve balances within limits as prescribed by the Federal Reserve Act that depository institutions must hold on account.

The required reserve ratio is clearly stated to be a fraction of demand deposits and interest-bearing accounts that offer unlimited checking privileges.

Notice the wording "since the early 1990s, reserve requirements have been applied only to transaction deposits", as such language demonstrates that previous to the early 1990's reserve requirements were applied to a larger composite - according to the usage of the word "only".

Which in fact is true, as reserve requirements have been reduced several times since the Fed took control in 1913? A closer look at reserve requirements is in order.

Reserve Requirements

The Federal Reserve has the following to say in regards to reserve requirements:

"Reserve requirements have long been a part of our nation's banking history. Depository institutions maintain a fraction of certain liabilities in reserve in specified assets. The Federal Reserve can adjust reserve requirements by changing required reserve ratios, the liabilities to which the ratios apply, or both." [6]

Once again, we see the use of the word "fraction" when discussing reserve requirements, however, we now have the further clarification of reserves in "specified assets." Obviously, these "specified assets" are critically important, as they are the reserves of our monetary system.

"A depository institution satisfies its reserve requirement by its holdings of vault cash (currency in its vault) and, if vault cash is insufficient to meet the requirement, by the balance maintained directly with a Federal Reserve Bank or indirectly with a pass-through correspondent bank (which in turn hold the balances in its account at the Federal Reserve)." [7]

Now we see that depository institutions satisfy their reserve requirements by holding cash (currency) in their vaults, or if short, they get some help from the Fed or a correspondent bank. The next logical question is: how much cash are they required to have on reserve in their vaults.

From the same Fed publication, we find the following table:

Reserve requirement ratios, 2004

As can be seen from the above chart there isn't a heck of a lot of reserves on reserve. Three of the five categories listed in the chart have zero (0) reserve requirements. One of the five categories has three (3%) percent reserves, and the remaining category has approximately ten (10%) percent reserve requirements.

So, what are the ramifications of the above listed reserve requirements? From the Fed's publication, we find the following:

Autonomous Factors

"The supply of balances can vary substantially from day to day because of movements in other items on the Federal Reserve's balance sheet. These so-called autonomous factors are generally outside the Federal Reserve's direct day-to-day control.

The largest autonomous factor is Federal Reserve notes. When a depository institution needs currency, it places an order with a Federal Reserve Bank. When the Federal Reserve fills the order, it debits the account of the depository institution at the Federal Reserve, and total Federal Reserve balances decline.

The amount of currency demanded tends to grow over time, in part reflecting increases in nominal spending as the economy grows. Consequently, an increasing volume of balances would be extinguished, and the federal funds rate would rise, if the Federal Reserve did not offset the contraction in balances by purchasing securities. Indeed, the expansion of Federal Reserve notes is the primary reason that the Federal Reserve's holdings of securities grow over time." [8]

Federal Reserve notes are those little green pieces of paper we all carry around in our wallet or purse and refer to as cash. A dollar bill is a Federal Reserve note, as are fives, tens, twenties, fifties, and one hundred dollar bills.

From where does the Fed get the Federal Reserve Notes? Good question. Let's try and find the answer.

Notice in the above quote the last sentance, which reads, "Indeed, the expansion of Federal Reserve notes is the primary reason that the Federal Reserve's holdings of securities grow over time."

With the Fed's holding of securities entering the picture, we now have two questions to answer: Federal Reserve notes come from where; and what securities is the Fed holding due to the expansion of Federal Reserve notes?

The Treasury

The Treasury has a role to play in this monetary game of musical chairs. The Fed has this to say regarding the Treasury:

"Another important factor is the balance in the U.S. Treasury's account at the Federal Reserve. The Treasury draws on this account to make payments by check or direct deposit for all types of federal spending. When these payments clear, the Treasury's account is reduced and the account of the depository institution for the person or entity that receives the funds is increased. The Treasury is not a depository institution, so a payment by the Treasury to the public (for example, a Social Security payment) raises the volume of Federal Reserve balances available to depository institutions." [9]

From this we see that the Treasury has an account at the Federal Reserve, and that the Treasury draws on the account to make payments by check and direct deposit. Where did the Treasury's account at the Fed come from? Rather than finding answers, we are discovering more questions.

Open Market Operations

"Open market operations are the most powerful and often-used tool for controlling the funds rate. These operations, which are arranged nearly every business day, are designed to bring the supply of Federal Reserve balances in line with the demand for those balances at the FOMC's target rate." [10]

The more we look, the greater our task becomes. That is good, as often times its not just the answers that matter, but asking the right questions as well. We are getting warmer by the minute.

"In theory, the Federal Reserve could conduct open market operations by purchasing or selling any type of asset. In practice, however, most assets cannot be traded readily enough to accommodate open market operations. For open market operations to work effectively, the Federal Reserve must be able to buy and sell quickly, at its own convenience, in whatever volume may be needed to keep the federal funds rate at the target level. These conditions require that the instrument it buys or sells be traded in a broad, highly active market that can accommodate the transactions without distortions or disruptions to the market itself. The market for U.S. Treasury securities satisfies these conditions." [11]

United States Treasury securities are the main market the Fed uses to conduct open market operations. As the money supply continually grows, the buying of Treasury securities by the Fed occurs more often then selling.

Summary To Date

The remaining questions before us are:

Where The Money Comes From

Trillions of dollars are said to be everywhere. I remember as a kid that a million was a big number. Today billions of dollars are tossed around from computer to computer without the blink of an eye. Trillions are now the topic de jour.

Budgets, deficits, and international money flows are all described using trillions or parts thereof. We have come a long way. The financial wizards circle high above the common man. But perhaps the way so chosen is the wrong way, for the good of all of the people - not just the elite few who control the strings of the purse, and profit thereby.

Let's go within the Temple of the Wizards of Finance, to see what arts the conjuring is done by, to see what potions and spells are cast within fortune's cauldron, and what strange brew precipitates there from.

The Beginning

On that fateful day when Federal Reserve Notes were first issued, it is obvious that a huge number of dollar bills had to be printed. Now, the printing press is pretty much obsolete; the only money that actually gets printed is used to replace old and worn Federal Reserve notes already in circulation. In vogue today is electronic money - fast food style.

The process actually begins with the Treasury Department printing a piece of paper called a bond, which is done electronically. Treasury bonds are debt obligations (liability) of the government to repay a loan - with interest.

The Treasury sells bonds to the public. The bonds the public does not buy, the Treasury deposits with the Federal Reserve. When the Fed accepts the bond from the Treasury, it lists the bond on its books as an asset.

The Fed assumes the government will make good on its promise to pay back the loan. This is based on the belief that the government's power to tax the people is sufficient collateral.

Because the Fed now has an asset that it didn't have before receiving the Treasury bond, the Fed can now create a liability that is offset by its new asset.

The liability that the Fed creates is a Federal Reserve check. It gives the Treasury the check in payment for the Treasury bond.

THERE IS NO EXISTING MONEY IN THE FED'S ACCOUNT TO COVER THIS CHECK.

The Federal Reserve check is endorsed by the Treasury and is deposited in one of the government's accounts at the Federal Reserve. The government can use the deposits to write checks against, to pay for government expenses.

This is the first new money flow to enter the system. Various government contractors, vendors, etc. receive these checks as payment for services rendered, and they take the checks and deposit them in their commercial banks.

The Second Step

This is when the wizards of finance perform their greatest feats of magic. The deposits in the commercial banks take on a sort of split personality or dementia, brought on by a preponderance of delusional thinking.

On the one hand, the deposits are the bank's liabilities, as they owe the total sums to their depositors.

However, because of FRACTIONAL RESERVE lending, the bankers get to lend out 9 times what they have on deposit.

The commercial banks get to list the deposits as RESERVES.

In other words, FRACTIONAL RESERVE lending allows the commercial banks to create 9 times more money then they have on reserve. The banks lend money they don't have, and:

They get to charge interest on it.

As the newly issued money is put to work by borrowers, they then spend it and the receiver then deposits it in their bank account, and the bank starts the reserve lending policy all over again. This is why the

Money supply must expand by the amount of interest owed on the debt.

If it didn't, the debt would not be able to be serviced. There is no money created without creating debt, they are one and the same. Wealth is not created by creating money by fiat - only debt. As the Fed has admitted:

"Commercial banks create checkbook money whenever they grant a loan, simply by adding new deposit dollars in accounts on their books in exchange for a borrower's IOU." [12]

Conclusion

Fractional reserve lending invokes the moral hazard of fidelity of contract. Banks have on deposit (reserve) at most 10% of the "money supply".

This means that if more than 10% of depositors go to the bank at one time to withdraw "our" money - there isn't any money to withdraw beyond the 10% reserves.

Which means that 90% of the money supply is non-existent, nothing more than a fleeting illusion.

The bank's solvency stands on the faith that no more than 10% of depositors will want their money at the same time. This means that although

Banks may appear to be solvent - they are without question illiquid.

Fractional reserve lending insures and guarantees that banks cannot possibly be liquid.

Banking is the only type of business that is allowed to function this way. If any other business used a similar modis operandi it would be subject to censor, arrest, court, and possibly imprisonment. Banks cannot fulfill all of their contracts if demand occurred at the same time. Thus, the banks are illiquid.

Why the double standard? Why the dishonesty? Why are they afraid of gold and silver money as the Constitution mandates? Because it would make them tow the line or go bankrupt. Less they forget - be ever mindful - even Zeus cannot deny Destiny.

OCEANIDS : Who then is the steersman of Necessity?
Prometheus: The three-shaped MOERAE and mindful ERINYES.
OCEANIDS : Can it be that Zeus has less power than they do?
Prometheus: Yes, in that even he cannot escape what is foretold. [13]

Coming Soon - Open Letter To Congress
Seeking Redress For The Return To Honest Money

Notes:
[1] John Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson
[2] Hesiod, Works and Days
[3] John Kenneth Galbraith Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went
[4] Federal Reserve Bank, New York The Story of Banks, p.5.
[5] The Federal Reserve System Purposes and Functions The Implementation of Monetary Policy
[6] Same as above
[7] Same
[8] Same
[9] Same
[10] Same
[11] Same
[12] Federal reserve Bank of New York, I Bet You Thought, p.19
[13] Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 515


 

Douglas V. Gnazzo

Author: Douglas V. Gnazzo

Douglas V. Gnazzo
Honest Money Gold & Silver Report

Douglas V. Gnazzo is the retired CEO of New England Renovation LLC, a historical restoration contractor that specialized in the restoration of older buildings and vintage historic landmarks. Mr. Gnazzo writes for numerous websites, and his work appears both here and abroad. Just recently, he was honored by being chosen as a Foundation Scholar for the Foundation of Monetary Education (FAME).

Disclaimer: The contents of this article represent the opinions of Douglas V. Gnazzo. Nothing contained herein is intended as investment advice or recommendations for specific investment decisions, and you should not rely on it as such. Douglas V. Gnazzo is not a registered investment advisor. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and using methods believed to be reliable, but Douglas. V. Gnazzo cannot accept responsibility for any trading losses you may incur as a result of your reliance on this analysis and will not be held liable for the consequence of reliance upon any opinion or statement contained herein or any omission. Individuals should consult with their broker and personal financial advisors before engaging in any trading activities. Do your own due diligence regarding personal investment decisions. This article may contain information that is confidential and/or protected by law. The purpose of this article is intended to be used as an educational discussion of the issues involved. Douglas V. Gnazzo is not a lawyer or a legal scholar. Information and analysis derived from the quoted sources are believed to be reliable and are offered in good faith. Only a highly trained and certified and registered legal professional should be regarded as an authority on the issues involved; and all those seeking such an authoritative opinion should do their own due diligence and seek out the advice of a legal professional. Lastly, Douglas V. Gnazzo believes that The United States of America is the greatest country on Earth, but that it can yet become greater. This article is written to help facilitate that greater becoming. God Bless America.

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TRUE MONEY SUPPLY

Source: The Contrarian Take http://blogs.forbes.com/michaelpollaro/
austrian-money-supply/