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Part Three: Money and Banking > Chapter 17. Fiduciary Media and the Demand for...

6. The Periodical Rise and Fall in the Extent to which Bank Credit is Requisitioned

The requests made to the banks are requests, not for the transfer of money, but for the transfer of other economic goods. Would-be borrowers are in search of capital, not money. They are in search of capital in the form of money, because nothing other than power of disposal over money can offer them the possibility of being able to acquire in the market the real capital which is what they really want. Now the peculiar thing, which has been the source of one of the most difficult puzzles in economics for more than a hundred years, is that the would-be borrower's demand for capital is satisfied by the banks through the issue of money substitutes. It is clear that this can only provide a provisional satisfaction of the demands for capital. The banks cannot evoke capital out of nothing. If the fiduciary media satisfy the desire for capital, that is if they really procure disposition over capital goods for the borrowers, then we must first seek the source from which this supply of capital comes. It will not be particularly difficult to discover it. If the fiduciary media are perfect substitutes for money and do all that money could do, if they add to the social stock of money in the broader sense, then their issue must be accompanied by appropriate effects on the exchange ratio between money and other economic goods. The cost of creating capital for borrowers of loans granted in fiduciary media is borne by those who are injured by the consequent variation in the objective exchange value of money; but the profit of the whole transaction goes not only to the borrowers, but also to those who issue the fiduciary media, although these admittedly have sometimes to share their gains with other economic agents, as when they hold interest-bearing deposits, or the state shares in their profits.

The entrepreneurs who approach banks for loans are suffering from shortage of capital; it is never shortage of money in the proper sense of the word that drives them to present their bills for discounting. In some circumstances this shortage of capital may be only temporary; in other circumstances it may be permanent. In the case of the many undertakings which constantly draw upon short-term bank credit, year in, year out, the shortage of capital is a permanent one.

For the problem with which we are concerned, the circumstances causing the shortage of capital on the part of entrepreneurs do not matter. We may even provisionally disregard, as of minor importance, the question whether the shortage is one of investment capital or working capital. Sometimes the view is propounded that it is unjustified to procure investment capital partly by way of bank credit although this is less undesirable as a way of procuring work ing capital. Such arguments as these have played an important part in recent discussions of banking policy. The banks have been adversely criticized on the ground of their having used a considerable part of the credit issued by them for granting loans to industrial enterprises in search not of fixed but of working capital and of having thus endangered their liquidity. Legislation has been demanded to limit to liquid investments only the assets backing the liabilities arising from the issue of fiduciary media. Provisions of this sort are designed to deal with fiduciary media in the form of deposits in the same way as the note issue has been dealt with under the influence of the doctrines of the Currency School. We have already commented on their significance and have shown, as further discussion will remind us, that the only practical value of these, as of all similar restrictions, lies in the obstacles they oppose to unlimited expansion of credit.

The cash reserve which is maintained by every business enterprise also is a part of its working capital. If an enterprise feels for any reason obliged to increase its reserve this must be regarded as an increase of its capital. If it requisitions credit for this purpose, its action cannot be regarded as any different from a demand for credit that arises from any other cause—say, on account of an extension of plant or the like.

But attention must now be drawn to a phenomenon which, even if it adds nothing new to what has been said already, may serve to set some important processes of the money-and-capital market in a clearer light. It has been repeatedly mentioned already that commercial practice concentrates all kinds of settlements on particular days of the year so that there is bound to be a bigger demand for money on these days than on others. The concentration of days of settlement at the end of the week, the fortnight, the month, and the quarter, is a factor which considerably increases the demand for money, and so of course the demand for capital, on the part of undertakings. Even though an entrepreneur could reckon safely on sufficient receipts on a given day to meet the obligations falling due on that or the following day, still it would only be in the rarest cases that he could use the former directly for paying the latter. The technique of payment is not so far developed that it would always be possible to fulfill obligations punctually without having secured some days beforehand free disposal over the necessary means. A person who has to redeem a bill that falls due at his bank on September 30 will usually have to take steps, before that date, for covering it; sums which do not reach him until the very day of maturity of the bill will mostly prove useless for this purpose. In any case it is completely impracticable to use the receipts on any given day for making payments that fall due on the same day at distant places. On the days of settlement there must therefore necessarily be an increased demand for money on the part of the individual undertaking, and this will disappear again just as quickly as it arose. Of course, this demand for money too is a demand for capital. Hypercritical theorists, following Mercantile usage, are accustomed to draw a subtle distinction between the demand for money and the demand for capital; they contrast the demand for short-term credit, as a demand for money, with the demand for long-term credit, as a demand for capital. There is little reason for retaining this terminology, which has been responsible for much confusion. What is here called the demand for money is nothing but a real demand for capital; this must never be forgotten. If the undertaking takes up a short-term loan to supplement its cash reserve, then the case is one of a genuine credit transaction, of an exchange of future goods for present goods.

The increased demand of the entrepreneur for money and consequently for capital which occurs on these days of settlement, expresses itself in an increase of the requests for loans that are made to credit-issuing banks. In those countries where notes and not deposits are the chief kind of fiduciary media, this is perceptible in an increase in the quantity of bills handed in at the banks-of-issue for discounting and, if these bills are actually discounted, in the quantity of notes in circulation.15 Now this regular rise and fall of the level of the note circulation round about the days of settlement can in no way be explained by an increase in the total quantity of bills in existence in the community. No new bills, particularly no new short-term bills, are drawn and handed in to the banks to be discounted. It is bills that have the normal period to run, that are negotiated shortly before maturity. Until then they are retained in the portfolios either of nonbankers or of banks whose issue of fiduciary media is limited, whether because they have a small clientele or because of legal obstacles. It is not until the demand for money increases that the bills reach the large banks-of-issue. It is clear how little justification there is for the assertion that the amount of the note issue of central European banks-of-issue is organically connected with the quantity of bills drawn in the community. Only some of the bills are discounted at the banks by the issue of fiduciary media; the others complete their term without calling bank credit into use. But the proportion between the two amounts depends entirely on the credit policy that the credit-issuing banks follow.

Bank legislation has taken particular account of the extraordinary increase in the demand for money round about quarter-day. Article two of the German Bank (Amendment) Act of June 1, 1909, extends the usual tax-free quota of notes of 550 million marks to 750 million marks for the tax accounts based on information concerning the last days of March, June, September, and December in each year, thus sanctioning a procedure that the banks had been in the habit of following for decades. On every day of settlement, the entrepreneur's demand for credit increases, and therefore the natural rate of interest also. But the credit-issuing banks have endeavored to counteract the increase in interest on loans either by not raising the rate of discount at all, or by not raising it to an extent corresponding to the increase in the natural rate of interest. Of course, the consequence of this has necessarily been to swell their circulation of fiduciary media. State banking policy has in general put no obstacles in the way of this practice of the banks, which undoubtedly helps to stabilize the objective exchange value of money. The German Bank Act of 1909 was the first which took steps to give it direct support.

  • 15. Part of the rediscounting done at the Reichsbank by the private banks shortly before the critical days of settlement is done not so much because the banks are short of capital but because they desire to pass on nearly matured bills to be called in by the Reichsbank, which is able to perform this task more cheaply than they are, thanks to its extensive network of branches. See ibid., pp. 138 ff.