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Part Three: Money and Banking > Chapter 18. The Redemption of Fiduciary Media

7. The Security of the Investments of the Credit-Issuing Bank

The solution of the problem of soundness is no more difficult for the credit-issuing banks than for the credit-negotiating banks. If the fiduciary media are issued only on good security and if a guarantee fund is created out of the bank's share capital for the purpose of covering losses, for even under prudent management losses cannot always be avoided, then the bank can put itself in a position to redeem in full the fiduciary media that it issues, although not within the term specified in its promises to pay.

Nevertheless, the soundness of the cover is only of subordinate importance as far as fiduciary media are concerned. It may disappear entirely, at least in a certain sense, without prejudicing their capacity of circulation. Fiduciary media can even be issued without any cover at all. This occurs, for example, when the state issues token coins and does not devote the seigniorage to a particular fund for their redemption. (Under certain circumstances, the metal value of the coins themselves may be regarded as partial security. And of course the state as a whole has assets that provide far greater security than any sort of special fund could offer) On the other hand, even if the fiduciary media are completely covered by the assets of the issuer, so that only the time of their redemption and not its ultimate occurrence is open to question, this cannot have any sort of influence whatever in support of their capacity for circulation; for this depends exclusively upon the expectation that the issuer will redeem them promptly.

To have overlooked this is the error underlying all those proposals and experiments which have aimed at guaranteeing the issue of fiduciary media by means of funds consisting of nonliquid assets, such as mortgages. If those money substitutes that are presented for redemption are immediately and fully redeemed in money, then, beyond the cash reserve necessary for this redemption, no stock of goods is needed for maintaining equivalence between the fiduciary media and money. If, however, the money substitutes are not fully and immediately redeemed for money, then they will not be reckoned as equivalent to money just because there are some goods somewhere that will at some time be used to satisfy the demands that the holders of the money substitutes are entitled to make on the ground of the claims that the money substitutes embody. They will be valued at less than the sums of money to which they refer, because their redemption is in doubt and at the best will not occur until after the passage of a period of time. And so they will cease to be money substitutes; if they continue to be used as media of exchange, it will be at an independent valuation; they will be no longer money substitutes, but credit money.

For credit money also, that is for unmatured claims which serve as common media of exchange, "cover" by a special fund is superfluous. So long as the claims are tendered and accepted as money, and thus have obtained an exchange value in excess of that which is attributed to them as mere claims, such a fund has no bearing on the matter. The significance of the regulations as to cover and the funds for that purpose lies here, as with fiduciary media, in the fact that they indirectly set a limit to the quantity that can be issued.12

  • 12. See Nicholson, A Treatise on Money and Essays on Present Monetary Problems (Edinburgh, 1888), pp. 67 f.