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Part Three: Money and Banking > Chapter 19. Money, Credit, and Interest

5. Credit and Economic Crises

Our theory of banking, like that of the currency principle, leads ultimately to a theory of business cycles. It is true that the Currency School did not inquire thoroughly into even this problem. It did not ask what consequences follow from the unrestricted extension of credit on the part of the credit-issuing banks; it did not even inquire whether it was possible for them permanently to depress the natural rate of interest. It set itself more modest aims and was content to ask what would happen if the banks in one country extended the issue of fiduciary media more than those of other countries. Thus it arrived at its doctrine of the "external drain" and at its explanation of the English crises that had occurred up to the middle of the nineteenth century.

If our doctrine of crises is to be applied to more recent history, then it must be observed that the banks have never gone as far as they might in extending credit and expanding the issue of fiduciary media. They have always left off long before reaching this limit, whether because of growing uneasiness on their own part and on the part of all those who had not forgotten the earlier crises, or whether because they had to defer to legislative regulations concerning the maximum circulation of fiduciary media. And so the crises broke out before they need have broken out. It is only in this sense that we can interpret the statement that it is apparently true after all to say that restriction of loans is the cause of economic crises, or at least their immediate impulse; that if the banks would only go on reducing the rate of interest on loans they could continue to postpone the collapse of the market. If the stress is laid upon the word postpone, then this line of argument can be assented to without more ado. Certainly, the banks would be able to postpone the collapse; but nevertheless, as has been shown, the moment must eventually come when no further extension of the circulation of fiduciary media is possible. Then the catastrophe occurs, and its consequences are the worse and the reaction against the bull tendency of the market the stronger, the longer the period during which the rate of interest on loans has been below the natural rate of interest and the greater the extent to which roundabout processes of production that are not justified by the state of the capital market have been adopted.