Do We Need More Savings Before We Can Have More Lending?
There is an emerging view held by many commentators that it is banks and not the central banks that are key for the expansion of money. This way of thinking is promoted these days by the followers of the Post Keynesian school of economics (PK). In a research paper by the Bank of England’s Zoltan Jakab and Michael Kurnhof, they suggest that
In the intermediation of loanable funds model of banking, banks accept deposits of pre-existing real resources from savers and then lend them to borrowers. In the real world, banks provide financing through money creation. That is they create deposits of new money through lending, and in doing so are mainly constrained by profitability and solvency considerations.1
It seems that for the researchers at the Bank of England and PK followers, the key for money creation is demand for loans, which is accommodated by banks increasing lending. In this framework, banks do not have to be concerned with the means of lending, all that is necessary is that there is a demand for loans, which banks are going to accommodate.
According to the Bank of England researchers,
In the real world, the key function of banks is the provision of financing, or the creation of new monetary purchasing power through loans, for a single agent that is both borrower and depositor. The bank therefore creates its own funding, deposits, in the act of lending, in a transaction that involves no intermediation whatsoever. Third parties are only involved in that the borrower/depositor needs to be sure that others will accept his new deposit in payment for goods, services or assets. This is never in question, because bank deposits are any modern economy’s dominant medium of exchange.
If the loan is for physical investment purposes, this new lending and money is what triggers investment and therefore, by the national accounts identity of saving and investment (for closed economies), saving. Saving is therefore a consequence, not a cause, of such lending. Saving does not finance investment, financing does. To argue otherwise confuses the respective macroeconomic roles of resources (saving) and debt-based money (financing).
But does it all make sense?
Defining Banking Activity
Let us start with a baker, John, who has produced 10 loaves of bread. He has consumed two loaves and the eight loaves are his savings. He can decide to lend the eight loaves to a borrower Bob.
Note that the loan comprises of the eight saved loaves of bread here, which is also the real savings of John. Alternatively, we can say that John has loaned real savings to Bob. Also, note that without the existence of real savings, the act of lending could not have occurred.
Now, if one were to follow the PK framework of thinking, and asking John to lend to Bob without John having any real savings at his disposal, obviously this attempt is going to fail. In addition, if there would have been an increase in the demand for lending this demand could not be accommodated — if John does not have real savings that could be loaned by John to accommodate the rising demand.
Contrary to the PK followers, an increase in demand for lending is not going to cause an increase in supply here.
Now, instead of John engaging directly in the lending of his real savings he could also lend indirectly via another individual who specializes in lending. We could also label this intermediary a bank.
For his services, the bank will charge John the lender a fee. Note that also here the essence of what we have said before does not change. In order to make a loan there must be real savings for this.
What permits the formation of lending is the existence of real savings. Without the real savings, no lending can emerge.
From this, we can also establish that by being an intermediary, bank channels real savings from lenders to borrowers.
Why the PK framework is not compatible with a free market
In the real world, banks must make sure that the resources for lending are available to them. In a free unhampered economy if a bank attempts to indiscriminately accommodate the demand for loans by lifting the supply of lending, then the bank runs the risk of bankruptcy.
Through lending, a bank creates deposits, which are going to be employed in various transactions. At some point during a settlement period between various banks, some banks that were very accommodative to the demand for loans are going to find that they do not have enough cash to settle with other banks. This raises the likelihood that a bank that is short of cash could end up bankrupt.
Can Banks Create Savings Out of Thin Air?
Obviously then, contrary to the researchers at the Bank of England, banks must ensure that they have enough savings to embark on the lending process. For the Bank of England researchers there is no problem here, because once banks accommodate demand for lending this also generates savings.
Real savings, (i.e., final consumer goods) are employed to sustain various individuals that are engaged in the enhancement and the enlargement of the infrastructure of an economy. With improved infrastructure a greater amount of final goods and services can be generated in the future.
Obviously then, it is not possible by means of lending out of thin air to create real savings as suggested by the Bank of England researchers. If this could have been done then the worldwide poverty would have been erased a long time ago. It is not possible to create something out of nothing.
The only thing that can be generated in the framework of the PK is money out of thin air due to the expansion in lending. As we have seen however, this expansion runs the risk that banks that have expanded lending irrespective of real savings run the risk of bankruptcy.
We can also conclude that in a free market economy, without a central bank, lending activity would likely be confined to an environment where lending is fully backed up by real savings. This type of lending is an agent of economic growth since it directs real savings toward the buildup of the capital goods that is going to support stronger economic growth.
What the Bank of England researchers have done is to provide an elaborate description of the generation of credit out of thin air, which as we have seen is an agent of economic destruction. What they have labeled, as savings that banks supposedly instantly create through the expansion of credit out of thin air has nothing to do with savings but just an expansion of empty money.
Contrary to the Bank of England research, the essence of banking is the transfer of savings from lenders to borrowers. We have also concluded that in a free market without a central bank the savings that banks will mediate are likely to reflect real savings. Hence, in a free market banks are intermediaries of real savings in their lending activities, thus promoting genuine and real economic growth.
This is however not the case in a market which is manipulated by the central bank. In such a market, some of the lending by banks are not fully backed by real savings. In this case, the unbacked lending could be seen as any creation of money out of thin air, which leads to an economic impoverishment.
Furthermore, being the medium of exchange, money can only facilitate the lending of real savings. It however cannot replace real savings in the act of lending. Any attempt to replace real savings with money in the process of lending will result in an economic disaster.
- 1. Bank of England Working Paper No. 529 (2015): "Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds — and why this matters" by Zoltan Jakab and Michael Kurnhof. (https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2015/banks-are-not-intermediaries-of-loanable-funds-and-why-this-matters)