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On Inflation, Saving and the Nature of Money

by on November 3, 2010

I’ve noticed lately that one of the primary reasons for people to cling on to usury, even if they are all for a non-interest-bearing money supply, is to encourage saving.  However, one cannot make money by saving interest-bearing money.

I want to discuss a more advanced appreciation of money and credit.  If you need to get up-to-speed on the current issues facing our monetary system, you’ll find Ellen Brown’s recent article on money as credit quite useful.

The below is far from complete, but my goal is to invite new thinking which we badly need in our search for an equitable, efficient, and effective monetary system.

The Problem

Money is generally said to have three functions: unit of account, medium of exchange, and store of wealth.  We’ll forget about the unit of account function, although reform is also needed here. However, it is the most innocent function of money; the true conflict is with the other two designations.

We instinctively tend to give the store of wealth function of money quite a lot of status, hence our dislike of inflation and the enduring attraction of the Austrian School.  However, this notion might be mistaken.  The most extreme opposition to it was delivered by Silvio Gesell who totally destroyed the store of wealth function in his currencies by his demurrage, negative interest. Holding money costs you between 6 and 20%  per year, vastly increasing the velocity of circulation. Its most  legendary implementation was  in Wörgl, Austria, 1934.  I  don’t like quoting Wiki, but in this case they are concise and accurate.   Demurrage is also used in dozens of the German Regional Currencies.

The quintessential function of money is that of a medium of exchange, not that of “store of value.”  In fact, my definition of money is this:  Money is anything that is generally accepted by agreement as a medium of exchange. It so happens, that this is basically and fundamentally opposed to the function of store of wealth.  After all, medium of exchange implies circulation; store of wealth implies non-circulation.

How can these two opposites be reconciled? The fact of the matter is: they cannot. Not, at any rate, as one unit.  Here’s a little thought experiment to further the point.

What is saving?
We are accustomed to think saving means saving money. To my mind, however, saving means abstaining from consumption now, preserving it for future use. For instance: we want to retire, so we don’t use our entire income now for consumption, but store wealth for the days we won’t have income from our labor.  We don’t need to save money for this goal. We can use our current income to buy durable goods, or invest in projects that will provide us future income or lower costs for services we need.

When I suggest investing in businesses, I am not thinking about shares in BP or Goldman Sachs, but serious businesses; the ones that are run by people we know and trust.  We could buy a house with an interest-free mortgage, and “eat it” during our last years. We could even buy some silver. There are many things we could do.  In these ways we would store wealth without owning a penny.

This leaves the question of how to finance production, and obtain the interest-free mortgages we want. We are used to thinking of savers providing us with the capital. But even today this is not the case.  Most of the money that is lent out is created at the moment the loan is agreed upon.

The banks have learned that it is quite feasible to create working capital by pushing a few buttons — at almost no cost.  They use this technology to expropriate our assets through usury and inflation-deflation cycles. A rational system would provide the needed liquidity at just a little more than cost price.

So we don’t seem to need savers in a rational monetary system.

We should abstain from the desire of getting return on our money. Wealth is created by labor, not capital. This is easy to do, when we realize what price we pay for our current system through interest. By far the majority of people lose much more through interest, even when they are not in debt, than they ever will receive on their savings.

Saving should morph from saving money, to asset collection. This also would automatically end the danger the middle class is now facing: their paper “assets” are being wiped out. They would not have experienced any problems had they not hoarded cash and other paper “assets.”

In fact, it is often not well understood that usually it is primarily the middle class that suffers during inflation. Inflation also has winners: debtors, people with their wealth in assets, and landowners with mortgaged properties. The poor usually do not win or lose through inflation, because they own nothing. Their wages are compensated. At the height of the Weimar inflation, for instance, workers and employers had wage negotiations several times per day.

I’m not saying this to condone inflation, but to minimize its relevance.

If  we invest in real production, we can expect a return in some way, but there is no use for savers. There is no reason to give them a return just for hoarding cash. We don’t need their liquidity, and their hoarding  is hindering the free flow of money and actually making it more scarce, requiring more people to go into debt to provide the commonwealth with the liquidity it needs.

This is the “price” we pay for (almost) free money. We can’t have interest-free money if we want savers to receive interest. It would be illogical and unnecessary.

In an economy such as this, all of the economic actors would quit eyeballing cash and start focusing on the real world: assets. Cash would be plentiful and readily available when needed. At least for those with solid asset positions. Its only use would be to exchange real stuff between many players, facilitating specialization and higher achievement in the interest of all involved.

Banks know about the difference between money and assets. They know exactly what is what. They prefer to see you go bust, because they like your house better than they like being repaid.

We need a money system that would liberate everybody from the scarcity of cash, so that we can get a truly level playing field.

This can be achieved only when we give up the notion of making money with money.

3 Comments
  1. Antonia permalink

    Michael,

    What do you think of Douglas’ theory of Social Credit? I don’t really understand it but I like his idea that we all, not just the few, should benefit from the technological advances as they are are a common inheritance. The elimination of jobs should lead to freedom, yet governments insist people find work and penalize the ‘failures’ with doles that are humiliating and insufficient. A social dividend, such as the Alaskan Permanent Fund, would provide purchasing power apart from wages. The BIG idea – Basic Income Guarantee – is similar.

    • Social Credit is the idea of the Government creating debt free money and handing it to the populace to spend it into circulation. It is a more advanced form of the Greenback, which is spent into circulation by Government. By giving it to the populace, it not only gives a basic income to all, but let’s the People decide what direction the economy should take.
      Although I believe that interest free credit is an even better way of creating money, I fully endorse Social Credit. It would lead to a Golden Age for any nation implementing it.

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  1. Don’t hoard the Means of Exchange! (Part 1) « Real Currencies

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