This is a question I answered more than a quarter century ago in Part I of my book, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis. It is a question that gets scant attention from politicians and economists who are willing to speak only about the need for perpetual economic growth and keeping the government debt at “manageable” levels, never asking why government debt is necessary or how it might be eliminated.
When I first undertook to answer this question, the debt crisis was already well underway and global in scope. Since then the situation has become more critical with debt levels reaching astronomical levels.
What I said in 1990 began with this:
The whole world today seems to be awash in a sea of debt which threatens to drown us all. Many Third World countries, despite their huge increases in production for export, are unable to pay even the interest due on their accumulated indebtedness to Western banks and governments. In the U. S., the levels of both public (government) and private debt are increasing at alarming rates. The Federal budget deficits of recent years far exceed anything thought possible just a decade ago. Why is this happening and why is it a problem? In order to understand that, one must first understand some financial facts of life.
Here are the essential points of my argument:
- Almost all of the money in every country is created by commercial banks when they make loans either to the private sector or to governments (by purchasing government bonds, notes, etc.),
- Money is extinguished when loan principal is repaid,
- The interest that banks charge on these loans causes the amount owed to grow as time passes,
- Causing the aggregate amount owed to banks to always exceed the supply of money in circulation,
- Requiring that banks make additional loans to keep the supply of money in circulation from falling behind the amounts needed for existing loans to be “serviced” (repayment of part of the principal plus the interest due) in order to avoid a cascade of defaults and economic depression,
- And that this “debt imperative” that is built into the global money system is the driver of the economic “growth imperative” that results in superfluous economic output and its attendant depletion of physical resources, despoliation of the environment, increasing disparities in income and wealth distribution, and many other problems that plague modern civilization.
- That physical limits to economic output on a finite planet make this money system unsustainable over the long term.
- That there are practical limits to the amount of debt that the private sector is able or willing to incur.
- That chronic government budget deficits are therefore a political expedient that is necessary to keep this flawed system from collapsing as governments assume the role of “borrower of last resort.”
- That politicians are quite willing that governments play this role since it gives them the power to take much more value out of the economy than the revenues available by means of overt taxation.
- That bankers, for their part, by monopolizing the allocation of credit in the economy and charging interest on it, are able to enrich themselves and exercise tremendous power over the political process making a sham of democratic government.
The empirical evidence strongly supports my analysis. You only need to look at charts showing the growth of debt over time to see it growing at an accelerating rate (geometrically), a pattern that reflects the compound interest function that is an inherent feature of our global political money system.
You can read my original 1989 exposition of these points at Money and Debt: a Solution to the Global Crisis, Part I, and their subsequent elaboration in my latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, http://beyondmoney.net/the-end-of-money-and-the-future-of-civilization/.
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Responding to charges of treason leveled against him by his “self-styled persecutors,” former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, on his personal blog, has laid down the gauntlet, accusing “Greece’s oligarchic establishment” as being “troika-friendly.”
In his post of July 28, Varoufakis defended his “defiant negotiating stance” saying:
My dastardly ‘crime’ was that, expressing the collective will of our government, I personified the sins of:
• Facing down the Eurogroup’s leaders as an equal that has the right to say ‘NO’ and to present powerful analytical reasons for rebuffing the catastrophic illogicality of huge loans to an insolvent state in condition of self-defeating austerity
• Demonstrating that one can be a committed Europeanist, strive to keep one’s nation in the Eurozone, and, at the very same time, reject Eurogroup policies which damage Europe, deconstruct the euro and, crucially, trap one’s country in austerity-driven debt-bondage
• Planning for contingencies that leading Eurogroup colleagues, and high ranking troika officials, were threatening me with in face-to-face discussions
• Unveiling how previous Greek governments turned crucial government departments, such as the General Secretariat of Public Revenues and the Hellenic Statistical Office, into departments effectively controlled by the troika and reliably pressed into the service of undermining the elected government.
Varoufakis also claimed a moral victory, arguing that “The debate about the democratic deficit afflicting the Eurozone is now unstoppable.”
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This interview of Thomas Greco was conducted and recorded by award wining documentary filmmaker, Marie-Monique Robin, during the 2nd International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems in The Hague, Netherlands in June, 2013. In English with French subtitles.
Dear Martin Wolf,
Your article, Strip private banks of their power to create money, highlights some of the problems of the global money and banking system, but falls short in the proposed solution.
The problem is not private money creation, per se, but the monopolization of credit (money creation) in the hands of a private banking cartel and the collusive arrangement between bankers and politicians.
In today’s world, banks get to lend our collective credit back to us and charge interest for it while central governments get to spend more than they earn in overt tax revenues, relying on the banking system to monetize government debts. These two parasitic drains on the economy, interest and inflationary government debt monetization, create a growth imperative that is destroying the environment, shredding the social fabric, and creating ever greater disparities of income and wealth.
Turning over the money monopoly to politicians (what I call the “Greenback solution”) will not change things very much. It will be the same people wearing different hats. The political process has been so thoroughly corrupted and taken over by this small elite class that political approaches to solving the money problem have no chance of passage anyway. I articulated that argument a few years ago in my Alternet article, The End of Money: Take Power Back From the Money and Banking Monopoly.
True solutions must emerge, and are emerging, from society and from associations of small and medium-sized businesses. Money is first and foremost a medium for facilitating the exchange of goods and services and other forms of real value, but the exchange function can be effectively and efficiently provided outside the banking system and without the use of conventional political money. This is being done for associated businesses through credit clearing exchanges and through the issuance of private currencies or vouchers by businesses that produce real value. Both approaches have the capacity to provide exchange media that can be used by general public as well.
So, rather than ban private issuance of currencies, such private issuance needs to be proliferated and encouraged. There needs to be competition in currency so that there will be a sufficient amount of exchange media, and so that political currencies cannot be abused without losing patronage in the market. Rather than establishing the state as the money power, we need to have a separation of money and state. That argument is more fully developed in my latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.
Thomas H. Greco, Jr.
I have often pointed out, but almost no economist is willing to admit, that central governments play an essential role as “borrowers of last resort” to keep a flawed system of money and banking from collapsing. In their collusive arrangement with the banking elite, government’s debts will be monetized through the actions of their respective central banks. This is the process of currency inflation, which is now euphemistically called “quantitative easing.”
The empirical data makes this plain to anyone who cares to look at it and put two and two together. The Bank for International Settlements has just reported that global debt has increased more than 40 percent in just the past six years. You can find more details about that in this recent Bloomberg article: Global Debt Exceeds $100 Trillion as Governments Binge, BIS Says.
When debt growth, fueled by compound interest, hits the wall of physical reality, something’s got to give.
My latest article, Money, debt and the end of the growth imperative, was published today (March 3) in the online journal, Transformation. Read it here. –t.h.g.