A recent news post blames pandemic spending, a rising dollar and poor leadership for the debt crises in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Ghana, El Salvador, Zambia, and Pakistan, but while those may be the proximate causes of the crises, there is a more fundamental underlying cause.
The real cause of debt crises in those countries, as well as worsening crises even in “developed” countries, is the flawed, dysfunctional, and destructive global interest-based, debt-money system, which is designed to extract wealth and accumulate it into the hands of a small global power elite. The system has been doing that for a very long time but now the adverse effects are becoming acute and spilling over beyond the financial and economic realms and into the political and social realms as well.
These problems will not be solved by ever greater amounts of poisonous debt. Any real cure must include massive amounts of debt forgiveness and the deployment of new systems of money, credit and exchange that are decentralized and interest-free. Such systems are described in my book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.
The Usury Conjecture on the centralized, interest-based, debt-money system Revised June 2, 2022 Thomas H. Greco, Jr.
The Usury Conjecture in a nutshell The central banking, interest-based, debt money system that is dominant around the world today is neither stable, nor sustainable, nor fair. The creation of money based on bank lending with interest creates an imperative for debt to grow exponentially with the passage of time. That debt-growth imperative drives artificial economic growth as borrowers compete with one another to acquire enough money from the always insufficient pool of money to service their “loans.”
When I first began my intensive inquiry into money, banking, and finance more than 40 years ago, it did not take long for me to discover the essential nature of money, where it comes from and how it is created, allocated, circulated, mismanaged and abused. I was astonished that this system has been allowed to become such a dominant force in the world, that it has wreaked such enormous devastation upon the world, and that it has been allowed to go on for such a long period of time. What has led me to those conclusions has been thoroughly documented in my many books, articles, and web posts.
I have long wondered why there seem to have been no serious attempts to model the monetary system that predominates today throughout the world. Then, in November 2011, I again met up with a well known economist at a conference in Michigan where we were both presenters. In his presentation he reported having conducted such a simulation in which the results showed an equilibrium state being reached. I was dubious about his conclusions but in the context of the conference there was not sufficient opportunity to raise pertinent questions or to discuss them in any depth. I later wrote to him with my questions and asked him to respond to my assertion that some of his underlying assumptions about the system that he used in his simulation might not have been realistic. That was the beginning of my attempts to more fully articulate my “usury conjecture” which over the subsequent years has gone through several revisions. I think my arguments are sufficiently well developed at this point to be useful to others in understanding the system and in designing realistic simulations and mathematical models that are able to reveal its inherent flaws.
In my critique, I did not say that his model was “wrong,” only that some of the underlying assumptions were unrealistic and his model too limited to adequately describe the system as it presently exists. Here are the points that need to be considered:
Free banking. He stated at the beginning of his presentation that his model was a simulation of the monetary system as it existed during the “free banking” era in the United States around the mid-eighteen hundreds. But we no longer live in that world, money and banking have undergone a great many changes since that time and the free banking model does not describe today’s reality. Among the very significant changes have been:
The centralization of credit allocation power in the hands of a few huge banking companies. During the free banking era, that power was greatly decentralized, there was much more competition among banks and their asset portfolios consisted mainly of loans to businesses in the bank’s own geographic region, and much less in US government bonds or loans to massive diversified corporations which did not exist at that time.
The imposition of forced circulation (by means of legal tender laws) of a unitary national currency under the Federal Reserve System that ultimately decoupled the currency from any objective measure of value (like a fixed weight of gold or silver). During the “free banking” era, each bank issued its own “brand” of bank note denominated in dollars.
The gradual elimination of the redeemability of currency for specie (gold or silver) obliterated the objective measure of value, disconnected the money economy from the real economy, and opened the door for extreme monopolization of credit and the abusive inflation of the currency.
What happens to a bank’s interest income? As I understood his presentation, he made the assumption that the banks spend all of their interest income back into the economy, but that is clearly not the case. While a portion of a bank’s revenues are used to pay employees, and cover other expenses like equipment and facilities, it seems that most of the bank’s interest income is added to capital or re-enters the economy, not as consumption spending but in the form of additional loans or as reserves deposited with the central bank that enable further loans to be made, or as payouts to bank owners who, rather than spending it on consumption, use it themselves to lend it out, adding a secondary layer of debt and interest to the economy which creates a further shortage of money available for debt repayment. All of that requires a further expansion of lending (debt) by the banks to keep the money supply expanding enough to prevent too many defaults and subsequent bankruptcies, unemployment and economic depression.
Savings and investment. What does the bank do with peoples’ savings? In his reported simulation he did not describe the accounting entries that accompany the deposit of peoples’ savings, but savings and investment are two sides of the same coin. A bank, in its role as depository (as opposed to its primary role as “bank of issue”), reallocates surplus money (savings) from those who wish to save to those who need to use it now for capital formation (expansion of production capacity), or to spend on consumer goods when there are lulls in their income streams (consumer finance). The interest banks charge on these loans far exceeds the cost of providing the service and the interest they pay to savers, which creates further imbalances in income and wealth distributions.
Debt repayment. Repayment of principal on loans naturally results in the extinction of that amount of money. As old loans are repaid, new loans must be made to keep the money supply from shrinking which would cause additional defaults and economic stagnation or depression. New loans may or may not be sufficient to compensate and maintain the money supply. There must be both banks that are willing to lend and companies and people that are willing and able to borrower, but when the private sector had taken on as much debt as it can bear, government becomes the “borrower of last resort” in order to maintain or increase the money supply.
The role of a central bank. The central banks in countries around the world may or may not be a nominal part of the government. In the US, the Federal Reserve is an independent entity owned by banking corporations that pursue their own interests. There developed long ago, with the founding of the Bank of England, a collusive arrangement between banking and government. On the government side, the agreement enables perpetual deficit spending; on the banking side, the agreement enables the emergence of a banking cartel that enjoys the privilege of lending the peoples’ own credit back to them and charging interest for it. The advertised role of a central bank is to limit inflation and promote full employment. In actuality, the role of a central bank is to enableinflation sufficient to support government budget deficits while protecting and preserving the bankers’ privilege to milk the productive economy and enlarge their own wealth and political power.
Basis of issue. Besides the need to be free of interest, money needs to be issued on a proper value basis. There have been volumes written about this point, but sound principles of commercial banking have been discarded over the years because the perpetuation of the flawed system requires it, and because those who control the machinery of money use their power to promote their own narrow interests of wealth and power. Thus, some loans that banks make are legitimate while most are not. Banks should create new money to enable the production and sale of goods that are in the market or soon to arrive there. They should not make loans for speculative purposes or to monetize government debts as they commonly do today.[i] Thus, we have a stream of legalized counterfeit that dilutes the purchasing power of all the legitimate money in circulation. This currency inflation leads to price inflation, which amounts to a “hidden tax” that disproportionately harms the middle class who have substantial amounts of savings invested either directly or in pension funds which they do not control, and this “tax” hurts low income people who need to spend the bulk of their income just to survive.
The economy. Economists and politicians speak about THE economy as if it was a unitary whole, but there are actually many economies depending on geography, social and economic class, and there are the public sector and the private sector. There may be prosperity in some sectors, while others experience recession. Distinction is commonly made between the private and the public sectors, but it is essential to also distinguish between the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs on one hand, and the large corporate megaliths on the other. In recent decades, banks have gotten ever larger and their lending has been directed mainly toward central governments and large corporations, while at the same time the productive small and medium sized enterprises that are the backbone of every local economy have been starved of the credit they need to finance their operations. By acting in this way, banks limit or eliminate the risks they take. In the case of lending to central government (by buying its bonds and notes), banks enjoy a guaranteed return with no risk at all. During the pandemic years the bulk of the government stimulus money went to large corporations while many small independent local enterprises were forced to close and were never able to reopen.
“Cash” held by the banks. It is misleading to say that banks are sitting on a lot of cash instead of lending it out. In fact that “cash” has been lent out to the public sector (government) in the form of treasury bills, notes, and bonds, or to the central bank which holds it as “reserves” and on which the banks receive interest.
It seems obvious that the present global money system contains inherent in it a debt-growth imperative because of the interest burden that is attached to the bank loans that form the basis for money creation. I believe that any model that purports to simulate the actual present system of money and banking must account for most of the banks’ interest income as capital which is then loaned into circulation rather than spent, and if that were the case it would show that there can be no steady state but an endless growth in debt which leads to a general growth imperative and destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem as the real economy tries to expand in step with the overall debt.
That is in fact what the empirical data suggests. Any theory in opposition to the usury conjecture must provide an alternative explanation of why the total debt in the world continues to grow exponentially at a much faster rate than population or any measure of growth in the real economy as is show in the following charts.
Finally, the inherent inequity of this money system is obvious and is becoming ever more extreme year by year. The increasing inequalities in income and wealth are not natural phenomena; they are artifacts of the system architecture and management. Mere policy tweaks cannot correct that. The creation of money as interest-bearing debt by a banking cartel pumps virtually all of the benefits of productivity increases into the hands of the top level bankers and their minions whom we naively trust to operate the system in the interests of the common good.
History is replete with stories of collapse of societies resulting from exponential growth of debts and extreme inequalities among the various classes of the population. I have long argued that since money throughout the world today is based on “loans” made by banks at interest, the exponential growth of debt is required to keep the system going. That is clearly evident in the empirical evidence of debt growth over the past 100 years and especially since 1971 when the last link of money to anything real was severed by President Nixon’s announcement that US dollars would no longer be redeemable for gold.
The global economy is a complex adaptive system, but collapse happens when a system fails to adapt in an effective way. Jubilee or periodic resets have been common throughout history going back before Biblical times. Economist Michael Hudson has had much to say about that in his various writings especially in his latest book, …and forgive them their debts. I have been arguing for “debt triage” and a long term shift of finance away from interest-bearing debt financing and toward shared equity financing but because of the concentration of political power in the hands of the vested interests, and the general lack of understanding and concern about the flaws inherent in the present systems, I see little likelihood that these measures will be implemented soon enough to avoid major economic disruptions and social and political turmoil. That leaves innovative private and community initiatives as the most promising approach to avoiding disaster.
I have taken a functional approach to solving the problems that are inherent in the present global system of money, banking and finance and argued that the supposed functions of money–means of exchange, savings medium, and measure of value, are in fact distinct from one another and must be handled separately. The exchange function which is the essential function of money should be mediated by the use of interest-free short-term credit allocated to producers in proportion to the value of goods and services they are ready, willing and able to sell within the next few months. The savings function and the investment function on the other hand are two sides of the same coin and should be provided for by the temporary assignment of savers’ funds to enterprises that will use them to expand production capacity or develop new capacity. The measure of value function needs to be provided by defining a standard of value and unit of account in terms of some selected commodity or group of commodities.
I have described numerous alternative structures and systems to serve the exchange function, including private, local, and community currencies, and decentralized credit clearing networks of buyers and sellers and have cited numerous historical and current examples. I’ve also described financing arrangements that shift the capital formation function from interest-based debt financing to shared-equity financing that shares both the rewards and the risks of business investment. These are the actions that I am confident have the ability to prevent the disastrous collapse of civilization while enabling the necessary transformation to a peaceful, healthy and regenerative society. All of this has been thoroughly articulated in my books, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender(excerpted here), and in my various articles, presentations, and interviews which can be accessed at https://beyondmoney.net/.
Addendum of Tuesday, June 28, 2022:
One of my correspondents recently asked if the interest that banks charge when they create money by making loans causes inflation. Perhaps this response will help to clarify the picture of our current monetary and economic predicament, and add some precision to my usury conjecture.
First of all let me make clear that, while the money needed to pay the interest on a particular loan is not created when the loan is made, the banks must create sufficient money (by making additional loans) to enable the aggregate money supply to stay ahead of loan principal repayments, otherwise the money supply will contract and cause economic depression (defaults, business failures, unemployment, etc.). Thus, the creation of money by banks on the basis of interest-bearing loans biases the entire system towards deflation (too little money), as I described in my Usury Conjecture document, https://beyondmoney.net/2022/06/03/the-usury-conjecture-on-the-centralized-interest-based-debt-money-system/.
To compensate for that, banks push hard to induce private borrowers (corporations and individuals) to take on additional debt. But there is a limit to their willingness to borrow more and to their ability to repay, therefore the national government steps in to play the role of “borrower of last resort.” From the banks’ perspective that is ideal because when a bank lends to the government (by buying government bonds, notes, or bills) it gets a guaranteed return and takes no risk of default. Politicians are all too willing to go into debt to dole out money to their corporate patrons (especially weapons and drugs makers) who fund their election campaigns, and to curry favor with the voters by throwing a few crumbs their way. The government therefore goes way beyond borrowing the amount needed to keep the money supply sufficiently pumped up to avoid deflation, and thus creates inflation by funding many things that are pure waste from a consumption and environmental standpoint. So, does interest on bank loans cause inflation? No, not directly, but indirectly as I’ve just explained.
As economist Milton Friedman has famously said, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” and on that point, I agree with him. It’s not just the amount of money that causes inflation; it’s the basis upon which the money is issued. Price inflation is mainly caused by money debasement, which is the creation of money on an improper basis. An improper basis is any loan that is not made to enable the sale of goods and services that are readily available in the market in the near term. Thus, improper money creation is based on loans that are made to finance speculation, or to finance long term capital improvements that create consumer goods only in the far distant future, or to purchase debt instruments of the government. None of those put additional goods or services into the market for purchase in the near term; therefore you have “more money chasing the same amount of goods and services,” or money being put into circulation faster than goods and services are being produced.
It is possible for some price inflation to be caused by reductions in supplies, but that is usually limited to particular products. However, in today’s global economy there are various factors that are affecting supplies more generally, so that has become a contributing cause of the inflation that is being experienced at this time.
In case you missed my webinar and would like to see the presentation, here is the recording that was made. The first part is a specially prepared slide show presentation titled, A World Without Money, Interest, and Debt: A Pathway TowardEconomic Equity, Social Justice, Freedom, andPeace. The webinar concludes with a short video titled, VITA: A worldwide web of exchange, Locally controlled but globally useful, in which I describe my vision of a new decentralized, peer-to-peer, system of exchange. The question and answer portion is not include.
Tarek El Diwany and Jem Bendell have done a great job in this Al Jazeera interview program explaining the dysfunctional features that are built into the corrupt global system of money and banking. They also cover Islamic banking and mutual credit clearing. This is a “must watch” video.—t.h.g.
There has been very little recognition of the Debt/Growth Imperative that is built into our global system of money, banking, and finance. As I have been preaching for many years, the creation of money as interest-bearing debt requires that indebtedness, in either the private sector or the public sector, must be continually increased at an accelerating rate in order for the system to continue to function. When the private sector is fully “loaned up,” government must step in as “the borrower of last resort.” That was clearly manifested in the latest bubble-bust cycle with the massive bank bailouts and the assumption by governments of enormous amounts of their “toxic debt.”
The aggregate debt burden is destined to ultimately become unbearable, and no amount of government or central bank intervention can save this flawed system (such is the nature of exponential growth). The fiscal crisis that is now confronting national governments around the world signals the imminent collapse. How that will play out is difficult to assess, but it behoove us to use our available resources to enhance the resilience of our communities and build new systems that can be relied on to provide the things we need in order to thrive and build a world that works for all.
One prominent commentator who “gets it” is Chris Martenson. His recent observations (below) are worth considering.—t.h.g.
The Breakdown Draws Near
Tuesday, April 19, 2011, 12:22 pm, by Chris Martenson
Things are certainly speeding up, and it is my conclusion that we are not more than a year away from the next major financial and economic disruption.
Alas, predictions are tricky, especially about the future (credit: Yogi Berra), but here’s why I am convinced that the next big break is drawing near.
In order for the financial system to operate, it needs continual debt expansion and servicing. Both are important. If either is missing, then catastrophe can strike at any time. And by ‘catastrophe’ I mean big institutions and countries transiting from a state of insolvency into outright bankruptcy. [emphasis added]
In a recent article, I noted that the IMF had added up the financing needs of the advanced economies and come to the startling conclusion that the combination of maturing and new debt issuances came to more than a quarter of their combined economies over the next year. A quarter!
I also noted that this was just the sovereign debt, and that state, personal, and corporate debt were additive to the overall amount of financing needed this next year. Adding another dab of color to the picture, the IMF has now added bank refinancing to the tableau, and it’s an unhealthy shade of red: Banks face $3.6 trillion “wall” of maturing debt: IMF
Here is a video by Damon Vrabel that provides an excellent description of our current predicament and the system that dominates our lives. The series contains 6 lessons divided into 12 segments and pretty well explains many of the points that I’ve been trying get across about the money system and the power structure. It dispels the myth that ours is a government by the people and for the people. In reality, we, and all our governmental entities are in a state of debt bondage. Who are we in bondage to? Watch it and find out.
The author’s solutions, which are presented in Lesson 6, are well intended and in the right direction, but he seems to have a mistaken notion that sovereignty resides in the national government. I take issue with his advocacy of the “greenback solution” (https://beyondmoney.net/resource-links/take-back-the-money-power/), but aside from that, I’m in close agreement with everything he says.
This series takes about 2 hours to watch, but if you don’t have time to watch it all, or if you are already somewhat knowledgeable about these matters you should watch at least Lessons 1 and 6.
For some reason the website Renaissance 2.0 is no longer available.
I hope everyone will watch this series and spread the word to your networks.–t.h.g.
Bill Still, monetary historian and director of the widely acclaimed film, “The Money Masters,” has produced yet another important film that tells the real story behind the “The Wizard of Oz.” The author, L. Frank Baum, wrote the story as an allegory of our corrupt money and banking system. Still’s new film, “The Secret of Oz” (www.secretofOZ.com), tells that story.
To cut through all of the peripheral points, the main problems with the political money and banking system are: 1. The issuance of money on improper bases, mainly government debt, real estate, and assets of questionable value. Principle: Money should be issued on the basis of goods and services already in the market or shortly to arrive there. All other needs (capital formation and consumer spending) should be financed out of savings. 2. Legal tender laws that force acceptance at par of debased political currencies. Principle: Legal tender laws should be abolished. Only the issuer of a currency should be required to accept it at par. In the absence of legal tender, debased currencies will either be refused or pass at a discount in the market. 3. The charging of interest on credit money that is created as “loans.” Principle: Money should be created interest free as a generalization of trade credit that facilitates the exchange of goods and services.
Michael Hudson is a very astute observer of economics, finance, politics, and history.
When he speaks everyone should pay attention.
I strongly recommend that anyone who wishes to understand, not just economics and finance, but our general socio-political predicament should read his entire interview.
I agree with his statement that “The economy has reached its debt limit and is entering its insolvency phase. We are not in a cycle but the end of an era. The old world of debt pyramiding to a fraudulent degree cannot be restored.”
He says “the only basis for borrowing more is to inflate the price of real estate that is being pledged as collateral for mortgage refinancing.” That was the reason for the banks creating the real estate bubble in the first place, to provide a basis for lending ever more credit (debt-money) into circulation.
The political debt-money system contains a debt and growth imperative because of the compound interest that is attached to loans. To keep the game going there are two choices, expand debt by lending to the government sector (by running budget deficits), or expand debt by lending to the private sector (liberal lending to enable people to buy whatever (real estate, stocks and other securities, commodities, education (student loans), cars and other stuff, what else?)). When incomes are not sufficient for the debt burden to be carried, defaults occur. Defaults can be denied and deferred by various tricks — e.g., refinancing to reduce payments by extending length of repayment. When a financial institution has such extreme cash flow problems as to be unable to continue denial, the government will come in with a bailout plan that leaves the taxpayer to foot the bill. Now, it becomes the public sector’s turn to carry the expanding debt burden.
I am in full agreement with Hudson’s claim that, “It is pure hypocrisy for Wall Street’s Hank Paulson to claim that all this is being done to “help home owners.” They are vehicles off whom to make money, not the beneficiaries. They are at the bottom of an increasingly carnivorous and extractive financial food chain.”
The parasitic nature of the system becomes ever more evident. Either the host becomes increasingly sick and eventually dies, taking the parasites with it to the grave, or the host will act on the increasingly strong signals of malaise and find a way to expel the parasites or keep them in check. Nature shows us that co-existence is a possibility but only if the parasites are held within certain bounds. The New Deal of FDR was a temporary expedient to do just that. One could argue that FDR saved Capitalism.
Hudson clearly states what I have been trying to get across to people: “What people still view as an economic democracy is turning into a financial oligarchy. Politicians are looking for campaign support mainly from this oligarchy because that is where the money is. So they talk about a happy-face economy to appeal to American optimism, while being quite pragmatic in knowing who to serve if they want to get ahead and not be blackballed.”
So don’t expect Obama to do much different.
Hudson correctly observes that “financial interests have replaced the government as society’s new central planners.”
They control politics and everything else. – t.h.g.
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