Bankers failure to fulfil their role

27th January, 2010

Letter to the Guardian:

Dear Sir,

I was astonished to read Lord Myners’s assertion that banks use our deposits to lend out to businesses and homebuyers. (Comment, 25 January). This is simply not the case, and has not been the case since 1694 when the British banking system was established, and intangible bank money began the process of creating deposits in the banking system.

We have just lived through a period of asset price inflation fuelled by credit-creation that bore little relation whatsoever either to a) our deposits in banks, or b) to the underlying value of assets.

Far from the bank starting with a deposit or reserves as a basis for lending, the bank starts with an application for a loan, the asset (eg property) against which to guarantee or secure repayment, and the promise to repay with interest. A bank clerk then enters the number into a ledger/computer, and charges it to the account of the borrower. This is credit and has been known since 1694 as bank money – intangible and essentially free.

The bank does not need savings, deposits or reserves to create credit. If this were the case there would only be as much credit as there are deposits in the bank. These limits would have constrained an asset price bubble, as assets would not have been artificially inflated by underregulated credit creation. Once the loan is agreed, the bank then applies to the Bank of England for the cash element, which is a very small proportion in these days of debit/credit cards.

The fact that small businesses cannot obtain loans from banks, except at high rates of interest, has nothing to do with our deposits, but with the failure of bankers to fulfil their role and meet the needs of society and the economy. Which is why Lord Turner was right to dismiss them as “useless”. That failure may not have occurred if the Treasury had a better understanding of monetary theory and practice.

Ann Pettifor

Fellow, New Economics Foundation

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