Good and Bad Credit Daily Article by Frank Shostak | Posted on 10/16/2008 On Wednesday October 8 the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, and four other central banks lowered interest rates in an emergency coordinated bid to ease the economic effects of the financial crisis. The Fed, ECB, Bank of England, Bank of Canada, and Sweden's Riksbank each cut their benchmark rates by half a percentage point. Furthermore, China's central bank lowered its key one-year lending rate by 0.27 percentage points. According to a joint statement by the central banks, The recent intensification of the financial crisis has augmented the downside risks to growth and thus has diminished further the upside risks to price stability. Some easing of global monetary conditions is therefore warranted. The Fed's decision brought its benchmark rate to 1.5%. The ECB's main rate is now 3.75%; Canada's fell to 2.5%; the U.K.'s rate dropped to 4.5%; and Sweden's rate declined to 4.25%. China cut interest rates for the second time in three weeks, reducing the main rate to 6.93%. One day earlier the Reserve Bank of Australia had lowered its policy rate â the cash rate â by 1% to 6%. Only a day earlier Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke announced that the US central bank is ready to intervene in the commercial paper market. The Fed will now buy commercial paper issued by corporations â meaning the US central bank will make direct loans to corporations. It seems that Bernanke is ready to push trillions of dollars to keep the monetary system alive. Bernanke is of the view that a major reason for the Great Depression of 1930s was the failure of the US central bank to act swiftly to revive the paralyzed credit market. By "swift action," Bernanke means massive monetary pumping. The Fed chairman continuously reminds us that at least he has learned the lesson of the Great Depression and will make sure that the error that the Fed made then will not be repeated again. At the conference to honor Milton Friedman's ninetieth birthday, Bernanke apologized to Friedman on behalf of the Fed for not pumping enough money to prevent the Great Depression: Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You're right, we did it. We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again. (Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz wrote that the key factor behind the Great Depression was the failure by the Fed to pump large doses of money.) Central-bank policy makers have said that the key for economic growth is a smooth flow of credit. For them (in particular, for Bernanke) it is credit that provides the foundation for economic growth and raises individuals' living standards. From this perspective, it makes a lot of sense for the central bank to make sure that credit flows again. Following the teachings of Friedman and Keynes, it is an almost-unanimous view among experts that if lenders are unwilling to lend, then it is the duty of the government and the central bank to keep the flow of lending going. For instance, if in the commercial-paper market lenders are not there, then the Fed should step in and replace these lenders. The important thing, it is held, is that various businesses that rely on the commercial-paper market to keep their daily operations going should be able to secure the necessary funding. Will the increase in money pumping by central banks unfreeze credit markets? Experts believe that this will do the trick. If the current dosage of pumping won't work, then the central bank must continue to push more money until credit markets start moving again, so it is believed. It is true that credit is the key for economic growth. However, one must make a distinction between good credit and bad credit. It is good credit that makes real economic growth possible and thus improves people's lives and well-being. False credit, however, is an agent of economic destruction and leads to economic impoverishment. Good Credit versus Bad Credit There are two kinds of credit: that which would be offered in a market economy with sound money and banking (good credit); and that which is made possible only through a system of central banking, artificially low interest rates, and fractional reserves (bad credit). Banks cannot expand good credit as such. All that they can do in reality is to facilitate the transfer of a given pool of savings from savers (lenders) to borrowers. To understand why, we must first understand how good credit comes to be and the function it serves. Consider the case of a baker who bakes ten loaves of bread. Out of his stock of real wealth (ten loaves of bread), the baker consumes two loaves and saves eight. He lends his eight remaining loaves to the shoemaker in return for a pair of shoes in one week's time. Note that credit here is the transfer of "real stuff," i.e., eight saved loaves of bread from the baker to the shoemaker in exchange for a future pair of shoes. Also, observe that the amount of real savings determines the amount of available credit. If the baker had saved only four loaves of bread, the amount of credit would have only been four loaves instead of eight. Note that the saved loaves of bread provide support to the shoemaker, i.e., they sustain him while he is busy making shoes. This means that credit, by sustaining the shoemaker, gives rise to the production of shoes and therefore to the formation of more real wealth. This is a path to real economic growth. Money and Credit The introduction of money does not alter the essence of what credit is. Instead of lending his eight loaves of bread to the shoemaker, the baker can now exchange his saved eight loaves of bread for eight dollars and then lend those dollars to the shoemaker. With eight dollars, the shoemaker can secure either eight loaves of bread (or other goods) to support him while he is engaged in the making of shoes. The baker is supplying the shoemaker with the facility to access the pool of real savings, which among other things includes eight loaves of bread that the baker has produced. Note that without real savings, the lending of money is an exercise in futility. Observe that money fulfills the role of a medium of exchange. Hence, when the baker exchanges his eight loaves for eight dollars, he retains his real savings by means of the eight dollars. The money in his possession will enable him, when he deems it necessary, to reclaim his eight loaves of bread or to secure any other goods and services. There is one provision here: that the flow of production of goods continues; without the existence of goods, the money in the baker's possession will be useless. The existence of banks does not alter the essence of credit. Instead of the baker lending his money directly to the shoemaker, the baker lends his money to the bank, which in turn lends it to the shoemaker. In the process, the baker earns interest for his loan while the bank earns a commission for facilitating the transfer of money between the baker and the shoemaker. The benefit that the shoemaker receives is that he can now secure real resources in order to be able to engage in his making of shoes. Despite the apparent complexity that the banking system introduces, the act of credit remains the transfer of saved real stuff from lender to borrower. Without the increase in the pool of real savings, banks cannot create more credit. At the heart of the expansion of good credit by the banking system is an expansion of real savings. Now, when the baker lends his eight dollars, we must remember that he has exchanged for these dollars eight saved loaves of bread. In other words, he has exchanged something for eight dollars. So when a bank lends those eight dollars to the shoemaker, the bank lends fully "backed-up" dollars so to speak.