The first charge brought against fractional-reserve banking is that it is simply a variety of fraud. The banks have promised to pay out gold on demand, but that is a promise they know they cannot fulfill, at least not all of the time. Some critics of fractional-reserve banking go further and insist that the moment that people realize what a fractional-reserve bank is doing, a run is inevitable. Per their reckoning, it is only by hiding the nature of their shady business that such banks stay in business for a single day.
But surely the question of whether a fractional-reserve bank is engaged in fraud depends on what its customers, and those accepting notes from them, think is going on. For instance, if I know that the contract I have signed to buy the Brooklyn Bridge is a joke designed for novelty purposes, there is no fraud involved. If depositors have somehow been led to believe that all of their gold is held in the bank’s vaults, then clearly it is fraudulent to lend some of that gold out, or to issue more notes than the amount of gold held. And clearly if those accepting the notes in payment believe they are receiving 100-percent reserve notes when they are not, they have been defrauded.
However, if both the depositors and those accepting the notes as payment know they are dealing with a fractional-reserve bank, it is hard to see how a claim of fraud can be sustained. A critic of fractional-reserve banking might contend that they are foolish to engage in such a risky activity, but where could he point to a person who has been deceived? And, since fraud by definition involves deception, if no one has been deceived, there is no fraud.
Another charge made by some libertarians against fractional-reserve banking is that it creates "claims to goods" that are not based on previous production. One sometimes hears this phrased: "Fractional-reserve banking creates money out of thin air."
Such objections represent a lapse into long-discredited cost of production or labor theories of value. Money is not a "claim" to goods; it is a good itself. Its value arises not from the amount of effort or the cost involved in producing it, but in whatever value people assign to it in making their choices.
The last complaint about fractional-reserve banking I will address is that it will inevitably "de-stabilize" the economy in which it operates. This, it seems to me, is a strange complaint for a libertarian to make. If fractional-reserve banking is a rights violation, then the charge that it will de-stabilize the economy is superfluous: it should be forbidden even if it would stabilize the economy. On the other hand, if all rights-violating charges against fractional-reserve banking are dismissed, is there then a further hurdle actions must cross before they are to be permitted: that they not de-stabilize the economy? This seems to open the door for every sort of interference with voluntary trade. Closing a factory, shorting a currency, pioneering a new product or way of manufacturing—all of these things can de-stabilize an economy to some extent.
As Schumpeter, Mises, Lachmann, Shackle, and other economists have pointed out, a market economy is in a constant state of being "de-stabilized." The human desire to improve our conditions continually replaces old methods of production with new ones, renders machinery produced at great cost obsolete, and makes jobs in which workers have invested years of training disappear. If fractional-reserve banking is truly de-stabilizing, then it represents a profit opportunity for some entrepreneur to find a way to hedge against, and thus dampen, this de-stabilization.
In brief, I do not find any of the libertarian arguments against fractional-reserve banking compelling. The charge of fraud can be handled by clear deposit contracts and proper labeling of notes, while the other two charges I address are either empty or irrelevant. It may be that bank customers would reject fractional-reserve banks if fully informed about their operation—although, again, I doubt that is true—but that is only an argument for full disclosure, not for banning the practice.
Sábado, 22 de Outubro de 2005
O Depósito Bancário como um contrato normal
Gene Callahan apresenta uma perspectiva alternativa sobre os depósitos bancários:
Publicada por André Azevedo Alves às 01:30