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Why the Greenbackers Are Wrong - Tom Woods

Why the Greenbackers Are Wrong
Dec 26th, 2012 @ 11:45 am › Tom Woods

This is a long piece, but no longer than strictly necessary. It refutes a few of the most common claims advanced by Greenbackers, opponents of the Fed who believe the solution is to transfer its money-creation monopoly directly to the government.

One of Ron Paul’s great accomplishments is that the Federal Reserve faces more opposition today than ever before. Readers of this site will be familiar with the arguments: the Fed enjoys special government privileges; its interference with market interest rates gives rise to the boom-bust business cycle; it has undermined the value of the dollar; it creates moral hazard, since market participants know the money producer can bail them out; and it is unnecessary to and at odds with a free-market economy.

Unfortunately, not all Fed critics, even among Ron Paul supporters, approach the problem in this way. A subset of the end-the-Fed crowd opposes the Fed for peripheral or entirely wrongheaded reasons. For this group, the Fed is not inflating enough. (I have been told by one critic that our problem cannot be that too much money is being created, since he doesn’t know anyone who has too many Federal Reserve Notes.) Their other main complaints are (1) that the Fed is “privately owned” (the Fed’s problem evidently being that it isn’t socialistic enough), (2) that fiat money is just fine as long as it is issued by the people’s trusty representatives instead of by the Fed, and (3) that under the present system we are burdened with what they call “debt-based money”; their key monetary reform, in turn, involves moving to “debt-free money.” These critics have been called Greenbackers, a reference to fiat money used during the Civil War. (A fourth claim is that the Austrian School of economics, which Ron Paul promotes, is composed of shills for the banking system and the status quo; I have exploded this claim already – here, here, and here.)

With so much to cover I don’t intend to get into (1) right now, but it should suffice to note that being created by an act of Congress, having your board’s personnel appointed by the U.S. president, and enjoying government-granted monopoly privileges without which you would be of no significance, are not the typical features of a “private” institution. I’ll address (2) and (3) throughout what follows.

The point of this discussion is to refute the principal falsehoods that circulate among Greenbackers: (a) that a gold standard (either 100 percent reserve or fractional reserve) or the Federal Reserve’s fiat money system yields an outcome in which outstanding loans cannot all be paid because there is “not enough money” to pay both the principal and the interest; (b) that if the banks are allowed to issue loans at interest they will eventually wind up with all the money; and that the only alternative is “debt-free” fiat paper money issued by government.

My answers will be as follows: (1) the claim that there is “not enough money” to pay both principal and interest is false, regardless of which of these monetary systems we are considering; and (2) even if “debt-free” money were the solution, the best producer of such money is the free market, not Nancy Pelosi or John McCain.

To understand what the Greenbackers have in mind with their proposed “debt-free money,” and what they mean by the phrase “money as debt” they use so often, let’s look at the money creation process in the kind of fractional-reserve fiat money system we have. Suppose the Fed...



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