C’est une très longue étude (70 pages) de deux économistes du Fond Monétaire International qui est téléchargeable ici
Je me contente sur ce billet de copier la conclusion, le résumé (abstract) et l’introduction… L’ensemble de l’étude est très favorable au « 100% monnaie », ce n’est hélas pas pour autant que le FMI va préconiser ce basculement
IMF Working Paper
The Chicago Plan Revisited
Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof
© 2012 International Monetary Fund WP/12/202
IMF Working Paper
Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to further debate.
At the height of the Great Depression a number of leading U.S. economists advanced a proposal for monetary reform that became known as the Chicago Plan. It envisaged the separation of the monetary and credit functions of the banking system, by requiring 100% reserve backing for deposits. Irving Fisher (1936) claimed the following advantages for this plan:
(1) Much better control of a major source of business cycle fluctuations, sudden increases and contractions of bank credit and of the supply of bank-created money.
(2) Complete elimination of bank runs.
(3) Dramatic reduction of the (net) public debt.
(4) Dramatic reduction of private debt, as money creation no longer requires simultaneous debt creation.
We study these claims by embedding a comprehensive and carefully calibrated model of the banking system in a DSGE model of the U.S. economy. We find support for all four of Fisher’s claims. Furthermore, output gains approach 10 percent, and steady state inflation can drop to zero without posing problems for the conduct of monetary policy.
Commençons par la conclusion de l’article:
This paper revisits the Chicago Plan, a proposal for fundamental monetary reform that was put forward by many leading U.S. economists at the height of the Great Depression. Fisher (1936), in his brilliant summary of the Chicago Plan, claimed that it had four major advantages, ranging from greater macroeconomic stability to much lower debt levels throughout the economy. In this paper we are able to rigorously evaluate his claims, by applying the recommendations of the Chicago Plan to a state-of-the-art monetary DSGE model that contains a fully microfounded and carefully calibrated model of the current U.S. financial system. The critical feature of this model is that the economy’s money supply is created by banks, through debt, rather than being created debt-free by the government.
Our analytical and simulation results fully validate Fisher’s (1936) claims. The Chicago Plan could significantly reduce business cycle volatility caused by rapid changes in banks’ attitudes towards credit risk, it would eliminate bank runs, and it would lead to an instantaneous and large reduction in the levels of both government and private debt. It would accomplish the latter by making government-issued money, which represents equity in the commonwealth rather than debt, the central liquid asset of the economy, while banks concentrate on their strength, the extension of credit to investment projects that require monitoring and risk management expertise. We find that the advantages of the
44 The lending volume of the aforementioned non-bank investment trusts could also be regulated by coun-tercyclical capital adequacy requirements.
Chicago Plan go even beyond those claimed by Fisher. One additional advantage is large steady state output gains due to the removal or reduction of multiple distortions, including interest rate risk spreads, distortionary taxes, and costly monitoring of macroeconomically unnecessary credit risks. Another advantage is the ability to drive steady state inflation to zero in an environment where liquidity traps do not exist, and where monetarism becomes feasible and desirable because the government does in fact control broad monetary aggregates. This ability to generate and live with zero steady state inflation is an important result, because it answers the somewhat confused claim of opponents of an exclusive government monopoly on money issuance, namely that such a monetary system would be highly inflationary. There is nothing in our theoretical framework to support this claim. And as discussed in Section II, there is very little in the monetary history of ancient societies and Western nations to support it either.
Si vous souhaitez lire l’introduction, la voici … pour le reste nous vous laissons télécharger l’article complet
The decade following the onset of the Great Depression was a time of great intellectual ferment in economics, as the leading thinkers of the time tried to understand the apparent failures of the existing economic system. This intellectual struggle extended to many domains, but arguably the most important was the field of monetary economics, given the key roles of private bank behavior and of central bank policies in triggering and prolonging the crisis.
During this time a large number of leading U.S. macroeconomists supported a fundamental proposal for monetary reform that later became known as the Chicago Plan, after its strongest proponent, professor Henry Simons of the University of Chicago. It was also supported, and brilliantly summarized, by Irving Fisher of Yale University, in Fisher (1936). The key feature of this plan was that it called for the separation of the monetary and credit functions of the banking system, first by requiring 100% backing of deposits by government-issued money, and second by ensuring that the financing of new bank credit can only take place through earnings that have been retained in the form of government-issued money, or through the borrowing of existing government-issued money from non-banks, but not through the creation of new deposits, ex nihilo, by banks.
Fisher (1936) claimed four major advantages for this plan. First, preventing banks from creating their own funds during credit booms, and then destroying these funds during subsequent contractions, would allow for a much better control of credit cycles, which were perceived to be the major source of business cycle fluctuations. Second, 100% reserve backing would completely eliminate bank runs. Third, allowing the government to issue money directly at zero interest, rather than borrowing that same money from banks at interest, would lead to a reduction in the interest burden on government finances and to a dramatic reduction of (net) government debt, given that irredeemable government-issued money represents equity in the commonwealth rather than debt. Fourth, given that money creation would no longer require the simultaneous creation of mostly private debts on bank balance sheets, the economy could see a dramatic reduction not only of government debt but also of private debt levels.
We take it as self-evident that if these claims can be verified, the Chicago Plan would indeed represent a highly desirable policy. Profound thinkers like Fisher, and many of his most illustrious peers, based their insights on historical experience and common sense, and were hardly deterred by the fact that they might not have had complete economic models that could formally derive the welfare gains of avoiding credit-driven boom-bust cycles, bank runs, and high debt levels. We do in fact believe that this made them better, not worse, thinkers about issues of the greatest importance for the common good. But we can say more than this. The recent empirical evidence of Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) documents the high costs of boom-bust credit cycles and bank runs throughout history. And the recent empirical evidence of Schularick and Taylor (2012) is supportive of Fisher’s view that high debt levels are a very important predictor of major crises. The latter finding is also consistent with the theoretical work of Kumhof and Rancière (2010), who show how very high debt levels, such as those observed just prior to the Great Depression and the Great Recession, can lead to a higher probability of financial and real crises.
We now turn to a more detailed discussion of each of Fisher’s four claims concerning the advantages of the Chicago Plan. This will set the stage for a first illustration of the implied balance sheet changes, which will be provided in Figures 1 and 2.
The first advantage of the Chicago Plan is that it permits much better control of what Fisher and many of his contemporaries perceived to be the major source of business cycle fluctuations, sudden increases and contractions of bank credit that are not necessarily driven by the fundamentals of the real economy, but that themselves change those fundamentals. In a financial system with little or no reserve backing for deposits, and with government-issued cash having a very small role relative to bank deposits, the creation of a nation’s broad monetary aggregates depends almost entirely on banks’ willingness to supply deposits. Because additional bank deposits can only be created through additional bank loans, sudden changes in the willingness of banks to extend credit must therefore not only lead to credit booms or busts, but also to an instant excess or shortage of money, and therefore of nominal aggregate demand. By contrast, under the Chicago Plan the quantity of money and the quantity of credit would become completely independent of each other. This would enable policy to control these two aggregates independently and therefore more effectively. Money growth could be controlled directly via a money growth rule. The control of credit growth would become much more straightforward because banks would no longer be able, as they are today, to generate their own funding, deposits, in the act of lending, an extraordinary privilege that is not enjoyed by any other type of business. Rather, banks would become what many erroneously believe them to be today, pure intermediaries that depend on obtaining outside funding before being able to lend. Having to obtain outside funding rather than being able to create it themselves would much reduce the ability of banks to cause business cycles due to potentially capricious changes in their attitude towards credit risk.
The second advantage of the Chicago Plan is that having fully reserve-backed bank deposits would completely eliminate bank runs, thereby increasing financial stability, and allowing banks to concentrate on their core lending function without worrying about instabilities originating on the liabilities side of their balance sheet. The elimination of bank runs will be accomplished if two conditions hold. First, the banking system’s monetary liabilities must be fully backed by reserves of government-issued money, which is of course true under the Chicago Plan. Second, the banking system’s credit assets must be funded by non-monetary liabilities that are not subject to runs. This means that policy needs to ensure that such liabilities cannot become near-monies. The literature of the 1930s and 1940s discussed three institutional arrangements under which this can be accomplished. The easiest is to require that banks fund all of their credit assets with a combination of equity and loans from the government treasury, and completely without private debt instruments. This is the core element of the version of the Chicago Plan considered in this paper, because it has a number of advantages that go beyond decisively preventing the emergence of near-monies. By itself this would mean that there is no lending at all between private agents. However, this can be insufficient when private agents exhibit highly heterogeneous initial debt levels. In that case the treasury loans solution can be accompanied by either one or both of the other two institutional arrangements. One is debt-based investment trusts that are true intermediaries, in that the trust can only lend government-issued money to net borrowers after net savers have first deposited these funds in exchange for debt instruments issued by the trust. But there is a risk that these debt instruments could themselves become near-monies unless there are strict and effective regulations. This risk would be eliminated under the remaining alternative, investment trusts that are funded exclusively by net savers’ equity investments, with the funds either lent to net borrowers, or invested as equity if this is feasible (it may not be feasible for household debtors). We will briefly return to the investment trust alternatives below, but they are not part of our formal analysis because our model does not feature heterogeneous debt levels within the four main groups of bank borrowers.
The third advantage of the Chicago Plan is a dramatic reduction of (net) government debt. The overall outstanding liabilities of today’s U.S. financial system, including the shadow banking system, are far larger than currently outstanding U.S. Treasury liabilities. Because under the Chicago Plan banks have to borrow reserves from the treasury to fully back these large liabilities, the government acquires a very large asset vis-à-vis banks, and government debt net of this asset becomes highly negative. Governments could leave the separate gross positions outstanding, or they could buy back government bonds from banks against the cancellation of treasury credit. Fisher had the second option in mind, based on the situation of the 1930s, when banks held the major portion of outstanding government debt. But today most U.S. government debt is held outside U.S. banks, so that the first option is the more relevant one. The effect on net debt is of course the same, it drops dramatically.
In this context it is critical to realize that the stock of reserves, or money, newly issued by the government is not a debt of the government. The reason is that fiat money is not redeemable, in that holders of money cannot claim repayment in something other than money.1 Money is therefore properly treated as government equity rather than government debt, which is exactly how treasury coin is currently treated under U.S. accounting conventions (Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (2012)).
The fourth advantage of the Chicago Plan is the potential for a dramatic reduction of private debts. As mentioned above, full reserve backing by itself would generate a highly negative net government debt position. Instead of leaving this in place and becoming a large net lender to the private sector, the government has the option of spending part of the windfall by buying back large amounts of private debt from banks against the cancellation of treasury credit. Because this would have the advantage of establishing low-debt sustainable balance sheets in both the private sector and the government, it is plausible to assume that a real-world implementation of the Chicago Plan would involve at least some, and potentially a very large, buy-back of private debt. In the simulation of the Chicago Plan presented in this paper we will assume that the buy-back covers all private bank debt except loans that finance investment in physical capital.
We study Fisher’s four claims by embedding a comprehensive and carefully calibrated model of the U.S. financial system in a state-of-the-art monetary DSGE model of the U.S. economy.2 We find strong support for all four of Fisher’s claims, with the potential for much smoother business cycles, no possibility of bank runs, a large reduction of debt levels across the economy, and a replacement of that debt by debt-free government-issued money.
Furthermore, none of these benefits come at the expense of diminishing the core useful functions of a private financial system. Under the Chicago Plan private financial institutions would continue to play a key role in providing a state-of-the-art payments system, facilitating the efficient allocation of capital to its most productive uses, and facilitating intertemporal smoothing by households and firms. Credit, especially socially useful credit that supports real physical investment activity, would continue to exist. What would cease to exist however is the proliferation of credit created, at the almost exclusive initiative of private institutions, for the sole purpose of creating an adequate money supply that can easily be created debt-free.
At this point in the paper it may not be straightforward for the average reader to comprehend the nature of the balance sheet changes implied by the Chicago Plan. A complete analysis requires a thorough prior discussion of both the model and of its calibration, and is therefore only possible much later in the paper. But we feel that at least a preliminary presentation of the main changes is essential to aid in the comprehension of what follows. In Figures 1 and 2 we therefore present the changes in bank and government balance sheets that occur in the single transition period of our simulated model. The figures ignore subsequent changes as the economy approaches a new steady state, but those are small compared to the initial changes. In both figures quantities reported are in percent of GDP. Compared to Figure 3, which shows the precise results, the numbers in Figure 1 are rounded, in part to avoid having to discuss unnecessary details.
As shown in the left column of Figure 1, the balance sheet of the consolidated financial system prior to the implementation of the Chicago Plan is equal to 200% of GDP, with equity and deposits equal to 16% and 184% of GDP. Banks’ assets consist of government bonds equal to 20% of GDP, investment loans equal to 80% of GDP, and other loans (mortgage loans, consumer loans, working capital loans) equal to 100% of GDP. The implementation of the plan is assumed to take place in one transition period, which can be broken into two separate stages. First, as shown in the middle column of Figure 1, banks have to borrow from the treasury to procure the reserves necessary to fully back their deposits. As a result both treasury credit and reserves increase by 184% of GDP. Second, as shown in the right column of Figure 1, the principal of all bank loans to the government (20% of GDP), and of all bank loans to the private sector except investment loans (100% of GDP), is cancelled against treasury credit. For government debt the cancellation is direct, while for private debt the government transfers treasury credit balances to restricted private accounts that can only be used for the purpose of repaying outstanding bank loans. Furthermore, banks pay out part of their equity to keep their net worth in line with now much reduced official capital adequacy requirements, with the government making up the difference of 7% of GDP by injecting additional treasury credit. The solid line in the balance sheet in the right column of Figure 1 represents the now strict separation between the monetary and credit functions of the banking system. Money remains nearly unchanged, but it is now fully backed by reserves. Credit consists only of investment loans, which are financed by a reduced level of equity equal to 9% of GDP, and by what is left of treasury credit, 71% of GDP, after the buy-backs of government and private debts and the injection of additional credit following the equity payout.
Figure 2 illustrates the balance sheet of the government, which prior to the Chicago Plan consists of government debt equal to 80% of GDP, with unspecified other assets used as the balancing item. The issuance of treasury credit equal to 184% of GDP represents a large new financial asset of the government, while the issuance of an equal amount of reserves, in other words of money, represents new government equity. The cancellation of private debts reduces both treasury credit and government equity by 100% of GDP. The government is assumed to tax away the equity payout of banks to households before injecting those funds back into banks as treasury credit. This increases both treasury credit and government equity by 7% of GDP. Finally, the cancellation of bank-held government debt reduces both government debt and treasury credit by 20% of GDP.
To summarize, our analysis finds that the government is left with a much lower, in fact negative, net debt burden. It gains a large net equity position due to money issuance, despite the fact that it spends a large share of the one-off seigniorage gains from money issuance on the buy-back of private debts. These buy-backs in turn mean that the private sector is left with a much lower debt burden, while its deposits remain unchanged. Bank runs are obviously impossible in this world. These results, whose analytical foundations will be derived in the rest of the paper, support three out of Fisher’s (1936) four claims in favor of the Chicago Plan. The remaining claim, concerning the potential for smoother business cycles, will be verified towards the end of the paper, once the full model has been developed. But we can go even further, because our general equilibrium analysis highlights two additional advantages of the Chicago Plan.
First, in our calibration the Chicago Plan generates longer-term output gains approaching 10 percent. This happens for three main reasons. Monetary reform leads to large reductions of real interest rates, as lower net debt levels lead investors to demand lower spreads on government and private debts. It permits much lower distortionary tax rates, due to the beneficial effects of much higher seigniorage income (despite lower inflation) on the government budget. And finally it leads to lower credit monitoring costs, because scarce resources no longer have to be spent on monitoring loans whose sole purpose was to create an adequate money supply that can easily be produced debt-free.
Second, steady state inflation can drop to zero without posing problems for the conduct of monetary policy. The reason is that the separation of the money and credit functions of the banking system allows the government to effectively control multiple policy instruments, including a nominal money growth rule that regulates the money supply, a Basel-III-style countercyclical bank capital adequacy rule that controls the quantity of bank lending, and finally an interest rate rule that controls the price of government credit to banks. The latter replaces the conventional Taylor rule for the interest rate on government debt. One critical implication of this different monetary environment is that liquidity traps cannot exist, for two reasons. First, the aggregate quantity of broad money in private agents’ hands can be directly increased by the policymaker, without depending on banks’ willingness to lend. And second, because the interest rate on treasury credit is not an opportunity cost of money for asset investors, but rather a borrowing rate for a credit facility that is only accessible to banks for the specific purpose of funding physical investment projects, it can become negative without any practical problems. In other words, a zero lower bound does not apply to this rate, which makes it feasible to keep steady state inflation at zero without worrying about the fact that nominal policy rates are in that case more likely to reach zero or negative values.
The ability to live with significantly lower steady state inflation also answers the somewhat confused claim of opponents of an exclusive government monopoly on money issuance, namely that such a system, and especially the initial injection of new government-issued money, would be highly inflationary. There is nothing in our theory that supports this claim. And as we will see in section II, there is also virtually nothing in the monetary history of ancient societies and of Western nations that supports this claim.
The critical feature of our theoretical model is that it exhibits the key function of banks in modern economies, which is not their largely incidental function as financial intermediaries between depositors and borrowers, but rather their central function as creators and destroyers of money.4 A realistic model needs to reflect the fact that under the present system banks do not have to wait for depositors to appear and make funds available before they can on-lend, or intermediate, those funds. Rather, they create their own funds, deposits, in the act of lending. This fact can be verified in the description of the money creation system in many central bank statements5, and it is obvious to anybody who has ever lent money and created the resulting book entries.6 In other words, bank liabilities are not macroeconomic savings, even though at the microeconomic level they can appear as such. Savings are a state variable, so that by relying entirely on intermediating slow-moving savings, banks would be unable to engineer the rapid lending booms and busts that are frequently observed in practice. Rather, bank liabilities are money that can be created and destroyed at a moment’s notice. The critical importance of this fact appears to have been lost in much of the modern macroeconomics literature on banking, with the exception of Werner (2005), and the partial exception of Christiano et al. (2011).7 Our model generates this feature in a number of ways. First, it introduces agents who have to borrow for the sole purpose of generating sufficient deposits for their transactions purposes. This means that they simultaneously borrow from and deposit with banks, as is true for many households and firms in the real world. Second, the model introduces financially unconstrained agents who do not borrow from banks. Their savings consist of multiple assets including a fixed asset referred to as land, government bonds and deposits. This means that a sale of mortgageable fixed assets from these agents to credit-constrained agents (or of government bonds to banks) results in new bank credit, and thus in the creation of new deposits that are created for the purpose of paying for those assets. Third, even for conventional deposit-financed investment loans the transmission is from lending to savings and not the reverse. When banks decide to lend more for investment purposes, say due to increased optimism about business conditions, they create additional purchasing power for investors by crediting their accounts, and it is this purchasing power that makes the actual investment, and thus saving8, possible. Finally, the issue can be further illuminated by looking at it from the vantage point of depositors. We will assume, based on empirical evidence, that the interest rate sensitivity of deposit demand is high at the margin. Therefore, if depositors decided, for a given deposit interest rate, that they wanted to start depositing additional funds in banks, without bankers wanting to make additional loans, the end result would be virtually unchanged deposits and loans. The reason is that banks would start to pay a slightly lower deposit interest rate, and this would be sufficient to strongly reduce deposit demand without materially affecting funding costs and therefore the volume of lending. The final decision on the quantity of deposit money in the economy is therefore almost exclusively made by banks, and is based on their optimism about business conditions.
Our model completely omits two other monetary magnitudes, cash outside banks and bank reserves held at the central bank. This is because it is privately created deposit money that plays the central role in the current U.S. monetary system, while government-issued money plays a quantitatively and conceptually negligible role. It should be mentioned that both private and government-issued monies are fiat monies, because the acceptability of bank deposits for commercial and official transactions has had to first be decreed by law. As we will argue in section II, virtually all monies throughout history, including precious metals, have derived most or all of their value from government fiat rather than from their intrinsic value.
Rogoff (1998) examines U.S. dollar currency outside banks for the late 1990s. He concludes that it was equal to around 5% of GDP for the United States, but that 95% of this was held either by foreigners and/or by the underground economy. This means that currency outside banks circulating in the formal U.S. economy equalled only around 0.25% of GDP, while we will find that the current transactions-related liabilities of the U.S. financial system, including the shadow banking system, are equal to around 200% of GDP.
Bank reserves held at the central bank have also generally been negligible in size, except of course after the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. But this quantitative point is far less important than the recognition that they do not play any meaningful role in the determination of wider monetary aggregates. The reason is that the “deposit multiplier” of the undergraduate economics textbook, where monetary aggregates are created at the initiative of the central bank, through an initial injection of high-powered money into the banking system that gets multiplied through bank lending, turns the actual operation of the monetary transmission mechanism on its head. This should be absolutely clear under the current inflation targeting regime, where the central bank controls an interest rate and must be willing to supply as many reserves as banks demand at that rate. But as shown by Kydland and Prescott (1990), the availability of central bank reserves did not even constrain banks during the period, in the 1970s and 1980s, when the central bank did in fact officially target monetary aggregates.9 These authors show that broad monetary
aggregates, which are driven by banks’ lending decisions, led the economic cycle, while narrow monetary aggregates, most importantly reserves, lagged the cycle. In other words, at all times, when banks ask for reserves, the central bank obliges. Reserves therefore impose no constraint. The deposit multiplier is simply, in the words of Kydland and Prescott (1990), a myth.10 And because of this, private banks are almost fully in control of the money creation process.
Apart from the central role of endogenous money, other features of our banking model are based on Benes and Kumhof (2011). This work differs from other recent papers on banking along several important dimensions. First, banks have their own balance sheet and net worth, and their profits and net worth are exposed to non-diversifiable aggregate risk determined endogenously on the basis of optimal debt contracts.11 Second, banks are lenders rather than holders of risky equity.12 Third, bank lending is based on the loan contract of Bernanke, Gertler and Gilchrist (1999), but with the crucial difference that lending is risky due to non-contingent lending interest rates. This implies that banks can make losses if a larger number of loans defaults than was expected at the time of setting the lending rate. Fourth, bank capital is subject to regulation that closely replicates the features of the Basel regulatory framework, including costs of violating minimum capital adequacy regulations. Capital buffers arise as an optimal equilibrium phenomenon resulting from the interaction of optimal debt contracts, endogenous losses and regulation.13 To maintain capital buffers, banks respond to loan losses by raising their lending rate in order to rebuild their net worth, with adverse effects for the real economy. Fifth, acquiring fresh capital is subject to market imperfections. This is a necessary condition for capital adequacy regulation to have non-trivial effects, and for the capital buffers to exist. We use the “extended family” approach of Gertler and Karadi (2010), whereby bankers (and also non-financial manufacturers and entrepreneurs) transfer part of their accumulated equity positions to the household budget constraint at an exogenously fixed rate. This is closely related to the original approach of Bernanke, Gertler and Gilchrist (1999), and to the dividend policy function of Aoki, Proudman and Vlieghe (2004).
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section II contains a survey of the literature on monetary history and monetary thought leading up to the Chicago Plan. Section III presents an outline of the model under the current monetary system. Section IV presents the model under the Chicago Plan. Section V discusses model calibration. Section VI studies impulse responses that simulate a dynamic transition between the current monetary system and the Chicago Plan, which allows us to analyze three of the four above-mentioned claims in favor of the Chicago Plan made by Fisher (1936). The remaining claim, regarding the more effective stabilization of bank-driven business cycles, is studied in Section VII. Section VIII concludes using more recent data and a different methodology.