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We're all dooomed!!!

Bank Nationalisation - Cure Worse Then The Disease?

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I work for a bank (but not in a credit decision making area before anyone decides to take issue with me!) I've seen lots of articles on here recently where people are very angry with the banks and of course they have every right to be. (I will probably lose my job next year so I'm not exactly the sector's greatest fan at the moment).

My question is that it seems a lot of people are advocating some pretty radical solutions in terms of nationalisation of the banks. I can't help but think that if this was done the cure might well be even worse than the disease. Do we really want a government that was so blatantly 100% behind HPI to be in charge of the credit industry? Couldn't the whole thing be used too easily for political gain at appropriate times? Wouldn't banks become highly inefficient, uncompetetive organisations like other government bodies? Is this practical anyway in a global financial market? My thought is that much tougher regulation is what is needed, much higher liquidity requirements, a break-up of institutions which are too large to fail and a serious commitment not to support failing institutions going forward. Minds need to be focused in the city but surely we don't want another wasteful government body do we?

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I don't see any difference really at the moment. If there was, then NR would have been allowed to go bust.

All the evidence is staring us in the face... the banks and corporations own the politicians in the West. Until voters get smart and realise this, we are doomed to be at the whims of big business.

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I work for a bank (but not in a credit decision making area before anyone decides to take issue with me!) I've seen lots of articles on here recently where people are very angry with the banks and of course they have every right to be. (I will probably lose my job next year so I'm not exactly the sector's greatest fan at the moment).

My question is that it seems a lot of people are advocating some pretty radical solutions in terms of nationalisation of the banks. I can't help but think that if this was done the cure might well be even worse than the disease. Do we really want a government that was so blatantly 100% behind HPI to be in charge of the credit industry? Couldn't the whole thing be used too easily for political gain at appropriate times? Wouldn't banks become highly inefficient, uncompetetive organisations like other government bodies? Is this practical anyway in a global financial market? My thought is that much tougher regulation is what is needed, much higher liquidity requirements, a break-up of institutions which are too large to fail and a serious commitment not to support failing institutions going forward. Minds need to be focused in the city but surely we don't want another wasteful government body do we?

central planning always causes inefficiencies and ultimate poverty

the banking cartel needs breaking up

depressions their cause and their cure

But if banking is the cause of the business cycle, aren't the banks also a part of the private market economy, and can't we therefore say that the free market is still the culprit, if only in the banking segment of that free market? The answer is No, for the banks, for one thing, would never be able to expand credit in concert were it not for the intervention and encouragement of government. For if banks were truly competitive, any expansion of credit by one bank would quickly pile up the debts of that bank in its competitors, and its competitors would quickly call upon the expanding bank for redemption in cash. In short, a bank's rivals will call upon it for redemption in gold or cash in the same way as do foreigners, except that the process is much faster and would nip any incipient inflation in the bud before it got started. Banks can only expand comfortably in unison when a Central Bank exists, essentially a governmental bank, enjoying a monopoly of government business, and a privileged position imposed by government over the entire banking system. It is only when central banking got established that the banks were able to expand for any length of time and the familiar business cycle got underway in the modern world.

The central bank acquires its control over the banking system by such governmental measures as: Making its own liabilities legal tender for all debts and receivable in taxes; granting the central bank monopoly of the issue of bank notes, as contrasted to deposits (in England the Bank of England, the governmentally established central bank, had a legal monopoly of bank notes in the London area); or through the outright forcing of banks to use the central bank as their client for keeping their reserves of cash (as in the United States and its Federal Reserve System). Not that the banks complain about this intervention; for it is the establishment of central banking that makes long-term bank credit expansion possible, since the expansion of Central Bank notes provides added cash reserves for the entire banking system and permits all the commercial banks to expand their credit together. Central banking works like a cozy compulsory bank cartel to expand the banks' liabilities; and the banks are now able to expand on a larger base of cash in the form of central bank notes as well as gold.

So now we see, at last, that the business cycle is brought about, not by any mysterious failings of the free market economy, but quite the opposite: By systematic intervention by government in the market process. Government intervention brings about bank expansion and inflation, and, when the inflation comes to an end, the subsequent depression-adjustment comes into play.

The Ricardian theory of the business cycle grasped the essentials of a correct cycle theory: The recurrent nature of the phases of the cycle, depression as adjustment intervention in the market rather than from the free-market economy. But two problems were as yet unexplained: Why the sudden cluster of business error, the sudden failure of the entrepreneurial function, and why the vastly greater fluctuations in the producers' goods than in the consumers' goods industries? The Ricardian theory only explained movements in the price level, in general business; there was no hint of explanation of the vastly different reactions in the capital and consumers' goods industries.

The correct and fully developed theory of the business cycle was finally discovered and set forth by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, when he was a privatdozent in Vienna. Mises developed hints of his solution to the vital problem of the business cycle in his monumental Theory of Money and Credit, published in 1912, and still, nearly 60 years later, the best book on the theory of money and banking. Mises developed his cycle theory during the 1920s, and it was brought to the English-speaking world by Mises's leading follower, Friedrich A. von Hayek, who came from Vienna to teach at the London School of Economics in the early 1930s, and who published, in German and in English, two books which applied and elaborated the Mises cycle theory: Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle, and Prices and Production. Since Mises and Hayek were Austrians, and also since they were in the tradition of the great nineteenth-century Austrian economists, this theory has become known in the literature as the "Austrian" (or the "monetary over-investment") theory of the business cycle.

Building on the Ricardians, on general "Austrian" theory, and on his own creative genius, Mises developed the following theory of the business cycle:

Without bank credit expansion, supply and demand tend to be equilibrated through the free price system, and no cumulative booms or busts can then develop. But then government through its central bank stimulates bank credit expansion by expanding central bank liabilities and therefore the cash reserves of all the nation's commercial banks. The banks then proceed to expand credit and hence the nation's money supply in the form of check deposits. As the Ricardians saw, this expansion of bank money drives up the prices of goods and hence causes inflation. But, Mises showed, it does something else, and something even more sinister. Bank credit expansion, by pouring new loan funds into the business world, artificially lowers the rate of interest in the economy below its free market level.

On the free and unhampered market, the interest rate is determined purely by the "time-preferences" of all the individuals that make up the market economy. For the essence of a loan is that a "present good" (money which can be used at present) is being exchanged for a "future good" (an IOU which can only be used at some point in the future). Since people always prefer money right now to the present prospect of getting the same amount of money some time in the future, the present good always commands a premium in the market over the future. This premium is the interest rate, and its height will vary according to the degree to which people prefer the present to the future, i.e., the degree of their time-preferences.

People's time-preferences also determine the extent to which people will save and invest, as compared to how much they will consume. If people's time-preferences should fall, i.e., if their degree of preference for present over future falls, then people will tend to consume less now and save and invest more; at the same time, and for the same reason, the rate of interest, the rate of time-discount, will also fall. Economic growth comes about largely as the result of falling rates of time-preference, which lead to an increase in the proportion of saving and investment to consumption, and also to a falling rate of interest.

But what happens when the rate of interest falls, not because of lower time-preferences and higher savings, but from government interference that promotes the expansion of bank credit? In other words, if the rate of interest falls artificially, due to intervention, rather than naturally, as a result of changes in the valuations and preferences of the consuming public?

What happens is trouble. For businessmen, seeing the rate of interest fall, react as they always would and must to such a change of market signals: They invest more in capital and producers' goods. Investments, particularly in lengthy and time-consuming projects, which previously looked unprofitable now seem profitable, because of the fall of the interest charge. In short, businessmen react as they would react if savings had genuinely increased: They expand their investment in durable equipment, in capital goods, in industrial raw material, in construction as compared to their direct production of consumer goods.

Businesses, in short, happily borrow the newly expanded bank money that is coming to them at cheaper rates; they use the money to invest in capital goods, and eventually this money gets paid out in higher rents to land, and higher wages to workers in the capital goods industries. The increased business demand bids up labor costs, but businesses think they can pay these higher costs because they have been fooled by the government-and-bank intervention in the loan market and its decisively important tampering with the interest-rate signal of the marketplace.

The problem comes as soon as the workers and landlords--largely the former, since most gross business income is paid out in wages--begin to spend the new bank money that they have received in the form of higher wages. For the time-preferences of the public have not really gotten lower; the public doesn't want to save more than it has. So the workers set about to consume most of their new income, in short to reestablish the old consumer/saving proportions. This means that they redirect the spending back to the consumer goods industries, and they don't save and invest enough to buy the newly-produced machines, capital equipment, industrial raw materials, etc. This all reveals itself as a sudden sharp and continuing depression in the producers' goods industries. Once the consumers reestablished their desired consumption/investment proportions, it is thus revealed that business had invested too much in capital goods and had underinvested in consumer goods. Business had been seduced by the governmental tampering and artificial lowering of the rate of interest, and acted as if more savings were available to invest than were really there. As soon as the new bank money filtered through the system and the consumers reestablished their old proportions, it became clear that there were not enough savings to buy all the producers' goods, and that business had misinvested the limited savings available. Business had overinvested in capital goods and underinvested in consumer products.

The inflationary boom thus leads to distortions of the pricing and production system. Prices of labor and raw materials in the capital goods industries had been bid up during the boom too high to be profitable once the consumers reassert their old consumption/investment preferences. The "depression" is then seen as the necessary and healthy phase by which the market economy sloughs off and liquidates the unsound, uneconomic investments of the boom, and reestablishes those proportions between consumption and investment that are truly desired by the consumers. The depression is the painful but necessary process by which the free market sloughs off the excesses and errors of the boom and reestablishes the market economy in its function of efficient service to the mass of consumers. Since prices of factors of production have been bid too high in the boom, this means that prices of labor and goods in these capital goods industries must be allowed to fall until proper market relations are resumed.

Since the workers receive the increased money in the form of higher wages fairly rapidly, how is it that booms can go on for years without having their unsound investments revealed, their errors due to tampering with market signals become evident, and the depression-adjustment process begins its work? The answer is that booms would be very short lived if the bank credit expansion and subsequent pushing of the rate of interest below the free market level were a one-shot affair. But the point is that the credit expansion is not one-shot; it proceeds on and on, never giving consumers the chance to reestablish their preferred proportions of consumption and saving, never allowing the rise in costs in the capital goods industries to catch up to the inflationary rise in prices. Like the repeated doping of a horse, the boom is kept on its way and ahead of its inevitable comeuppance, by repeated doses of the stimulant of bank credit. It is only when bank credit expansion must finally stop, either because the banks are getting into a shaky condition or because the public begins to balk at the continuing inflation, that retribution finally catches up with the boom. As soon as credit expansion stops, then the piper must be paid, and the inevitable readjustments liquidate the unsound over-investments of the boom, with the reassertion of a greater proportionate emphasis on consumers' goods production.

Thus, the Misesian theory of the business cycle accounts for all of our puzzles: The repeated and recurrent nature of the cycle, the massive cluster of entrepreneurial error, the far greater intensity of the boom and bust in the producers' goods industries.

Mises, then, pinpoints the blame for the cycle on inflationary bank credit expansion propelled by the intervention of government and its central bank. What does Mises say should be done, say by government, once the depression arrives? What is the governmental role in the cure of depression? In the first place, government must cease inflating as soon as possible. It is true that this will, inevitably, bring the inflationary boom abruptly to an end, and commence the inevitable recession or depression. But the longer the government waits for this, the worse the necessary readjustments will have to be. The sooner the depression-readjustment is gotten over with, the better. This means, also, that the government must never try to prop up unsound business situations; it must never bail out or lend money to business firms in trouble. Doing this will simply prolong the agony and convert a sharp and quick depression phase into a lingering and chronic disease. The government must never try to prop up wage rates or prices of producers' goods; doing so will prolong and delay indefinitely the completion of the depression-adjustment process; it will cause indefinite and prolonged depression and mass unemployment in the vital capital goods industries. The government must not try to inflate again, in order to get out of the depression. For even if this reinflation succeeds, it will only sow greater trouble later on. The government must do nothing to encourage consumption, and it must not increase its own expenditures, for this will further increase the social consumption/investment ratio. In fact, cutting the government budget will improve the ratio. What the economy needs is not more consumption spending but more saving, in order to validate some of the excessive investments of the boom.

Thus, what the government should do, according to the Misesian analysis of the depression, is absolutely nothing. It should, from the point of view of economic health and ending the depression as quickly as possible, maintain a strict hands off, "laissez-faire" policy. Anything it does will delay and obstruct the adjustment process of the market; the less it does, the more rapidly will the market adjustment process do its work, and sound economic recovery ensue.

The Misesian prescription is thus the exact opposite of the Keynesian: It is for the government to keep absolute hands off the economy and to confine itself to stopping its own inflation and to cutting its own budget.

It has today been completely forgotten, even among economists, that the Misesian explanation and analysis of the depression gained great headway precisely during the Great Depression of the 1930s?the very depression that is always held up to advocates of the free market economy as the greatest single and catastrophic failure of laissez-faire capitalism. It was no such thing. 1929 was made inevitable by the vast bank credit expansion throughout the Western world during the 1920s: A policy deliberately adopted by the Western governments, and most importantly by the Federal Reserve System in the United States. It was made possible by the failure of the Western world to return to a genuine gold standard after World War I, and thus allowing more room for inflationary policies by government. Everyone now thinks of President Coolidge as a believer in laissez-faire and an unhampered market economy; he was not, and tragically, nowhere less so than in the field of money and credit. Unfortunately, the sins and errors of the Coolidge intervention were laid to the door of a non-existent free market economy.

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I don't see any difference really at the moment. If there was, then NR would have been allowed to go bust.

NR staff are extremely lucky in that respect! There was no mechanism to break NR up the way B&B were dealt with for their miserable failure.

Mind you, I did hear from a realiable source (subsequent of course to letting 1300 or so go last August) quite a few senior managers have been "shown the door" most recently, obviously a sale back to the private sector is on the cards in the nearish future?

Topliner

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In terms of government, nationalising the bank of england or commercial banks makes no difference to the essential problem, which is allowing politicians to spend without taxing.

In a "democracy", if they had to tax us immediately for everything they spent (especially just recently), they'd be out on their ear come the next election. There'd be riots. They would have to take responsibility for the money they took and the money they spent. The problem with the banking cartels and central bank models is the governments perpetuate them because its in their interest - it allows them to spend without immediate comeback, which makes them popular with those they spend the money on. The banks exploit this, they get to lend to governments, who are a lovely safe credit risk in the sense that they take the money to repay effectively by force, if not now (especially not now), then in the future. A greater conflict of interests one cannot conceive.

So yes, increase liquidity requirements, crack down on the terms under which private sector borrowing can take place, accept the inevitable short term downturn this creates, but far more importantly, stop government spending and borrowing at will. Make them tax what they spend within their electoral term (perhaps with the exception of the country being physically invaded).

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Guest X-QUORK

Retail banking isn't much more than a utility and should be treated as such. Provided they can be severely restricted to only ever become medium sized businesses, nationalisation shouldn't be necassary.

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