Why Fractional Reserve Banking is Not the Problem


Learn some little known history about the birth of fractional reserve banking from silver storehouses and the importance of matching time deposits with loan duration…

We previously posted a video interview with Sandeep Jaitly of Feketeresearch.com.

Sandeep covered many points but one in particular reminded us of a lecture of his we were privileged to hear here in Auckland a number of years ago.

In the video interview Sandeep stated that the fractional reserve banking system extending credit does not cause boom and bust cycles.

But rather it’s when you extend credit beyond the duration for which it was intended that the problems occur.  That is borrowing short to lend long. You don’t match the purpose for which the credit was taken with the purpose for which the credit was granted.

He went on to say that it is fraud to borrow short to lend long, as you are disobeying the principles of a bailment which is that a demand deposit must be accessible at all times. [Definition of Bailment from wikipedia: – Bailment describes a legal relationship in common law where physical possession of personal property, or chattel, is transferred from one person (the ‘bailor’) to another person (the ‘bailee’) who subsequently has possession of the property. It arises when a person gives property to someone else for safekeeping.]

So you can’t have your money available at all times and earn interest on it. The two don’t make sense and yet that is what depositors at banks believe they have today, with on call accounts that pay interest.

Anyhow, as we mentioned this reminded us of a lecture of Sandeep’s and so we dug out our notes from then with the hope or rediscovering a few gems of info that we could share with you.

First up, perhaps we should attempt to explain some of Sandeep’s terminology above:

Demand deposit – This is where funds deposited with a bank are available on demand.  i.e. You can withdraw them at any time without waiting and so can everyone else with funds deposited on demand.

As the bank runs in 2009 and subsequent government guarantees have proven, in the current banking system the funds deposited in your “on call” account are not really demand deposits at all.  If everyone shows up at the bank at the same time to “demand” their on call deposits – you get a really long queue and unhappy customers. As the bank does not hold in reserve enough funds to repay everyone “on demand”.

Borrow short to lend long – This is how the modern banking system works.  They borrow from you in the short term to lend out to other customers with say 20 year mortgages.

As Sandeep said in the video the modern banking system doesn’t match the purpose for which the credit was taken with the purpose for which the credit was granted.  There is a duration mismatch.

Now below we have written up our lecture notes. Hopefully expanding on this concept further. And apologies to Sandeep if we make any errors or missteps in our retelling of his tale as it was a while ago!

For more of Sandeep on video see: Sandeep Jaitly: Here’s where Ludwig von Mises was Wrong on Gold

Silver and the Birth of Fractional Reserve Banking

In the beginning silver was money.  A conundrum was what to do with your hoard when you had built up a decent excess that you didn’t need for daily use [a nice problem to have!].

A large business could have very large holdings of silver so the need arose for a safe storehouse.  But not just any old fellow on the street with a lock and a warehouse would do, you had to be noble and ethical to store someone else’s money.

So initially temples were preferred, as the priests had sacrificed material gain and so were trusted more than merchants.

You were charged for the storage of your silver and given a receipt, which you could “cash in” at any time and get your money back in the form of silver coins.

How Much Did the Silver Storehouses Keep on Demand?

You would only need a portion of your silver holdings to cover day-to-day expenses such as food and clothing and the like.  Say you determined you only needed 10% of your reserves on demand for day-to-day use.  The other 90% was put to use to create a silver bond and a time deposit.  But it would be you who determined this amount not the silver storehouse And for the time deposit you would determine how many months or years you were willing to have your cash silver tied up for. i.e. how long it could be lent out for.

Key point: This amount is an entirely subjective decision by you the depositor.

A loan could be created for a business owner from the non-demand or time deposits. When the borrower spends the loan this would result in a subset of people whose overall increase in physical silver would not be greater than the amount initially lent.

How fractional reserve banking  should work

Expand this out and you get a system made up of demand deposits and time deposits of widely different maturities, but so that the respective assets and liabilities match perfectly in their duration.

Demand deposits and time deposits

As opposed to modern banking where there is a dictat of say 10% to be kept on demand by the authorities regardless of the depositors time preference.

Economists observed the above process but instead of allowing at each stage each person to decide how much of their savings to keep on demand, and how much could be lent out, they decided on a fixed arbitrary percentage.

Whereas this overall percentage should vary day to day as peoples needs varied. That is…

The people control the supply. [We are sure the likes of Bernanke, Yellen, Powell and Co may have trouble with this concept, as they seem to think they can and should determine the supply of money and credit.]

So it’s not necessarily that fractional reserve lending is “bad” per se, but rather the complete removal of the subjective depositor matching of time deposits to loans.

How This Concept of Fractional Reserve Banking has Degraded Even Further Over the Centuries

Obviously an unethical and dishonest storehouse owner could fraudulently lend out the “on demand” silver.

If demand deposits were (fraudulently) lent out and people then wanted more cash silver than was available (i.e. their demand deposits back)


Assets would have to be liquidated. This would happen very fast and so as a result there would be falling prices.  A.K.A deflation.

Recall 2008, this is what was happening then. If governments hadn’t stepped in and nationalised the deposits of savers, prices would have collapsed.  Actual physical cash would have regained 90 years of devaluation incredibly quickly but most people would have been made destitute.

Couple this with the complete removal of silver and gold as the units of account and then the lending to governments with debt rolled over and over in perpetuity, has given banks the ability to paper over the cracks.

Read more: If the US Dollar Was Again Linked to Gold, How Would This Affect New Zealand?

What Lies Ahead

This nationalisation of the deposit system means no persons deposits will be at risk, almost anywhere in the world.  The system should have imploded under the massive debt burden in 2009 but the nationalisation meant this wasn’t allowed to happen.  So now no one’s time deposit is at risk.

An economic expansion is now likely to occur at some point in time due to the much greater monetary base but it will not be a real recovery just a nominal one.  Stock prices will likely soar, not because productivity has increased but rather because the collapse was not allowed to occur and the greater monetary base will eventually find its way into the system.

Editors note: This has proven to be the case. Quite foresightful of Sandeep given he said this back in 2010. Since then we have seen sharemarkets rise steadily the world over.

With the US central bank also now switching back to cutting interest rates and increasing its balance sheet via renewed money printing, we could be entering the final phase of the “crack up boom”. Gold and silver are likely to rise significantly during this phase. But also will offer protection from the inevitable bust.

Check out the range of gold and silver to buy.

Note: First published 21 August 2012. Last updated 18 December 2019.

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