An alternative to popular faith

In a March 4, 2010 editorial titled, “Bunning had a point,” the Chicago Tribune wrote: “Bunning had a very good point. Congress won’t pay for what it spends.” What the writer meant is, Congress doesn’t levy as much in taxes as it spends — the old balanced-budget theme. The editorial goes on to criticize President Obama: “‘Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar somewhere,” ‘President Obama proclaimed.’ But here Congress was spending $10 billion without saving a dime elsewhere.

If there is one statement that is the uncontested bedrock of truth in economics, it’s this: A growing economy requires a growing supply of money. That statement actually is a tautology, for the very definitions of economic growth are measured in terms of money. Big economies have more money than do small economies, so for any economy to go from small to big, it has to increase its money supply, and for real growth, it has to increase its per capita money supply.

What is money? Every form of money is a form of debt. Bank accounts are bank debts. Credit card accounts are card-holder debts. Money market accounts are money market debts. Travelers’ checks are debts of the issuer. T-bills are federal debts. All are money and all are debt. There is no form of money that is not a debt. Even dollar bills (which have the words “Federal Reserve Note” printed on them) are debts of the U.S. government. ( “Bill” and “Note” are words signifying debt.)

So, to grow the economy, we must increase the money supply, i.e. increase the debt supply. But whose debts should we increase? We can select from personal, bank, business, state or local government and federal debts.

Shall we increase personal debts? That often is part of economic growth, though it can get to dangerous levels, at which time the frequency of bankruptcy increases and the economy suffers. So there is a limit to personal debt. Further, increases in personal debt usually are the result of economic growth, seldom the cause. And finally, what action could America’s politicians take to force increases in personal debt?

Shall we increase bank debt, also known as “savings accounts”? Increased saving sometimes is thought (wrongly) to be beneficial to the economy. Of late we have seen complaints that saving instead of spending slows the economy.

Shall we increase business or state and local government debt? Like personal debt, this can be dangerous debt. Many state and local governments already are over-borrowed, and are trying to reduce their debt.

That leaves the federal government as the safest source of increased debt/money. The federal government has the unlimited ability to create money; it cannot run out of money; it cannot go bankrupt; it has complete control over its debt-creation; it even can control the inflation some feel results from money creation. In short, the federal government is the ideal source of additional money to grow our economy

But the Chicago Tribune wants a balanced budget, meaning the federal money supply does not grow. Worse yet, in a balanced budget, the real money supply shrinks. Say in year 1 the money supply is $10 trillion and inflation is only 2% annually. By year 2, the real value of that $10 trillion has shrunk to $9.8 trillion. By year 10, with the same ongoing inflation, that balanced budget money supply has shrunk in real value to only $8.2 trillion. A balanced budget, with only 2% annual inflation, will cause our real (inflation adjusted) money supply to shrink almost 20% in ten years.

To achieve economic growth, the per capita money supply growth must exceed inflation, the trade deficit (which sends money overseas) and population growth, combined.

So yes, President Obama deserves criticism, but not for wanting to spend too much or tax too little. He deserves criticism for his populist, balanced-budget pronouncements, which by disparaging money growth, hurt America.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell