‘Banks make money out of thin air’ is a confusing slogan

Banks do not create money out of thin air. That’s the title and argument of an article by Pontus Rendahl and Lukas Freund in VOX.

Unsurprisingly, people on Twitter took issue with the authors’ claim:

I find this polemic boring and unproductive.

Boring, because I explained the misconceptions surrounding “money from thin air” in Bankers are people, too. (If you have a copy of the book, see page 38).

It’s also unproductive, because a slogan is not an insight. VOX claims to provide ‘Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists’. It’s a sad state of affairs if leading economists produce more heat than light by using slogans.

Scientists don’t argue about slogans. Insight follows from identifing the relevant mechanisms or from looking at empirical findings, not from these endless ‘debates’.

That’s why Bankers are people, too contains so many drawings of simple balance sheets and discussions of behavior and incentives. I wanted to be crystal clear, not become yet another vague economics guru.

Do better, economics community…

“legally”

In a recent episode of the Macro Musings podcast, David Beckworth talked to professor and author Laurence M. Ball about his new book The Fed and Lehman Brothers: Setting the Record Straight on a Financial Disaster.

Starting around minute 45 of the podcast, they discuss the role of Henry Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury. Professor Ball notes that “It was Paulson1 who was making the decisions. That’s a little bit odd, because legally, under the Federal Reserve Act, it was the Federal Reserve’s job to decide whether or not they made loans. The Treasury Secretary legally didn’t have any more role than the Secretary of Agriculture or the Governor of Maryland. But Henry Paulson just arrived at the New York Fed and started saying what was gonna happen and people did what he said”.

This doesn’t surprise me one bit. In times of crisis, you cannot avoid politics.

In ‘The next crisis’, the final chapter of Bankers are people, too, I wrote

“It remains to be seen how long regulations will keep risks in check. When a major (shadow) bank fails in spite of all the monitoring and supervision, the value of the institutional framework will become clear. Because of the importance of banking to the economy, I am sure that the highest officials
in government will be involved if a too big to fail bank is about to collapse, whether or not that is against the law.”

So much for legal constraints during a major crisis.

“We were simply not aware”

To be fair to Mr. Decressonnière, most bankers don’t understand money creation.

Bankers’ guilty conscience

The Vatican recently published a document on the economic-financial system. The Church notes “the irreplaceable social function of credit” and that “most of [the financial industry’s] operators are singularly animated by good and right intentions”. However, the text mainly condemns all kinds of “immoral behavior”, ranging from credit default swaps to offshore banks. Continue reading “Bankers’ guilty conscience”

What has Big Tech ever done for me?

There’s a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which rebels conspire against the Roman occupation. They ask themselves “What have the Romans ever done for us“.

Upon reflection, they realize that the Romans brought them sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation, public health, roads, a freshwater system, baths, public order, and peace.

I get the same feeling when I read articles about Big Tech. Continue reading “What has Big Tech ever done for me?”

The best compliment on ‘Bankers are people, too’

The Dutch translation of ‘Bankers are people, too’ was released last week. A guest remarked that he liked the unconventional order of the topics. The fact that I wasn’t formally trained as an economist undoubtedly helped. Because I didn’t start from a mental template of how a book on banking should look like, I had to figure out the best way to present my ideas in a coherent way.

Question for readers who did study economics at university: did your textbooks discuss central banks and macroeconomics before explaining commercial banking? What would you change to the curriculum? Let me know in the comments!

Hoe bankiers geld scheppen

Mijn boek werd gisteren voorgesteld in het Hilton hotel in Brussel. Voor de Nederlandse editie heb ik een nieuwe titel gekozen: Hoe bankiers geld scheppen. De vertaling van Bankers are people, too kreeg ook een andere kaft (in kleur 🙂 ).

Je kan Hoe bankiers geld scheppen bestellen met deze knop

Continue reading “Hoe bankiers geld scheppen”

The original introduction of ‘Bankers are people, too’

Writing a book involves a lot of deleting, shifting, and rewriting. The recent IT problems at Argenta bank reminded me of the original introduction of Bankers are people, too.

The introduction in the published version of my book is based on the old intro, plus pieces that were originally at the end of Part III. The editor convinced me to integrate them into the beginning.

So without further ado, here is the old intro: Continue reading “The original introduction of ‘Bankers are people, too’”

Two year anniversary

My first long blog post was published two years ago on this day. A couple of weeks earlier, I had decided to quit my job in order to write Bankers are people, too.

I want to use this anniversary to thank you for reading my work. Who could foresee then that I would make new friends because of this blog?

There is more to celebrate. The Dutch translation of Bankers are people, too will be released on April 12. Check out the invitation (pdf, in Dutch). Send me a message if you would like to attend the book launch party in Brussels!

I also have a favor to ask if you have already bought Bankers are people, too. Please consider writing a review. This will help other intelligent readers like you to find the book.