Showing posts with label banking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label banking. Show all posts

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Banks and Credit

This article from February 1975, is well worth a study and is still pertinent to the circumstances leading up to the crisis of recent years. Although some of the references are dated they have been retained for historical purposes.


THE USE-VALUE of loan capital, which is made available through the banking system, consists of producing profit, and this type of profit is described as interest. The rate of interest is arrived at by competition between lenders and borrowers, or by supply and demand; the lender of loan capital striving to obtain the highest rate of interest for the use of his capital, and the borrower seeking the lowest rate. There is no "natural" rate of interest, nor is there any limit to the rate that can be charged.

 In the German Weimar Republic during the period of great inflation after World War 1, the rate of interest was raised weekly in some cases to 200%. The "natural" rate theory has its basis in the repetitive form of dealings between merchants and industrialists in the negotiation of Bills of Exchange. A substantial part of the business of a bank consists in discounting (cashing) Bills of Exchange. They are, generally speaking, promises to pay between merchant and industrialist at 60-90 day intervals, or longer. These Bills usually represent goods in transit or in store, and for the facility of advancing cash immediately on the strength of the Bill, which guarantees the value of the goods nominated in the Bill, the banker will deduct or discount a fraction of the amount shown and
buy the Bill. If, for example, a Bill of Exchange was valued at £10,000, and the annual rate of interest was 10%, and the Bill was due in 90 days, the banker would deduct the sum of £250, i.e. 90 days' interest, and advance the sum of £9,750. When the Bill was finally redeemed, the banker would then receive the sum of £10,000 - the full value of the Bill.

Rates of Interest

 Naturally the merchant and the industrialist (incidentally banking transactions as described above are not just confined to these two) would seek out the most favourable discount rates, and over a period of years the rate would tend to become adjusted at a regular rate. For many years between World Wars I and II the bank rate remained almost stable, around 2.5%-3%. The old bank rate was
based on this practice of discounting Bills, and gave rise to the theory of the "natural" rate of interest. Regarding the possibility of the banker getting the better of the merchant, industrialist etc., by successfully charging high discount rates; this would only result in a transfer of wealth between them. Were the British banks to consistently charge usurious rates, capitalists would endeavor to have their Bills discounted elsewhere, say New York or Paris.

 Since interest is part of industrial Profit, the maximum limit of interest is marked by profit itself.
The leaves can never be greater than the tree, or the part can never be greater than the whole. The high rate of interest today, i.e. 15%-16%, is distorted by inflation. The Chairman of Barclays Bank, Mr. A. Favil Tuke said:
"1t is worth recording that of the three parties who make up a bank, namely stockholders, staff and customers, none has gained much from these profits. Customers do not need to be told how much interest rates have risen in the last year or two; the increases in the salaries of our staff have been limited to about 7% per annum, and that of the stockholders dividend to 5% per annum; all
this at a time of inflation of some 10%, per annum." (Directors' Report to AGM, 1974).

 Obviously the depreciation of money is taken into account when fixing a rate of interest, and this is basic to the preservation of the value of the loan capital. On the other hand any prolonged fall, resulting in a total loss of interest, as well as an erosion of the value of the money capital, would eventually remove loan capital from the money market. This would, sooner or later, have repercussions in the productive process, as industrialists and other capitalists would find difficulty in raising capital for certain projects. As capitalism's wealth develops there is a tendency for the owner of inherited wealth to live on the annual interest without actively participating in the productive process. The same attitude is adopted by retired capitalists who want to take things easy,instead presumably of just taking them - as in their youth. Loan capital arises mainly from these sources.

 Were there no profit in loaning capital, that capital would be hoarded until such times as things improved. The owners of such capital would not retain it in the form of paper currency at the mercy of inflation, which has the effect of gradually reducing the wealth of the banker and the landlord, as well as literally confiscating such savings as are owned by workers. They would hold their hoard
either in gold, works of art, land, buildings, or any other desirable commodity which retained its value. No profits would accrue from assets held in this way, but on the other hand, there would be no losses either. However, if this happened on any scale there would be industrial dislocation.

Lenders & Borrowers

 The function of banks is firstly to make recurring payments on behalf of their customers; meeting mortgage payment rates, quarterly bills, and regular annual orders. These are payments which are entirely concerned with the circulation of commodities. But their second and most important function is to provide credit or capital for industry, commerce, property, etc. This is not provided out of the resources of the bank, as can be seen by the statement of the London Clearing Banks.
Total advances were £16.7 thousand millions (Quarterly analysis of Bank advances; Bank of England, 20th November 1974), whereas the total capital of these banks was £658 millions as at December 1973 (Annual Reports, 1973).
 Generally speaking, bank overdraft limits are reviewed every year, and bank borrowing is mainly short-term; up to 3 years in the main. Long-term loans are usually handled by the merchant banks who charge a higher rate of interest for this facility. The credit system which owes its development to the specialized function of the bank has proved to be a significant force in the centralization of
capital. Gathering as they do all the disposable money which is spread throughout society, they channel it into the hands of groups of capitalists, who turn it into capital. The accumulation of capital is speeded up, and with it the productiveness of labour, as more and more machinery is introduced into the productive process.

 Credit, and the credit system, have given rise to many misconceptions about the power of banks to create credit. Firstly, credit, whatever its form, whether in money or goods, consists in a transfer from one person to another.

"Credit, in its simplest expression, is the well or ill founded confidence which induces one man to extend to another a certain amount of capital, in money or in commodities, estimated at a certain value, which amount is always payable after the lapse of a definite time." (Tooke. Capital, Vol. III.Kerr edn., p. 471).

 Elements of social wealth, and the conditions under which the transfer takes place, or the trustworthiness of either of the parties to the transaction, need not concern us. An owner of goods may be separated by an interval of time from realizing the value of these goods in money. Certain articles take a longer time to produce than others, and others longer to market. The production of certain commodities, mainly agricultural products, depends on certain seasons of the year.

  Inevitably the owner of the commodities will borrow money on them, or sell his right to them for money on the spot, or the written promise of money. This is putting it at its simplest - the goods providing the security for the loan. In any case, goods are exchanged or secured against a sum of money which is due to be repaid at a given date in the future. Payment in advance of delivery, or
delivery in advance of payment, represent the two sides of simple credit. It is to be assumed that the credit seeker has a reputation for solvency, and that fraud is not the purpose. Credit advances in this way merely facilitate the circulation of com-modities by getting them to the market quicker.

Weakest to the Wall

 The second and most important function of the banker is to provide money for industry, which is capital. This has a separate function from money as the medium of circulation. The function ofcapital is not merely the circulation of commodities but their production in the first instance.

 Therefore, money used as capital is withdrawn from circulation because the wealth which it represents has been locked up in the process of production. The credit system of advancing capital allows individuals to use capital which is not theirs, and has opened the door to all sorts of swindles and reckless speculation. Who would not gamble with other people's money?

 If banks could create credit with the stroke of a pen, that would mean in effect they could create wealth, and consequently the Marxist Theory of Value would be shown to be wrong. However, as time passes the validity of the Labour Theory of Value, i.e. that wealth can only come into existence when men apply their energies to nature, is all too apparent. If banks could create credit, they would never be in financial difficulties, nor would they go bankrupt. As we have seen in recent years, a number of bank failures are taking place. The Ideal Savings Bank, and the Bank of the Lebanon, for example. More recently, the Herstatt Bank of Germany, and the Sindona group of Banks in Italy; the Israel British Bank (London) with deficits of over £40 millions. Many of the 40 or so fringe banks are in dire trouble, and some have gone into liquidation, including Mr. Jeremy Thorpe's London & Counties Bank. (His insight into the political future has not helped him in his banking adventures.) Many of these failed banks had the dubious benefit of advice from economic and political experts forecasting the future of capitalism. Once again they have come unstuck, and
we can say with certainty that more banks will fail as the competition increases - the large fish will gobble up the little ones.

Credit Creation a Myth

 In these circumstances, why did these banks not create a bit of credit for themselves and literally pull themselves up with their own shoelaces? The answer is all too obvious. The credit of the banker is provided only by his depositors. This is real money. It matters not whether the bank transfers depositors' credit to a bad risk or a dud enterprise - he is liable for its return. At the present time, the pro-perty market has turned out to be a bad financial risk, and the little fish are in trouble having lent long to property speculators, and borrowed short from their bigger brothers. The alleged "rescue" operations organized by the Bank of England are nothing other than the lambs being eaten
up by the wolves. The smaller fry of the financial and banking world are no more immune from the centralization of capital than the small car firms, garages, shopkeepers, etc. In the last four years the Big Five Banks, Westminster, Barclay's, National Provincial, Lloyd's and Midland, have become the Bigger Four. A number of Scottish banks have been taken over by the Big Four - the Bank of Scotland for example is now under the control of Barclay's, whilst the Clydesdale Bank is controlled by Midland; National Westminster controls Coutts & Co., also the Ulster Bank Ltd. Lloyd's control the Bank of London and South America, the National Bank of New Zealand and many others.

 If these small satellites wanted to remain independent all they need have done was to create credit by increasing their capital by a stroke of the pen. Such fictitious capital would no doubt pay a fictitious dividend, and create a series of fictitious deposits. Unfortunately, however, the original depositors who have loaned real money have no sense of fiction - even the science fiction of the
economic experts - and would require repayment in very realistic banknotes.

 The bank profits for 1973, the last accounting year of the London Clearing Banks and subsidiaries, do not bear out the miraculous power of credit creation. Although this was a bumper year the total profits, after tax, were £335.7 millions (Annual Statement for 1973). This is a large profit, but it is only a small portion of the total industrial profit.

Inflation Fraud

 The one institution which appears to create credit is the State, operating through the Bank of England. This is an act of deliberate political policy, the reasons for which will be given in aseparate article. The Government, in a variety of ways, instructs the Bank of England to print an excess of paper currency, which the Government uses to finance its own schemes, and without
having to introduce tax legislation to deal with particular cases. This inflation of the currency does not, nor cannot, add to existing wealth. What is really happening is that, far from creating credit, the Government is confiscating other people's. This has the same effect as a general increase in taxation. The constant dilution of the purchasing power of money by inflation raises prices and
dislocates production and distribution. This is public fraud posing as public credit.

  Capitalism is a system of production and distribution with many contradictions, and inflation adds yet another. Whatever strategy is worked out by economic planners and monetary specialists will make no difference. Capitalism will run according to its own laws, and they can only run after it.

After all - who ever heard of an expert on anarchy?


Socialist Standard February 1975

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Banksters at RBS

The crimes of Royal Bank of Scotland as described on this website.

UK: PPI mis-selling - Estimated liability: £2.65 billion
RBS has set aside £2.65 billion in provisions to cover the cost of compensating customers to whom it mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI). This often redundant product was highly lucrative for the banks but was useless to many of the people who bought it. The bank now has 1,800 staff working full-time on PPI redress. It threw an additional £250 million into the compensation pot on Friday.

UK: Rights issue class action - Liability: up to £13 billion
The bank is fighting the UK’s largest ever class action case in the High Court. The suit comes from 13,000 RBS investors who allege that the bank duped them into putting £12.3 billion into a rights issue in April 2008. On 30 July, the RBoS Shareholders Action Group was ordered to amalgamate its £4.3 billion claim with those of two other investor groups. A QC’s opinion last year found that asset-management firms that bought into the rights issues that fail to participate in the action could risk being sued by investors. The bank said: “RBS considers its has substantial and credible legal and factual defences to these claims.”

UK: Card and identity protection insurance - Estimated liability: £200 million (based on RBS’s market share)
The bank misled customers into buying insurance for their credit cards and identity theft insurance from London-based Card Protection Plan. On 22 August, the FCA declared that CPP and RBS, alongside 12 other banks and credit card issuers, had agreed to a £1.3 billion compensation scheme.

UK and Ireland: IT meltdown - Estimated liability: up to £300 million
On 19 June 2012, RBS suffered one of the worst IT meltdowns in banking history, with millions of customers locked out of their accounts for days and customer transactions going awry. The bank has promised to reimburse customers for any losses they suffered and paid out £175 million in 2012. The incident is also the subject of regulatory inquiries in both the UK and Ireland, and RBS may also face claims for damages through the courts.

UK: “Systemic abuse” in restructuring and recovery - Estimated liability: up to £5 billion
Allegations of “systemic institutionalised fraud” in RBS’s recovery and restructuring division (West Register and Global Restructuring Group) are being investigated by a number of civil and criminal UK authorities. Lawrence Tomlinson, chairman of Leeds-based LNT Group and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, alleges: “This is a massive scandal. It’s about the bank creating situations that put people into a corner where it can hit them with outrageous fees and transformed into zombie companies.” He is providing 300-400 case studies to business secretary Vince Cable.

UK: Interest rate swaps mis-selling - Liability: up to £1.5 billion (if FCA fines RBS)
In February, RBS booked a £750 million provision to cover compensation for small businesses to which it mis-sold interest-rated hedging products, a figure that experts believe may be too low. After initially denying it had done anything wrong, the bank now says it will provide “fair and reasonable redress” to eligible customers under a redress scheme agreed with the FCA. Speaking on the BBC’s Panorama last month, FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley warned the regulator may also fine banks involved in the scandal.

EU: Credit default swaps anti-competitive behaviour - Estimated liability: unknown
EU cartel-busters are investigating RBS’s role in the credit default swap (CDS) market and handed the bank a statement of objections in July. The EC has raised concerns that a number of banks, plus data provider Markit and industry group the International Swaps and Derivatives Association may have jointly blocked exchanges from entering the CDS market. RBS said: “At this stage, the RBS group cannot estimate reliably what effect the outcome of the investigation may have on the group, which may be material.”

Singapore: Benchmark rigging - Estimated liability: £500 million-£600 million
RBS was one of 20 banks penalised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore in June for rigging Sibor (the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate) and other benchmarks between 2007 and 2011. RBS has set aside additional statutory reserves with MAS of Singapore $1 billion-$1.2bn (£500 million-£600m) and has been forced to improve its systems and controls in Singapore.

US: SEC “Wells” notice for ­defective residential mortgage-backed securities - Estimated liability: unknown
The US Securities and Exchange Commission slapped a “Wells” notice on RBS on 28 March, giving notice of its intention to sue. The suit relates to allegedly faulty mortgage-backed securities dating from 2007. The SEC started its probe in September 2010, when it asked RBS for information concerning residential mortgage-backed securities underwritten by US subsidiaries of RBS in the period September 2006 to July 2007.

US: Defective mortgage bond issuance - Estimated liability: $4 billion-$6 billion
RBS, through Greenwich Capital, sold $32 billion of allegedly defective mortgage-backed securities to American state-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is suing RBS over these the bonds. The FHFA alleges that RBS routinely breached mortgage-lending rules and bullied surveyors into inflating property valuations. Overall, RBS is being sued for $91bn of mortgage-backed securities and has been named as defendant in 45 lawsuits related to mortgage-backed securities.

US: Weak anti-money-laundering controls - Estimated liability: up to $1.5 billion
On 27 July 2011, RBS was hit with a cease-and-desist order by the US Federal Reserve over violations of money-laundering laws. This required RBS to improve risk management and compliance to ensure does not get used as “washing machine” for the laundering of funds for countries subject to US economic blockade, such as Iran. RBS is “continuing to co-operate” with inquiries led by the Department of Justice and has “conducted disciplinary proceedings against a number of employees”.

US: Mortgages – loan repurchases and indemnities - Estimated liabilities: $750 million
When bundling mortgages into mortgage-backed securities, the bank’s M&IB arm (formerly GBM) and Citizens asked issuers of the underlying mortgages to provide certain warranties. In instances where issuers refused, M&IB tended to issue the “representations and warranties” itself. In such cases, the bank is liable to repurchase the bonds or else “indemnify certain parties against losses”. Between early 2009 and June 2013, RBS received $741 million in repurchase demands, which it is striving to resist. The bank said: “The volume of repurchase demands is increasing and is expected to continue to increase.”

US: Credit default swaps anti-competitive behaviour - Estimated liability: unknown
In May and August 2013, RBS and other banks were sued in anti-trust class action suits filed in courts in Illinois and New York state. The complaints allege that RBS broke competition law in the market for credit default swaps, driving up bid-offer spreads. The bank admits the cases could lead to “investigatory or other action being taken by governmental and regulatory authorities” and could have a “material adverse effect” on RBS group.

US: Other allegedly faulty securitisations - Estimated liability: unknown
In January 2011, the SEC launched a formal inquiry into inadequate documentation relating to RBS’s US mortgage securitisations. This followed subpoenas in 2007 of several players in the US securitisation industry, focusing on information underwriters obtained from independent firms that performed due diligence on underlying loans. RBS gave relevant documentation to the New York attorney general in 2008. RBS said: “The investigation is ongoing and the RBS Group continues to provide the requested information.”

Global: Libor - Estimated liability: RBS already fined £390 million; the ultimate cost could be as high as £80 billion
On 6 February, the US Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the UK’s Financial Services Authority fined RBS $612m (£390m) fine for rigging Libor, the benchmark interbank interest rate. Other banks and brokers penalised for similar offences include Barclays, UBS and Rabobank. RBS faces further penalties from the EU and Canadian Competition Bureau, plus civil claims from US investors, the most recent of which came from mortgage giant Fannie Mae last Thursday. Analyst Sandy Chen has said if there was just 0.05% mispricing in interbank rates over four years – less than the 0.4% some class action lawsuits allege – RBS faces possible damages of £80bn.

Global: ISDAfix - Estimated liability: unknown
Multiple agencies and regulators around the world are investigating RBS for possible rigging of IDSAfix, a benchmark used in the interest rate swaps market. America’s CFTC is examining about one million emails and phone call recordings related to the alleged manipulation, involving traders from RBS and more than ten other global banks and brokerages.

Global: FX market rigging - Estimated liability: unknown
On Thursday it emerged that two of RBS’s currency traders have been suspended as part of an inquiry by global regulators into suspected manipulation of foreign exchange markets. The regulators, which include the UK Financial Conduct Authority, America’s FBI and Switzerland’s FINMA suspect that global banks including RBS colluded to manipulate exchange rates in the global, $5.3 trillion a day, foreign exchange markets. RBS has provided the FCA with e-chats that a former senior RBS dealer – Richard “Dick” Usher who left the bank in 2010 – had with traders at other banks. The traders’ group was variously known as “The Bandits” and “The Cartel”.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Bank Revolution?

You have been taught that we live in a democracy. There are laws and courts and jails for the criminals — and you were told that all citizens are equal before the law. But you know perfectly well that a banker who swindles a great many people seldom lands in jail, and if he does, he is soon pardoned or else his imprisonment is turned into something like a vacation in a country club open prison. But if you, a worker, steals the law will be after you and there will be no mercy. You were taught that this is “justice.” Yet where is the justice to  being thrown out into the street for non-payment of a mortage or rent but bankers an default on billions and get bail-outs from the government? Something is wrong here, too. Apparently, all these notions about law and order, about justice and injustice, about crime and punishment, are made in the interests, not of you and the like of you, but in the interests of those who use them against you.

The truth of the matter is that this is a rich man’s State and a rich man’s government. The State is there to act on behalf of finance capital and to protect its interests against the people. The government is the executive committee of business.

 Bankers and brokers, hedge fund managers, real estate speculators— they do not produce anything essential to human life although they have the lion’s share of control over production. As a matter of fact, they produce nothing. They transfer “paper” from hand to hand. That paper — call it checks or deeds or shares — is a claim to the fruits of somebody else’s labour. Wall Street and the City of London were doing its bit. Wall Street is the popular name for the greatest combination of financial manipulators, and it was boosting stock prices sky high. The price of stocks is based upon the estimated earning capacity of the unit that issues the stocks. This earning capacity was declared by the advocates of Wall Street to be unlimited. Prosperity was to go up and up in an unending spiral. The big sharks of the stock exchange were making billions. The fat cats of Wall Street were having the time of their lives. Everybody praised the glory of the market. The structure was built on sand. The crash came. It was inevitable. Stocks tumbled down. Capitalist propagandists asserted that it was only a violent “downward readjustment.” It was more than that. It was a disaster.

They wish us to  believe it was just an accident, or at worse, the malpractice of a few out of control individuals yet the business corporations were garnering in the profits and issuing out the rewards to their executives in huge bonuses and stock options. Then with the recession  they complained of hard times and although not  a single chairman of the board of directors of the large corporations went begging in the streets they held out their hands for alms from the government - and got it . Whereas the wages of the  workers were cut mercilessly and the benefits for unemployed turned them into  beggars at food-banks and charities. Big business is now  prosperous again, the hic-cup in the past but still  the working class is suffering great hardships.

Is this all an accident? It is not. It is the outcome of a system where wealth is owned, not by those who produce it, but by those who do not produce anything, who have amassed it out of the work of others under the protection of the law; a system where production is directed, not towards satisfying human wants, but towards making profits for the owners of wealth; a system where the primary purpose of labor — to satisfy the basic needs of humanity — is completely lost sight of in the scramble for fatter investments fortunes. Society rests on the foundation of labour, no matter what its form.

But lessons of the recession must be learned. Plan after plan is being tossed about in the think-tanks and academia to restore confidence in their economic theories. The importance to capitalism of a sound financial system cannot be underestimated. It is for that reason that they have been so quick to apply any remedies that they hope may relieve any imperfections. To the millions of workers, the government refuses the slightest aid. But to the financial oligarchy it is prepared to lend its entire machinery.  The government is always ready to help those who do not need it – those who do, the working class, will have to wrench it from them in the course of the struggle against capitalism.

For a long time it was believed that dislocations of monetary and credit systems, commonly observed during depressions, were at the bottom of the whole trouble. There followed all sorts of theories on and manipulations with currency emission, bank and credit regulations, etc., including the setting up of government controls, such as the Federal Reserve System. It was overlooked that disturbances of the fiscal structure, stringency of money and credit and panics were primarily the effect and not the cause of convulsions. It was also ignored that crises erupted in times when credit was easy as well as when it was tight. Now the Fed is viewed as the main culprit by many now in the Tea Party and Randist wing of the right. Economic crises always have a falling-out-among-thieves side to them, as different capital sectors seek long-term advantage for themselves in the working out of capitalism’s common problems.

The SPGB task is explaining the real crisis of capitalism.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Banking 6/7

Surely, the current banking crisis has exploded the myth about banks being able to create credit, i.e. money to lend out at interest, by a mere stroke of the pen but apparently not. Financial crises always spark interest in critics of the system. They see the problems of capitalism—like its vulnerability to crises—as primarily financial in origin. The whole point of production under capitalism is not the satisfaction of needs, but the accumulation of money. In other words, it’s impossible to separate the economic world into a good productive side and a bad financial side; the two are inseparable. The monetary surpluses generated in production—the profits of capitalist businesses—accumulate over time and demand some sort of outlet: bank deposits, bonds, stocks, whatever. It’s going to be that way until we replace capitalism with something radically different. What we need to ask is why people today tend to blame banks rather than capitalism as a whole.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Banking 5/7

Dealing with the conspiracists

The oft-given explanation circulating around the internet is that banking originated from goldsmiths is misleading as it suggests that this was widespread when there may only have been the odd example of this. There is one film (Money As Debt) which gives the impression that every mediaeval and early capitalist town had goldsmiths who did this. Currency cranks  use the goldsmith argument fairly extensively to show that a bank can lend more than has been deposited with it. It is also strange that this historical theory should be widespread in the US where there would ever have been any goldsmiths who did this (if only because the money-commodity there was silver to start with) and where paper money originated from the states printing it and making it legal tender for paying taxes.

Adam Smith makes no mention of "goldsmith bankers". His description of how the Bank of Amsterdam operated confirms that the currency cranks have not been able to produce any example of a bank that issued more certificates of receipts than the gold it had (and survived). Only a state or state-guaranteed bank can issue "fiat" money as money not backed by anything.

It would be much more likely that banking originated from moneylending, which would have been more widespread, when people with money to lend began issuing trade bills to factory owners and merchants to cover the period between production and sales. And if they started issuing more bills than they could honour (as goldsmiths are supposed to have done) they'd go bankrupt fairly quickly.

There were some goldsmith-bankers in London in the 17th century (but not in every town). Here's an example of how the currency cranks interpret what they say happened:

But the goldsmith-bankers seem rather to have been more like pawnbrokers for the idle rich according to this article.

A contemporary account of how goldsmith bankers actually operated can be in Richard Cantillon's "Essai sur la nature du Commerce en General" (it's in English) written in 1730. Here's what he wrote:

"If a hundred economical gentlemen or proprietors of land, who put by every year money from their savings to buy land on occasion, deposit each one 10,000 ounces of silver with a goldsmith or banker in London, to avoid the trouble of keeping this money in their houses and the thefts which might be made of it, they will take from them notes payable on demand. Often they will leave their money there a long time, and even when they have made some purchase they will give notice to the banker some time in advance to have their money ready when the formalities and legal documents are complete. In these circumstances the banker will often be able to lend 90,000 ounces of the 100,000 he owes throughout the year and will only need to keep in hand 10,000 ounces to meet all the withdrawals. He has to do with wealthy and economical persons; as fast as one thousand ounces are demanded of him in one direction, a thousand are brought to him from another. It is enough as a rule for him to keep in hand the tenth part of his deposits. There have been examples and experiences of this in London. Instead of the individuals in question keeping in hand all the year round the greatest part of 100,000 ounces the custom of depositing it with a banker causes 90,000 ounces of the 100,000 to be put into circulation. This is primarily the idea one can form of the utility of banks of this sort. The bankers or goldsmiths contribute to accelerate the circulation of money. They lend it out at interest at their own risk and peril, and yet they are or ought to be always ready to cash their notes when desired on demand. If an individual has 1000 ounces to pay to another he will give him in payment the banker's note for that amount. This other will perhaps not go and demand the money of the banker. He will keep the note and give it on occasion to a third person in payment, and this note may pass through
several hands in large payments without any one going for a long time to demand the money from the banker. It will be only some one who has not complete confidence or has several small sums to pay who will demand the amount of it. In this first example the cash of a banker is only the tenth part of his trade."

Nothing here about the goldsmith banker being able (or even trying) to lend more than the 100,000 ounces of silver deposited with them, as in the fairy tales of the currency cranks.

Cantillon's full account of how the banks of his time operated can be found in Chapter VI

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Banking 3/7

Banking Myths

The first banks were the merchants of ancient world that made loans to farmers and traders that carried goods between cities. The first records of such activity dates back to around 2000 BC in Assyria and Babylonia. Later in ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire lenders based in temples would make loans but also added two important innovations; accepted deposits and changing money. During this period there is similar evidence of the independent development of lending of money in ancient China and separately in ancient India. The Templers began generating letters of credit for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land: pilgrims deposited their valuables with a local Templar preceptory before embarking, received a document indicating the value of their deposit, then used that document upon arrival in the Holy Land to retrieve their funds. This innovative arrangement was an early form of banking, and may have been the first formal system to support the use of travellers cheques. The Order of the Knights Templar arguably qualifies as the world's first multinational corporation. Banking in the modern sense of the word can be traced to medieval and early Renaissance Italy, to the rich cities in the north like Florence, Venice and Genoa. The Bardi and Peruzzi families dominated banking in 14th century Florence, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe. Perhaps the most famous Italian bank was the Medici bank, set up in 1397. A bank was founded in 1609 under the protection of the city of Amsterdam. This bank at first received both foreign and local coinage at their real, intrinsic value, deduced a small coinage and management fee, and credited clients in its book for the remainder. This credit was known as bank money. Being always in accord with mint standards, and always of the same value, bank money was worth more than real coinage. At the same time a new regulation was introduced; according to which all bills drawn at Amsterdam worth more than 600 guilders must be paid in bank money. This both removed all uncertainty from these bills and compelled all merchants to keep an account with the bank, which in turn occasioned a certain demand for bank money.

Events such at the appropriation of £200,000 of private money by King Charles I from the royal mint, in 1640 caused merchants to lose trust in the existing institutions and drive them to find more trusted alternatives such as the goldsmiths. The goldsmiths soon found themselves with money for which they had no immediate use, and they began to lend the money out at interest to both the merchants and the government. Finding substantial profit in this business, they began to solicit deposits and pay interest on them. The goldsmiths eventually discovered that the deposit receipts they provided were being passed on from one person to another in lieu of payment in coin, which prompted them to begin lending paper receipts rather than coins. By promoting acceptance of the receipts as a means of payment, the goldsmiths discovered they could lend more than the gold and silver coin they had on hand, a practice that became known as fractional-reserve banking. These practices created a new kind of "money" that was actually debt, that is, goldsmiths' debt rather than silver or gold coin, a commodity that had been regulated and controlled by the monarchy. This development required the acceptance in trade of the goldsmiths' promissory notes, payable on demand. Acceptance in turn required a general belief that coin would be available; and a fractional reserve normally served this purpose. The monarchy's urgent need for funds at rates lower than those charged by the goldsmiths, and the example of the public Bank of Amsterdam, which had been able to make an ample supply of credit available at low interest rates, led in 1694 to the establishment of the Bank of England. The Bank of England succeeded in raising money for the government at relatively low rates.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Banking 2/7

"I think that people have learned that money is not made in banks. It is made by real people working hard at real jobs. Actually, deep down we knew that all along. We just have to learn it again." Asbjorn Jonsson, an Icelandic fisherman, in a week when Iceland was effectively a bankrupt state. Its banks owed the world an astonishing £35 billion - 12 times the size of Iceland’s gross domestic product and £116,000 for every man, woman and child.

Because money so dominates people's lives and because they associate money with banks, people's resentment at their money problems is aimed at banks but banking or monetary reform are not going to stop money dominating people's lives.

Many seek out solutions without understanding the causes. Marx wrote extensively on money and banking and credit yet how convenient it is to forget his conclusion that it is the entire capitalism system not simply individual aspects of its functioning that is the problem. Theorists seem to forget that the capitalist system remains, in all essentials, the same as it was when Marx studied in the British Museum. Lest we forget, the source of all Rent, Interest and Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class. It’s not a revolution if you’re only taking out the bankers. The bankers are not wicked finance capitalists against whom the anger of workers should particularly be directed, just capitalists with their capital invested in a particular line of business, no more no less reprehensible than the rest of the blood sucking parasitical capitalist class. Recessions are inherent in the boom bust cycle of capital. “Greedy bankers” are a scapegoat distracting from the fact that this will happen again and again and again. Blaming them alone implies you could have a nicer capitalism with good bankers. Pinning the blame on “greedy bankers” lets the rest of the culprits off the hook. This is not just a financial crisis, but a crisis of the whole capitalist economy in which the whole business and political class are fully implicated.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Banking 1/7

Are the banks and greedy and incompetent bankers to blame for the current economic crisis? That’s what a lot of people think and what the media seems to want us to think. Certainly, bank directors generally are greedy – awarding themselves huge “salaries”, bonuses and pensions – and some of them are incompetent on their own terms. But blaming them is to let the real culprit off the hook: the capitalist system of production for profit. There are few places in the world more pointless than a bank. There are few compelled to toil more uselessly than bank employees. In every respect, the function of banks is to facilitate a form of exchange in which nothing is produced and much can be lost. A world without banks would be a wholly better place.

For all its worth, the distinction between productive and non productive capitalists remain a question of who gets what share of the unpaid labour of the working class.

Workers are exploited by virtue of the fact that we produce surplus value for the capitalists which is appropriated and used for their own ends. Nothing to do with low wages or being harshly treated. Exploitation is something which is built into the very nature of the employment relation itself which implies the division of society into employers/owners and employees/non-owners .

In fact, capitalism is not interested in producing things as such. It is only interested in profit expressed in money terms. Investing in the production of goods and services is an inconvenience which it has to go through in order to achieve its aim of ending up with a greater financial worth than it started with. Thus the purest form of capital is finance capital and, from the capitalist point of view, the most convenient way to make more money is to do so by financial dealings of one sort or another. It’s an illusion of course. It’s production, not finance, that makes the world go round. The financial world cannot go on feeding off rising paper asset values for ever. Reality must intrude at some point. But capitalism without finance capital is inconceivable; so too, therefore, is capitalism without financial crashes.

Capitalism is not a place (‘financial centres’) or a thing (‘multinational corporations’ ), it is a social relationship dependent upon wage labour and commodity exchange where profit is derived from capital’s theft of unpaid labour. Concentrating on “nasty” financiers and multinationals and defining “capitalism” in those terms can only end up as a massive diversion from the goal of abolishing the capitalist system.

This idea that bankers are any worse than other types of capitalists is not convincing. To repeat ad nauseum. The capitalist class as a whole, and all of the individual capitalists, enrich themselves thanks to workers adding more new value to the commodities they produce than the value of the wages received as payment for their labour-power. Any party to this exploitation of labour – whether the capitalist who lends the investment funds, the capitalist who supervises the commodity production process, or the capitalist who is tasked with selling the commodities – is entitled to a piece of the action and therefore share equally in the blame. It is nonsense to argue that one type of capitalist is more or less culpable than the others. The relations between capitalists is very much like those between a gang of thieves, who cooperate to pull off a heist and then divide the loot among themselves. Conflicts easily arise from such an arrangement: as a bigger share for one means a smaller share for the others. “Wall Street vs. Main Street”. It is more a re-distribution of booty among the robbers. Such squabbles are of little concern to the person who has been robbed. In the end it is just the old “divide and conquer” approach with a subtle new twist – instead of dividing the working class, the internal divisions of the capitalist class are emphasised to deflect attention from the actual real class divide that exists.

The task for socialists is not to drive out speculators from capitalism to perfect the system but to move beyond production as merely a means of capital accumulation.

Who are the people who find a difficulty in paying for the money they use? Not the working class in any sense of the word. Not the large capitalists, for they control the powers of government and have a currency suitable to their interests. There is left the small capitalist and shopkeeping section, who, fond of calling themselves the “middle” class, find themselves unable to hold their own positions against the giant production and “chain store” system of distribution that is crushing them out in all directions. Hence this howl for an extension of “credits” and the introduction of “cheap” money for the purpose of paying their debts. There is no chronic shortage of purchasing power. Sufficient to buy the product is generated as wages and profits in the course of production. Slumps are not caused by an absolute shortage of purchasing power but arise when, because of falling profit prospects, capitalist firms choose not to spend all their profits on fully renewing or on expanding production.

As Marx identified “So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class…so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, ie, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers. The antagonism between each individual capitalist’s interests and those of the capitalist class as a whole, then comes to the surface…”

 Marx also pointed out that “the moneyed interest enriches itself at the cost of the industrial interest in the course of a crisis” Bankers are enriching themselves at the expense of industrial capitalists in other words.

The present banking crisis is not all that complicated. When borrowing became less available and more expensive banks came unstuck. They found that, when their loans came up for renewal they had to pay more interest on them than they were getting from those they were lending money too. Since banks make a profit by paying depositors and creditors a lower rate of interest than they charge those they lent money to, this meant they were making a loss. That’s what can go wrong when banks can’t get hold of other people’s money on the right terms. What can also go wrong is that they make unsound loans - the sub-prime situation. If they buy a house and the lend someone the money to buy it, if that person defaults they are left with the house. In normal times they can resell it but because there has been overproduction in the housing market they are finding that they can’t get the same price for it as they paid for it. In other words, they lost money.

In fact this effective overproduction in the housing sector could be said to be what has provoked the present financial crisis.

What socialists say about the banks is not regulate them, nor nationalise them, but make them redundant. Abolish them, along with all the rest of the complicated, financial superstructure of the capitalist production-for-profit economy. The mythology surrounding the power of banking helps those who take the view that this vast institution is so necessary that the prospect of a world without money would be unthinkable. Let’s abolish capitalism and live in a moneyless, propertyless world without banks. That means moving from a demand for ‘regulation change’ to one for ‘system change’. Perceived wisdom is that it should be easier to make socialists in a recession when the shortcomings of capitalism are more evident. This capitalist recession will eventually end and the economy at some time in the future will inevitably return to growth. If there are more socialists at that future time, then at least one positive outcome will have resulted from this sorry and preventable mess.

“…no kind of bank legislation can eliminate a crisis” – Marx

 The only way to solve the worlds problems is to escalate and intensify the class struggle. Capitalism is subject to periodic slumps and is a global system, global economic crises are inevitable from time to time. I’d like to think that this would trigger off a world-wide movement for global socialism but experience has unfortunately shown that there is not necessarily a fixed one-to-one relationship between economic crises and the growth of socialist ideas. Other factors too are involved and only time will tell how the socialist movement will fare.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Salmond - apologist for organised crime

Speaking during his New York trip, Alex Salmond said HSBC "in many ways is the most Scottish bank in the world now. Founded by Scots, run by Scots, on the principles of Scottish banking. Hence one reason why it's survived the winds better than other institutions"

With the Scottish-based HBOS and RBS exposed as incompetent and failed banking institutions Salmond was required to look further afield for a positive example. But the HSBC?

This was the bank fined £1.2 billion for money laundering in the United States and Mexico, and embroiled in a fresh scandal with Argentine authorities accusing it of laundering $100 million. In India, in November 2012, anti-corruption crusaders Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan alleged that the bank was involved in black money and hawala transactions. They said that in July 2011, the Indian Government had received a list of about 700 people having bank accounts in HSBC, Geneva, in 2006. The Bank also was fined $1.4 billion by the U.K. for improper selling of its financial products, including interest-rate swaps to corporate customers.

According to the Task Force on Financial Integrity & Economic Development and Global Financial Integrity, HSBC Mexico’s Cayman Islands branch opened as many as $50,000-denominated accounts without adequate attention to customer identification. HSBC USA opened 2000 accounts with untraceable bearer share corporations as owner over the past decade. Between 2001 and 2007, it allowed 28,000 transactions involving countries, groups, or individuals against which the US had imposed financial sanctions. These include sale of $1billion of US banknotes to Al Rajhi, a Saudi bank with owners having ties to terrorist organisations, including al-Qaeda. Transactions amounting to $881 million were routed on behalf of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel and Colombian Norte del Valle cartel. Then, wire transfers totalling $670 billion between HSBC Mexico and HSBC USA were unmonitored. Another $200 trillion went through HSBC USA without anti-money laundering controls or monitoring.

The bank became “the preferred financial institution of drug cartels and money launderers” and as Alex Salmond says, it successfully weathered the recession seemingly by being the bag-man for drug-dealers, terrorists and tax evaders. Proud Scottish banking principles for Salmond to preach?

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Banksters

Fred Goodwin had his knightship removed. Shall we see the same for Sir James Crosby and Lord Stevenson being stripped of their honours.
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards concluded the three men, who have since moved on to new positions, should never be allowed to work in the financial sector again. The report identified bad lending (when someone cannot repay a loan), inadequate liquidity (not enough ready cash) and a lack of risk management as the key factors behind HBOS’s fall

The report said: “The primary responsibility for the downfall of HBOS should rest with Sir James Crosby, architect of the strategy that set the course for disaster, with Andy Hornby, who proved unable or unwilling to change course, and Lord Stevenson, who presided over the bank’s board from its birth to its death...Lord Stevenson, in particular, has shown himself incapable of facing the realities of what placed the bank in jeopardy.” It said the former HBOS bosses had failed to admit their mistakes and should apologise for their “incompetent and reckless board strategy”. commission member, Lord Turnbull, pointed out that when Bank of Scotland and Halifax merged to create HBOS, the organisation had a market capitalisation of £30bn. “Just seven years later, all that value had been destroyed”

Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the commission, said: “The HBOS story is one of catastrophic failures of management, governance and regulatory oversight. Primary responsibility for these failures should lie with the former chairman of HBOS and its former chief executives Sir James Crosby and Andy Hornby.”

The report explained that “The lending approach of the corporate division would have been bad lending in any market. The crisis in financial markets was merely the catalyst to expose it.”

To illustrate the scale of the risks being taken on, the report said that in the corporate bank in 2001 the biggest exposure to one single borrower was less than £1m. By 2008 there were nine customers who had each been lent £1bn. One borrower had been advanced £3bn.

Crosby is now working in the City as a member of the European advisory board at private equity firm Bridgepoint. He was knighted for services to finance. He remains on the board at Compass.
Hornby is now chief executive of gaming group Gala Coral.
Stevenson, Baron Stevenson of Coddenham, has gone on to hold a number of non-executive board positions since leaving HBOS including Western Union and The Economist magazine.

The report added: "We are shocked and surprised that, even after the ship has run aground, so many of those who were on the bridge still seem so keen to congratulate themselves on their collective navigational skills."
Socialist Courier isn’t. It par for the course for the capitalist class.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Crime does pay

Despite being fined for money-laundering for drug cartels and paying compensation for cheating customers over payment protection insurance HSBC rewarded shareholders with an increased dividend and its chief executive Stuart Gulliver took £7.4 million in pay. it paid 204 of its staff more than £1m in the year, with 78 of those based in the UK. Underlying profits were up 18 per cent to £10.9bn.

Crime after all does pay.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

bank nationalisation (2)

It appears that some still see a future in the banks to solve the problems of the recession - state-owned banks, of course. Alf Young of the Scotsman appears to be a a convert and waxes lyrically about the Bank of North Dakota which is owned by the state. He appears to infer that the low impact of the crisis on the state had something to do with the this bank. Young then nostalgically recalled the widespread trustee savings bank that once existed but fails to mention that at least one still remains.

It is a shame that he never read the Socialist Courier or he would have come across this post which would have enlightened him a bit more to dead-end hope of bank nationalisation. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bank Nationalisation

It is no co-incidence that the cries for banking reform invariably comes during economic depressions. The lubrication that keeps the capitalist machine running – the money markets – are dysfunctional.

As Marx identified “So long as things go well, competition effects an operating fraternity of the capitalist class…so that each shares in the common loot in proportion to the size of his respective investment. But as soon as it is no longer a question of sharing profits, but of sharing losses, everyone tries to reduce his own share to a minimum and to shove it off upon another. The class, as such, must inevitably lose. How much the individual capitalist must bear of the loss, ie, to what extent he must share in it at all, is decided by strength and cunning, and competition then becomes a fight among hostile brothers. The antagonism between each individual capitalist’s interests and those of the capitalist class as a whole, then comes to the surface…”

 Marx also pointed out that “the moneyed interest enriches itself at the cost of the industrial interest in the course of a crisis” Bankers are enriching themselves at the expense of industry and workers, in other words. So whats new?

The economist David Harvey has explained that the losses of the crisis are finally distributed between factions of the capitalist class, and between the working and capitalist classes, and whatever the power struggle that ensues, the necessary result will be the destruction of value (closure of workplaces, the laying off of workers, destruction of surpluses, defaulting on debt, cutting of state services, and so on) so that a new round of capitalist accumulation can begin. The sad but inevitable reality of capitalism.

Some in America seek a solution in the likes of the State Bank of North Dakota. That the bank owned by state authorities weathered the recession was perhaps more a reflection that the state’s economy is primarily based on agriculture and oil, both involved in current boom times. Nor was the state particularly exposed to the sub-prime disaster “North Dakota really didn’t participate in subprime to a significant degree. I mean, that was–you know, it was sort of a flyover state. All of the aggressive subprime lenders apparently didn’t think there were enough folks in farms that they could get to lever up to take on these dodgy loans.” explained  Yves Smith. author of the book ECONned and creator of the website

In Scotland, we have the almost unique bank success story of the Airdrie Savings Bank, the UK's last remaining independent savings bank  The bank was founded in 1835 and was born out of the general "thrift" movement prevalent at the time.

 Bucking the trend of the credit crunch, Airdrie Savings Bank has increased its lending for the third year in a row, according to its latest annual results, it lent a record £48.5m - a 35% increase on 2010.  It lent 24% more in 2010 than it did in 2009. Yet we still witness that “North Lanarkshire has been particularly rocked by the recession, including above-average redundancies, because the economy is not as diverse as some and there remains a heavy reliance on sectors that seem more susceptible to economic shocks” as one report describes. Not much of a success story.

What socialists say about the banks is not regulate them, nor nationalise them, but make them redundant. Abolish them, along with all the rest of the complicated, financial superstructure of the capitalist production-for-profit economy. The mythology surrounding the power of banking helps those who take the view that this vast institution is so necessary that the prospect of a world without money would be unthinkable. Let’s abolish capitalism and live in a moneyless, propertyless world without banks. That means moving from a demand for ‘regulation change’ to one for ‘system change’. Perceived wisdom is that it should be easier to make socialists in a recession when the shortcomings of capitalism are more evident. This capitalist recession will eventually end and the economy at some time in the future will inevitably return to growth. If there are more socialists at that future time, then at least one positive outcome will have resulted from this sorry and preventable mess.

“…no kind of bank legislation can eliminate a crisis” Marx

Monday, February 27, 2012

The World Bank

Glasgow branch is at present conducting a series of meetings on British banking so it maybe useful to add an international dimension.

The World Bank was established in 1944 to promote economic development and virtually every country is now a member. This spring the bank's 187 member countries choose a new president to succeed Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in July.

Until now, the unwritten rule has been that the US government simply designates each new president: all 11 have been Americans, and not one has been an expert in economic development, the bank's core responsibility, or had a career in fighting poverty or promoting environmental sustainability. Instead, the US has selected Wall Street bankers and politicians, presumably to ensure that the bank's policies are suitably friendly to US interests. US officials have traditionally viewed the World Bank as an extension of US foreign policy and commercial interests. With the bank just two blocks away from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, it has been all too easy for the US to dominate the institution.

For too long, its leadership has imposed US concepts that are often utterly inappropriate for the poorest countries and their poorest people. It completely fumbled the exploding pandemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria during the 1990's, failing to get help to where it was needed to save millions of lives. Even worse, the bank advocated user fees and "cost recovery" for health services, thereby putting life-saving health care beyond the reach of the poorest of the poor - precisely those most in need of it. In 2000, at the Durban AIDS Summit, [it was] recommended a new "Global Fund" to fight these diseases, precisely on the grounds that the World Bank was not doing its job. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria emerged, and has since saved millions of lives, with malaria deaths in Africa alone falling by at least 30 per cent.

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