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In economics, money creation is the process by which the money supply of a country or a monetary region (such as the Eurozone) is changed. There are two principal stages of money creation. First, a central bank introduces new money into the economy (termed 'expansionary monetary policy') by purchasing financial assets or lending money to financial institutions. Second, the new money introduced by the central bank is multiplied by commercial banks through fractional reserve banking; this expands the amount of broad money (i.e. cash plus demand deposits) in the economy so that it is a multiple (known as the money multiplier) of the amount originally created by the central bank.
Central banks monitor the amount of money in the economy by measuring monetary aggregates such as M2. The effect of monetary policy on the money supply is indicated by comparing these measurements on various dates. For example, in the United States, money supply measured as M2 grew from $6407.3bn in January 2005, to $8318.9bn in January 2009.
Within almost all modern nations, special institutions exist (such as the Federal Reserve System in the United States, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the People's Bank of China) which have the task of executing the monetary policy and often acting independently of the executive. In general, these institutions are called central banks and often have other responsibilities such as supervising the smooth operation of the financial system. There are several monetary policy tools available to a central bank to expand the money supply of a country: decreasing interest rates by fiat; increasing the monetary base; and decreasing reserve requirements. All have the effect of expanding the money supply.
The primary tool of monetary policy is open market operations. This entails managing the quantity of money in circulation through the buying and selling of various financial assets, such as treasury bills, government bonds, or foreign currencies. Purchases of these assets result in currency entering market circulation (while sales of these assets remove money from circulation).
Usually, the short term goal of open market operations is to achieve a specific short term interest rate target. In other instances, monetary policy might instead entail the targeting of a specific exchange rate relative to some foreign currency, the price of gold, or indices such as Consumer Price Index. For example, in the case of the USA the Federal Reserve targets the federal funds rate, the rate at which member banks lend to one another overnight. The other primary means of conducting monetary policy include: (i) Discount window lending (as lender of last resort); (ii) Fractional deposit lending (changes in the reserve requirement); (iii) Moral suasion (cajoling certain market players to achieve specified outcomes); (iv) "Open mouth operations" (talking monetary policy with the market). The conduct and effects of monetary policy and the regulation of the banking system are of central concern to monetary economics.
Quantitative easing involves the creation of a significant amount of new base money by a central bank by the buying of assets that it usually does not buy. Usually, a central bank will conduct open market operations by buying short-term government bonds or foreign currency. However, during a financial crisis, the central bank may buy other types of financial assets as well. The central bank may buy long-term government bonds, company bonds, asset backed securities, stocks, or even extend commercial loans. The intent is to stimulate the economy by increasing liquidity and promoting bank lending, even when interest rates cannot be pushed any lower.
Quantitative easing increases reserves in the banking system (i.e. deposits of commercial banks at the central bank), giving depository institutions the ability to make new loans. Quantitative easing is usually used when lowering the discount rate is no longer effective because interest rates are already close to or at zero. In such a case, normal monetary policy cannot further lower interest rates, and the economy is in a liquidity trap.
In modern economies, relatively little of the money supply is in physical currency. For example, in December 2010 in the U.S., of the $8853.4 billion in broad money supply (M2), only $915.7 billion (about 10%) consisted of physical coins and paper money. The manufacturing of new physical money is usually the responsibility of the central bank, or sometimes, the government's treasury.
Contrary to popular belief, money creation in a modern economy does not directly involve the manufacturing of new physical money, such as paper currency or metal coins. Instead, when the central bank expands the money supply through open market operations (e.g. by purchasing government bonds), it credits the accounts that commercial banks hold at the central bank (termed high powered money). Commercial banks may draw on these accounts to withdraw physical money from the central bank. Commercial banks may also return soiled or spoiled currency to the central bank in exchange for new currency.
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Through fractional-reserve banking, the modern banking system expands the money supply of a country beyond the amount initially created by the central bank. There are two types of money in a fractional-reserve banking system, currency originally issued by the central bank, and bank deposits at commercial banks:
When a commercial bank loan is extended, new commercial bank money is created. As a loan is paid back, more commercial bank money disappears from existence. Since loans are continually being issued in a normally functioning economy, the amount of broad money in the economy remains relatively stable. Because of this money creation process by the commercial banks, the money supply of a country is usually a multiple larger than the money issued by the central bank; that multiple is determined by the reserve ratio or other financial ratios (primarily the capital adequacy ratio that limits the overall credit creation of a bank) set by the relevant banking regulators in the jurisdiction.
An early table, featuring reinvestment from one period to the next and a geometric series, is found in the tableau économique of the Physiocrats, which is credited as the "first precise formulation" of such interdependent systems and the origin of multiplier theory.
The most common mechanism used to measure this increase in the money supply is typically called the money multiplier. It calculates the maximum amount of money that an initial deposit can be expanded to with a given reserve ratio – such a factor is called a multiplier. As a formula, if the reserve ratio is R, then the money multiplier m is the reciprocal, and is the maximum amount of money commercial banks can legally create for a given quantity of reserves.
In the re-lending model, this is alternatively calculated as a geometric series under repeated lending of a geometrically decreasing quantity of money: reserves lead loans. In endogenous money models, loans lead reserves, and it is not interpreted as a geometric series. In practice, because banks often have access to lines of credit, and the money market, and can use day time loans from central banks, there is often no requirement for a pre-existing deposit for the bank to create a loan and have it paid to another bank.
The money multiplier is of fundamental importance in monetary policy: if banks lend out close to the maximum allowed, then the broad money supply is approximately central bank money times the multiplier, and central banks may finely control broad money supply by controlling central bank money, the money multiplier linking these quantities; this was the case in the United States from 1959 through September 2008.
If, conversely, banks accumulate excess reserves, as occurred in such financial crises as the Great Depression and the Financial crisis of 2007–2010 – in the United States since October 2008, then this equality breaks down, and central bank money creation may not result in commercial bank money creation, instead remaining as unlent (excess) reserves. However, the central bank may shrink commercial bank money by shrinking central bank money, since reserves are required – thus fractional-reserve money creation is likened to a string, since the central bank can always pull money out by restricting central bank money, hence reserves, but cannot always push money out by expanding central bank money, since this may result in excess reserves, a situation referred to as "pushing on a string".
The above gives the mainstream economics theory of money creation. There are also a number of alternative heterodox theories of how money is created. Most notably post-Keynesian economics emphasizes endogenous money – that money is created by the internal workings of the financial system, rather than by external forces, such as policy actions of the central bank.
Heterodox theories of money creation include:
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