The documentary “Princes of the Yen” has taken two years to make, and for much of this time I struggled to understand exactly how and what types of money a central bank was creating on its computer screens. Did they create the same money we hold in our accounts? The answer was, that while central banks did not create the same money that we hold in our accounts and spend with our debit cards, they did have a number of ways by which they could influence the creation of this type of money.
The type of money central banks create is called central bank reserves. This money is held exclusively in accounts at the central bank.
After the war, the Bank of Japan used newly created reserves to buy the worthless war bonds from Japanese banks. The banks received reserves and the central bank received the worthless papers. In one set of transactions the Japanese banks were transformed from insolvent to healthy. It is a common held belief that central bank money creation causes inflation. In the case of reserve creation, this is not true, because the money in circulation in the economy does not increase. Central bank reserves are held exclusively at the central bank and cannot be used directly for domestic spending.
If the Bank of Japan on the other hand had decided that it would not buy these worthless papers, the banks would have been forced to take the losses from their capital, which would have reduced the amount of money in circulation and caused deflation.
Central banks the world over have the ability to buy their banking sectors bad assets with newly created reserves, and thus they can easily avoid a prolonged recession in the event of a crash.
If a central bank was to later sell these purchased assets at a fraction of their original cost, the money the central bank receives would be pure profit. Richard Werner has jokingly suggested that the Bank of Japan could have purchased property in central Tokyo and converted it into public parks.
Credit refers to the type of money held in bank accounts, and is created exclusively by commercial banks (here referred to as banks). An increase or decrease in the amount of credit in circulation is a primary cause for either growth or recession.
A central bank has the ability to directly influence the quantity of credit money in circulation, it does this in the following way: When a central bank buys an asset from a non-bank party the following happens; the central bank creates reserves in the banks account at the central bank, the private bank credit’s the third party’s bank account with the corresponding amount, and the central bank receives the bond. Banks act as an intermediary, and they receive a fee for this service. New credit money has been created, the amount of money in circulation in the economy has increased.
When banks act as intermediaries to central bank transactions in this manner, the central bank’s transaction is deemed monetized. When a central bank buys an asset directly from a bank using reserves, the transaction is not monetized.
If the central bank decides to sell the bond or asset at a later date, the total amount of money in the economy is reduced.
In the 1990s, the Japanese government asked the Bank of Japan to create more money to stimulate the economy and end the recession, the Bank of Japan complied by increasing the reserves the banks held at the central bank, and said, “look, we’ve created more money, and it isn’t having an effect.” Richard Werner has therefore concluded that observers should “watch what central banks do, not listen to what they say.”
Another way by which central banks influence the amount of credit in circulation is window guidance. Window guidance is an informal mechanism by which a central bank asks a bank to issue loans to specific industrial sectors or companies. In Japan, window guidance was at the core of the war economy system. When the Japanese army needed more tanks, the Bank of Japan would tell the banks which industries in the supply chain needed to be given loans, so that the required number of tanks could be produced. After the war, this system was adapted to the production of consumer goods. Window guidance was the mechanism that enabled the Japanese economic miracle.
Richard Werner’s research has also shown that window guidance was at the heart of the Japanese bubble in the late 1980s. The use of window guidance during the bubble has been confirmed by a number of bankers and central bankers.
Window guidance as a monetary policy tool is not in dispute, almost all central banks have at one stage used informal guidance as a tool to direct credit to specific industrial sectors. However, its use can be difficult to prove, due to the informal nature of the mechanism, and in the case of Japan in the late 1980s, politically highly sensitive.
One question remains, why would banks comply with instructions that may be detrimental to their own long-term survival?
The answer to this is twofold. Firstly, economics textbooks give no function to money creation nor are bankers necessarily aware that they are creating money by issuing loans.
Bankers themselves are primarily preoccupied with short-term gains.
Secondly, banks are reliant on the central bank. Central banks hold a monopoly position in relation to banks, and they can make life uncomfortable for individual uncooperative banks. A central bank could for instance impose unfavorable conditions on its transactions with certain banks.
Banks rely on central banks, they have an inherent incentive to comply with their instructions.