January 21, 2016

The Swiss Constitution contains something called the Volksinitiative (Peoples’ Initiative) that enables Swiss citizens to launch a referendum aimed at changing specific provisions within the Constitution. Launching the referendum requires the collection of 100,000 valid signatures in support of a “yes” vote within an 18-month period, after which the proposed constitutional change gets put to a national vote. A particularly interesting proposal has garnered the required signatures and will be put to a national vote within the next couple of years (probably in 2017). I’m referring to the Vollgeld Initiative, a proposal to eliminate the power of commercial banks to lend new money into existence.

In most countries around the world, commercial banks have the power to create new money by making loans. The process is called fractional reserve banking and has been around for hundreds of years. It has also been the root cause of the boom-bust cycle and economy-wide financial crises for hundreds of years. Furthermore, there is nothing beneficial about the process to the economy as a whole, although having the ability to create money out of nothing certainly helps banks to expand their balance sheets.

Due to the economic problems caused by allowing banks to create money and the fact that it is unjust for banks to have special privileges under the law, voting “yes” to this proposal would be a step in the right direction. However, it would only be a small step, because the Swiss National Bank (SNB) would still have the power to create an unlimited amount of money out of nothing and the government would decide how the new money was introduced into the economy. In other words, the commercial banks end up with less power (good) while the central bank and the government end up with more power (bad).

That the framers and supporters of the Vollgeld Initiative don’t perceive a major problem with increasing the government’s control over money indicates that they have far too much trust in government and don’t have a good understanding of how monetary inflation affects the economy.

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