California Doesn't Need to Borrow Billions from Washington -- It Can Create Its Own Money
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"I understand that these cuts are very painful and they affect real lives. This is the harsh reality and the reality that we face. Sacramento is not Washington -- we cannot print our own money. We can only spend what we have."
- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger quoted in Time, May 22, 2009
Christmas comes early, Governor. You can print your own money. Fiscally solvent North Dakota is doing it...and so can California. Now!
In a May 22 article in Time titled "Billions in the Red: Fiscal Reckoning in CA," Juliet Williams reports that since California voters have now vetoed higher taxes and further state government borrowing, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated that he intends to close the budget gap almost entirely through drastic spending cuts. The cutbacks could include laying off thousands of state workers and teachers, ending the state's main welfare program for the poor, eliminating health coverage for about 1.5 million poor children, halting cash grants for about 77,000 college students, slashing money for state parks, and releasing thousands of prisoners before their sentences are finished. Schwarzenegger bemoaned the fact that the state could not print its own money but said it could only spend what it had.
But the state can create its own money. After all, banks do this every day. Certified, card-carrying bankers are allowed to do something nobody else can do: they can create "credit" with accounting entries on their books. As the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas explains on its website:
Banks actually create money when they lend it. Here's how it works: Most of a bank's loans are made to its own customers and are deposited in their checking accounts. Because the loan becomes a new deposit, just like a paycheck does, the bank...holds a small percentage of that new amount in reserve and again lends the remainder to someone else, repeating the money-creation process many times.
President Obama has also acknowledged that banks create money, through what he calls the "multiplier effect." In a speech at Georgetown University on April 14, he said:
[A]lthough there are a lot of Americans who understandably think that government money would be better spent going directly to families and businesses instead of banks -- "where's our bailout?" they ask -- the truth is that a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or ten dollars of loans to families and businesses, a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth.
Money in a government-owned bank could give us the best of both worlds. We could have all the credit-generating advantages of private banks, without the baggage cluttering up the books of the Wall Street giants, including bad derivatives bets, unmarketable collateralized debt obligations, mark to market accounting issues, oversized CEO salaries and bonuses, and shareholders expecting a sizeable cut of the profits. A state could deposit its vast revenues in its own state-owned bank and proceed to fan them into eight to 10 times their face value in loans. Not only would it have its own credit machine, but it would control the loan terms. The state could lend at ½% interest to itself and to municipal governments, rolling the loans over as needed until the revenues had been generated to pay them off. According to Professor Margrit Kennedy in her 1995 book Interest and Inflation-free Money, interest composes, on average, fully half the cost of every public project. Cutting costs by 50% could make currently-unsustainable projects such as low-cost housing, alternative energy development, and infrastructure construction not only sustainable but actually profitable for the government.