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Shadow banking is a topic I haven't heard discussed much, if at all, by Objectivists. Maybe I don't read enough Objectivist blogs or forums or listen to enough Objectivist podcasts. Anyway, I used the search function on this site and entered "shadow banking" but got no results. In a nutshell, there supposedly exists a vast "shadow banking system" that is mostly untouched by regulators. Investopedia defines it as follows: Then there's this from Investing Answers: And it goes on like this wherever you search on the subject. Every supposedly legitimate source treats this so-called "shadow banking system" that is allegedly shielded from regulations as a reality. Economist Paul McCulley is credited with coining the term in 2007, but supposedly this system has existed for decades without being threatened by lawmakers in any meaningful way. As the story goes, the shadow banking system played an important part in causing, or least exacerbating, the 2008 financial crisis. Wikipedia puts it thus: And: Variations on this narrative have been repeated by politicians, regulators and news analysts ever since the crisis, but it wasn't until a few years ago that the term "shadow banking" started to become mainstream (at least, that has been my observation). The term connotes a sinister conspiracy, and yet analysts and politicians in the know have apparently been well aware of these practices for a long time, going back to well before the subprime crisis. Leftist politicians like Bernie Sanders decry the SBS, but they don't actually do anything to regulate it in any meaningful way. Supposedly even Dodd-Frank did very little to address SBS practices. I have heard Objectivists argue that it's ridiculous to say the financial crisis was caused by lack of regulations, after all there were a ton of banking regulations in effect and basically it was the government's fault for creating a moral hazard after decades of repeated bank bailouts that only encouraged more risky lending. While these are reasonable arguments, they don't directly address the allegations that investment banks, at least prior to the meltdown, were not as heavily regulated as traditional depository banks, and so they were able to conceal their activities in the SBS until everything imploded (this is a deliberate oversimplification of the allegations, I am not heavily versed in lending jargon). Now, I'm sure that politicians and the media have exaggerated at least some facts about SBS practices, and probably have exaggerated the size and scope of the SBS, all in order to make the public scared of a rogue banking system that could easily run wild and cause a repeat of 2008. Nevertheless, I'm very interested to know just exactly how true their claims are. Is all of it B.S., or just some of it?
[With a special thanks to Yaron Brook and some others who got me to change my mind on this topic] Fractional Reserve Banking By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr. 06/16/2012 I should point out that I am not an expert on financial issues, so this essay is based upon what I have learned over the years without taking any special courses on banking or banking practices. For the purpose of this essay, I am taking a gold as money standard as the correct system; though other commodities (silver, copper, oil, etc.) can be used as money. My original position, which I have to now change, was that fractional reserve banking was inherently fraudulent because it meant that a bank would print out more Bank Notes than they had gold in reserve. Let’s say they had 100 ounces of gold in reserve (in the vaults) and they print out Bank Notes (BN) as claims against 150 ounces of gold and loan them out or use them as transactions for cash exchanges. Surely, I argued, this means that someone is being defrauded because as those customers come to get their gold from the bank, the bank will come up short by 50 ounces of gold. It would be like writing a bad check and not having enough money in one’s account to cover the check, but writing them out anyhow and taking the products, leaving the producer with irredeemable and worthless paper. However, if I were to write such a bad check and then scramble to make cash deposits that would prevent a default in my bank account against the check, then everything would be OK, and I committed no crime and didn’t defraud anyone. Fractional reserve banking operates on a similar principle, though a good bank is more careful about writing “bad checks”. Basically, there is a future dynamic to banking that I wasn’t taking into account. A well-run bank will not only be taking in more deposits, it will also be getting returns on loans paid out. So, a sound bank takes its future earnings into account, projecting , everything else being equal, that they can expect, say, a 10% increase in either deposits or payments, and so they can print out an extra 10% in BNs and use it for cash transactions, provided that when the holder of that BN comes into the bank and demands the gold that is backing it up, the bank can hand over the gold from their reserves within a specified period of time to make sure the BN clears (or that they have gold in reserves or can get it to make the transaction sound). There is nothing fraudulent about this, just as you writing a check and making deposits into your account before the check clears is not fraudulent. It is a risky action to take, however, as no one can really predict their future business operations, nor that they will make a profit day over day or year by year. This is one reason why one would have to be wary of the business practices of one’s bank in a capitalist system, when there would be no banking regulations and no FDIC to back up deposits. If the bank isn’t operating efficiently enough (not getting enough new deposits or enough payments on loans), then it is possible that the holder of the gold BN would be left high and dry when he tries to cash in the BN for gold holdings. It also means that you, the depositor, might not have ready access to your gold cash you deposited until a specified period of clearance is met (say one week to fully close out one’s account). In other words, anyone using the BNs as cash for monetary transactions may be delayed in converting the BN to gold for a certain period of time while the bank scrambles to catch up with the demands on their deposits. For a well-run bank, all of this would be taken into consideration so that their issued BNs would clear for gold at a steady rate; otherwise, no one is going to be using those BNs for cash and would trade in gold only. So, the dynamic version of banking taken into account and the possibility that one would have a waiting period to get the gold backing the Bank Note issued by the bank means that no fraud or theft is involved, so long as the Notes do clear into gold within the specified delay time, which would be contractual on both the bank and its customers.