Posts Tagged ‘money’

If you think your cash is trash, sit next to me

28 January 2010

Here is another unpublished letter to the editor, this time to The New York Times, in response to a small bit of their roundtable op-ed “Questions for the Big Bankers.”  Some fine folks there, including Simon Johnson, Bethany MacLean (who wrote Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), and Liaquat Ahmed (who wrote The Lords of Finance, about the gold standard and the Great Depression), which made it all the more incredible to me that the piece opened with this astonishingly dumb question by James Grant:

Bankers are dealers in money. The Federal Reserve is a creator of money — since the crisis began in August 2007, it has conjured up $1.1 trillion. Given the ease with which these dollars are materialized on a computer screen, how can they be worth anything?

So here was my reply:

Editor:

James Grant says the Federal Reserve has created $1.1 trillion in new money since 2007 and asks how it can possibly be worth anything.  If Mr. Grant thinks that dollars have become worthless, then, considering that money is fungible, I want him to know that I would be happy to take the worthless dollars in his bank account off his hands.

Sincerely,

Ranjit S. Dighe
Oswego, N.Y.

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Printing money?

10 June 2009

Trivia question:  How much money has the Federal Reserve printed in its entire ninety-five-year history?

Answer:  $0.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, part of the federal government’s Department of the Treasury, prints all the money.  And none of those bills become “money” (i.e., part of the money supply, M1 or M2) until they’re held by the public anyway.

Am I being pedantic?  After all, those dollar bills are “Federal Reserve Notes” and are delivered to the twelve Federal Reserve Banks upon request.   I don’t think it’s pedantic, though, as there’s a world of difference between printing money and dropping it from a helicopter (as described in countless economics classrooms and which would be very inflationary) and how those bills actually do hit the street (generally not covered in econ classes, an omission that has always mystified me*, and which is not so inflationary).

Anyway, what brought on this post is the constant chatter in the media and the blogosphere about how the government or the Fed is printing money.   (Of course this chatter is most pronounced on the right.  The three minutes I heard of Limbaugh’s show this year were devoted to some witless sarcasm about we should all be allowed to print counterfeit money because the government is already doing it.  Har de har.)

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