Considerations on Fractional Reserve Banking and Free-Banking


  • Rafael Hotz



In this article, our goal is to examine a controversy very dear to Austrian economists: that of the legitimacy of the fractional reserve banking system, defined as a system in which the bankers keep in their vaults a quantity of money (narrowly defined) lower than the quantity of cash deposits granted to their clients.

In the Austrian vision, the monetary supply, broadly defined (Mises, 1971), consists of money properly said, plus monetary substitutes (bank notes, cash deposits), plus credit-money, this one corresponding to any future right to a monetary sum (time deposits, promissory notes, pre-fixed derivatives). In a narrow sense, money supply consists in money properly said (fiat-money or commodity money).

We must, however, clarify some aspects of the money supply. Monetary substitutes have their origin in the monetary certificates. Monetary certificates, in their turn, are tools utilized to confer information about the medium of exchange. For instance, precious metal coins mintage confers information about the metal’s purity and about the weight of the coin; bank notes and current account balances confer information about the amount, overseer and proprietor of the deposited money. So, money certificates can change the agents’ valuations concerning the particular good in question, even being able of independent valuation. Monetary certificates can be physically connected to the medium of exchange or separated from it. In the case of physically connected monetary certificates, we have what we normally call monetary substitutes. Monetary substitutes can, due to their nature, work as property titles to the very medium of exchange. Contemporaneously, monetary substitutes usually can be identified with cash deposits (current account balances) and paper checks, provided that the use of bank notes is increasingly rare.

Having made those clarifications concerning monetary substitutes, we will, following Mises (1971, p. 135), call fiduciary media the quantity of monetary substitutes that exceeds the quantity of money properly said.

However, before proceeding with our Investigation about the consequences of the legalization of the production of fake monetary substitutes (fiduciary media), we must explain what would be a fake monetary substitute and the nature of this counterfeiting. We must, therefore, start our argumentation establishing some differences about the nature of loan and deposit contracts [x].


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How to Cite

Hotz, R. . (2009). Considerations on Fractional Reserve Banking and Free-Banking. REVISTA PROCESOS DE MERCADO, 6(2), 203–215.