Why Punish the Poor to Stop Inflation and Make it Harder for Firms to Increase Supply?
When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates in New York financial markets, it becomes harder for businesses to borrow, which causes businesses to cut hours, lay off workers and close outlets. This is an indirect and rather brutal way to reduce demand for goods and services that also reduces supply. The effect is to make it harder for firms to increase supply and harder for people working paycheck-to-paycheck to handle medical emergencies, automobile accidents and other situations where they need a small loan just to get by.
But trashing the economy to stop inflation is not necessary. A more direct, more efficient and more effective way to stop inflation is possible. When the demand for goods and services exceeds the supply, prices rise. Demand can be reduced with either a carrot or stick approach. Why use the stick of raising interest rates on loans that punishes poor people facing a personal crisis and businesses that want to supply more, and instead offer the carrot of higher interest rates on savings to get people to voluntarily put off unnecessary spending and save some money?
In 2018 Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced Senate bill S.2755 as “The Postal Banking Act” as a way to use post offices to restore the “The Postal Savings Act” of 1910 which allowed people to cash checks and set up savings accounts in the over 30,000 post offices throughout the United States from 1911 to 1966. Senator Gillibrand sought to use our local post offices as a venue for the poor to get small loans to deal with various crises without becoming prey to loan sharks, pawn shops, payday loan dealers, or “cash now” providers who typically charge exorbitant interest rates.
The Federal Reserve is already considering creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC) as China and several other countries have already done. The Federal Reserve could use post offices as physical locations to access individual CBDC savings accounts. People could also register their smartphones at post offices for more direct and immediate access to their CBDC accounts. When excessive inflation threatens, these CBDC accounts could offer a high interest rate on savings. Encouraging people to save money and spend less will reduce the excess demand where too much money is chasing too few goods and driving up prices.
Ordinarily, to make a profit a bank must charge a higher interest rate on loans than it pays on savings. But as the creator of money, the Federal Reserve is in a unique position. To reduce demand for goods and services, the Fed can offer a higher interest rate on savings. However, in line with “The Postal Savings Act” of 1910 and in order to avoid disrupting commercial banking, the Fed will need to set a limit on the size of savings accounts. With one account per Social Security number and a limit of $10,000 per account, the Fed can avoid competing with private banks for the large savings of wealthy investors.
Encouraging people to build up their savings will also serve as an automatic stabilizer for the economy. Whenever an economic downturn threatens, people with savings do not have to cut their expenditures so dramatically. This avoids a sudden drop in expenditures which would just make economic downturns more severe. A larger pool of savings would shorten and lessen the severity of recessions.
If everyone had a Federal Reserve bank account accessible from their computer or smartphone, it would become easier to transfer money. If someone cuts your grass, rakes your leaves or shovels your snow, you can pay them easily with a smartphone-to-smartphone transfer between your individual Federal Reserve accounts.
Alternatively, when inflation is low and unemployment rises, the Fed could lower the interest rates on both savings and loans to help stimulate the economy. This new tool would give the Fed much tighter control in meeting its mandate of maintaining full employment with stable prices.
Large banks already have bank accounts with the Federal Reserve. There is no reason why the rest of us couldn’t also have bank accounts with the Fed. The rise of digital currencies, especially stablecoins, threaten the Federal Reserve’s dominance and control over our currency. By setting up digital currency smartphone postal savings accounts for every American, the Fed can reestablish its control over our currency and gain a much better way of dealing with the challenge of excessive inflation on one hand and high levels of unemployment on the other.
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