by Michael Rowbotham
September 2001
from 'Goodbye America' by Michael Rowbotham

from Prosperity Website


Whenever Third World debt cancellation is discussed, it is automatically assumed that somebody, somewhere has to suffer a loss. Either banks must cover the losses, taxes must be raised or Western governments must foot the bill.

In fact, Third World debts could be cancelled with little or no cost to anyone. Indeed, cancellation would be not only the simplest process imaginable, but to the general advantage of the world economy. All that is involved is a bit of creative accountancy - something at which the West has shown itself highly adept when this has suited its political purpose.

To appreciate this, it is essential to recall that the dominant form of money in the modern economy, bank credit, is entirely numerical. It is an abstract entity with no physical existence whatsoever, created in parallel with debt. Debt cancellation is therefore largely a matter of numerical accountancy. This is emphasized by the fact that only one factor prevents the immediate cancellation of all Third World debts - the accountancy rules of commercial banks.

Third World debt bonds form part of the assets of commercial banks, and all banks are obliged to maintain parity between their assets and liabilities (deposits).

If commercial banks cancel or write off Third World debt bonds, their total assets fall. Under the rules of banking, the banks are then obliged to restore their level of assets to the point where they equal their liabilities, usually by transferring an equivalent sum from their reserves.


In other words, when debts are cancelled, normally banks suffer the loss.


There are two options for overcoming this accountancy blockage. They involve acknowledging that debt-cancellation is both desirable and possible, and adapting bank accountancy accordingly.

  • The first option is to remove the obligation on banks to maintain parity between assets and liabilities, or, to be more precise, to allow banks to hold reduced levels of assets equivalent to the Third World debt bonds they cancel.


    Thus, if a commercial bank held $10 billion worth of developing country debt bonds, after cancellation it would be permitted in perpetuity to have a $10 billion dollar deficit in its assets. This is a simple matter of record-keeping.

  • The second option, and in accountancy terms probably the more satisfactory (although it amounts to the same policy), is to cancel the debt bonds, yet permit banks to retain them for purposes of accountancy The debts would be cancelled so far as the developing nations were concerned, but still valid for the purposes of a bank’s accounts. The bonds would then be held as permanent, non-negotiable assets, at face value [pp.135-136] …


    The cancellation of international debts, or their conversion to national debts [pp.140-143], is the sine qua non if Third World nations are to discover a path away from poverty and decline and towards more socially and culturally benign futures. The acknowledged need is for Third World countries to develop their agricultural and industrial infrastructure for their own domestic consumption and direct less effort towards export-led growth.


    To the extent that international debts remain, the export imperative remains.

The Third World cannot be said to be in material debt to the industrialized nations. The developing nations are in financial debt to international banks.


But whilst not actually in material debt to the industrialized nations, because these bank debts are denominated in dollars, they are forced to behave as if they were in debt to the West, seeking a perpetual export surplus [p.145].


(Also see below, "How Third World Debt is Created".)



How Third World Debt is Created
How Private, Commercial, National And International Money Is Created
abridged from the works of Michael Rowbotham
April 2000

from Prosperity Website

The financial system currently adopted by all nations is often described as "debt based", since the process of going into debt is relied upon almost exclusively to create and supply money to their economies.


By the action of lending to borrowers, commercial banks create credit and advance this to industry, consumers and governments. This "bank credit" circulates in the broader economy until such time as the loan is repaid. Such "bank credit" now forms 96% of the money stock in most industrial nations, with a mere 4% the notes and coins created by government, and free from a parallel debt.

Thus, almost the entire money stock is supported in circulation by vast debts in four main sectors...

  • Private debts e.g. mortgages, loans, overdrafts, credit-purchases

  • Industrial and commercial debts

  • Government "national" debts

  • International, including Third World debt

The supply of money is a direct product of borrowing, and debt maintains this money in circulation. Modern debt is, in aggregate, quite unrepayable. Furthermore, difficulty is experienced in the repayment of individual debts in all four sectors.
The Drive Behind Globalization, 1998, pp 3-4.

Money is created in each of these four areas....

If a bank makes a loan, nothing is lent, for the simple reason that there is nothing of substance to lend.


The bank makes what it terms a loan against the amount of money deposited with it at that time. This is all done with the utmost ease. The bank has simply to agree that a person may take out a loan of, say, £5,000. The person taking out the loan can then spend £5,000 and hey presto...! £5,000 of new number-money has been created.


No one with a bank account is sent a letter telling them that the money in their account is temporarily unavailable, because it has been lent to someone else. None of the original accounts in the bank has been touched, reduced or affected.


Nobody else's spending power has been reduced, but £5,000 of new spending power has been created; £5,000 of new number-money enters the economy at the stroke of a bank managers pen, but £5,000 of debt has also been created.

Thus, whoever takes out the loan will then make purchases and payments to other people, who will pay that new money into their bank accounts. Result: more bank deposits!


As soon as the loan in the example above is spent, £5,000 will find its way into the bank account of a car dealer or DIY store; £5,000 of apparently new money. This is money which has supposedly been loaned but the banking system doesn't distinguish this fact. It simply registers a new deposit, and regards it as new money. Total deposits in the banking system have therefore increased by £5,000.


This is the boomerang effect of a bank loan by which a loan rapidly creates an equivalent amount of new bank deposits in the banking system. This effect was neatly summarized in a statement by Graham Towers, former Governor of the Central Bank of Canada...

"Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created - new deposits - brand new money."

The new money will provide the banking system with the collateral for more lending.


This is the bolstering effect of a bank loan. As the total money held by banks and building societies becomes swollen by loans returning as new deposits this provides them with the basis for further loans.

Perhaps the best description of this process of money creation was provided by H.D. Macleod:

"When it is said that a great London joint stock bank has perhaps £50,000,000 of deposits, it is almost universally believed that it has £50,000,000 of actual money to lend out as it is erroneously called... It is a complete and utter delusion. These deposits are not deposits in cash at all, they are nothing but an enormous superstructure of credit."
The Grip of Death, Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1998, pp. 11-13.

A country's national debt is completely separate from, and additional to, the level of private and commercial debt directly associated with the money supply.


The United Kingdom national debt in 1998 stands at approximately £380 billion. If the private and commercial debt of £780 billion and the national debt are added together, the total indebtedness associated with the UK financial system stands at some £1160 billion, which dwarfs the total money stock of £640 billion!


How did this condition of overall negative equity come about?


This excessive indebtedness - which is a blatant misrepresentation of the real state of economic wealth enjoyed by the nation - is a position shared by all the developed nations.

The national debt is actually composed of thousands of pieces of paper called stocks, bonds and treasury bills. These stocks and bills, known as gilt-edged securities, or gilts, are essentially elaborate forms of government IOU. These IOUs are issued because each year the government fails to collect enough in taxes to cover the costs of its public services and other spending - and it borrows money to cover this shortfall.


All government budgets overshoot by many billions of pounds, dollars or deutschmarks annually.


This leads to what is called the borrowing requirement for that budget year. A country's national debt is therefore the total still outstanding on all past years' borrowing requirements; thus the UK national debt consists of £380 billion of these gilt edged IOUs, in the form of outstanding treasury bills and stocks.

The method of issuing these IOUs and administering the national debt is quite simple. In order to obtain money to cover its annual spending shortfall, an appropriate number of government stocks and bills are drawn up by the Treasury.


These are then sold in fact they are auctioned off in the money markets to the highest bidder. This is done throughout the year to meet the shortage of revenue as it arises, and the announcements, in the form of government advertisements, can be seen regularly in the financial press. These stocks and bills are bought because they promise to repay a larger sum of money at some future date, and are sold at a price that promises a good return to whoever buys them.


They are usually denominated in considerable sums of £1,000 or more per bond and are bought by insurance companies, pension funds, banks and trust funds... anywhere that money accumulates as savings.


By selling these stocks, the government obtains the additional money it needs for the public sector, making up the annual shortfall in what it can gather by taxation.

As these government stocks mature and become due for payment, the government has to find the money promised on those stocks, and pay it to the financial institutions that bought them. But governments are unable to pay this money owing on their past stock issues. Indeed, each government is confronted by the current year's annual shortfall in taxation receipts.


The whole reason for the government issuing stock in the first place was because it could not cover its expenditure through taxation, and this annual shortfall is constant. There is no way a government can pay the money it owes.


How then can the government pay up on its maturing stock? It has underwritten promises it cannot keep.


What happens is that the government obtains the money to meet the payments due on maturing national debt stocks by selling more government stock to the financial institutions - promising even more money in the future. The government draws up enough new stock to cover the repayments due on the old stock, sells this, and uses the money to pay off the old stock.


Of course, when this new stock matures it too has to be paid off from the sale of yet more stock. The government manages to pay off the national debt, and not pay it, at one and the same time...

There is a pretence that this is not the true arrangement, since repayment of national debt stocks is actually accounted as coming from taxation, not from the sale of more bonds. But this repayment from taxation creates such a massive shortage in government revenues that can only be made up by the sale of more bonds so the net effect is that repayment is constantly deferred by the sale of further government bonds.


This is what is referred to as interest on the national debt although it is not really interest in the conventional banking sense, but a constant rescheduling of a completely un-repayable debt. This deferral is not, however, the end of the story....

At the same time as deferring and re-mortgaging the existing level of national debt, the government has to sell yet more stock to cover the amount by which taxation falls below what is needed to support its public services.


The national debt therefore escalates, increasing by the amount required to re-mortgage the past national debt, plus the shortfall in revenues to fund the public sector.

In 1960, the UK national debt was £26 billion; by 1980 it had risen to £90 billion. The national debt in 1998 stands at nearly £380 billion, and is likely to reach a trillion pounds within the next 20-25 years. In America, the national debt in 1960 stood at $240 billion; by 1997 it had reached the level of $5,000 billion, or $5 trillion!

It should also be remembered that the money held by pension funds and insurance companies, or whoever buys the government stocks, is money that had to be borrowed into existence in the first place. In other words, by this process, governments borrow money which has already been borrowed into existence, and they thus create a second massive institutional debt in respect of money which already has a debt behind it!


Adding the national debt to the total of private debt places a country and its people in a position of overall negative equity, owing far more on paper than the amount of money that exists in the economy.
The Grip of Death, pp. 96-98.

So, in summary: Governments draw up official treasury bonds, and these are auctioned on the money markets. The bonds are bought by both the banking and non-banking sectors. When the non-banking sector (pension and insurance funds etc) purchases the bonds, saved monies are recycled into the economy through government spending.


When the banking sector buys government bonds, banks and lending institutions create credit: There is an increase in the money stock. This money is spent into the economy through government spending.
Creative Accountancy, 1998, p. 29.


The significant point about coins and notes money created by the government is that this money is created debt-free, and spent into the economy by the government.


This is a vital consideration, and it is therefore important to appreciate precisely how this injection of debt-free money is managed. Coins and notes are minted and printed by the government at no cost, apart from that of materials. Of course, governments have no particular need of these coins and notes; banks are the institutions requiring a supply of cash.


The government therefore sells the coins and notes that it creates to banks, who pay by cheque, and the government acquires the face value of those coins and notes in number-money. The sum of money which the government obtains, and which is debt-free so far as the government is concerned, is then added to whatever taxation revenue has been raised to fund the public sector.


Thus, coins and notes are created by the government, and an amount equivalent to the face value of those coins and notes is spent into the economy as a direct, debt-free input.

The Grip of Death, p. 14.

The financial position of even the wealthiest nations is one of acute financial pressure, with massive private and national debt, and budgetary difficulty dominating the economy.


How can the wealthy nations, from a position of such perpetual monetary shortage and insolvency, lend money to the developing nations? The answer is that they do not.


The money advanced to Third World nations is not money loaned from the wealthy nations. These sums consist almost entirely of monies that have been created, via the commercial banking mechanism, specifically for the purpose of the loan concerned. In other words, the same debt-based, banking process used to supply money to national economies is also employed for the creation and supply of funds to debtor nations.

Thus, these monies are not owed by debtor countries to the developed nations, but to private, commercial banks.

Holding only a nominal reserve contributed by the wealthy members, the World Bank raises large quantities of money by drawing up bonds and selling these to commercial banks on the money markets of the world.


Thus, the World Bank does not itself create the money it advances to Third World nations, but sells bonds to commercial banks which, in purchasing these bonds, create money for the purpose. The World Bank therefore functions along the lines of a country's national debt. Just as with the government bonds of a country's national debt, when a commercial bank makes a purchase of World Bank money-bonds, the commercial bank creates additional bank credit.


In essence, the World Bank acts as broker for commercial banks, who are the actual money-creation agents and who hold World Bank bonds in lieu of monies they create in parallel with debts registered against Third World nations.


Although these loans may be denominated in pounds, dollars or Francs, such loans advanced under the World Bank have no connection with respective national economies, and in no sense represent monies loaned by these nations, nor debts owed to them by developing nations.


The debts are owed to private, commercial banks (via the World Bank) in respect of money they have created through the purchase of debt bonds.

The IMF presents itself as a financial pool an international reserve of money, built up with contributions, known as quotas, from subscribing nations - that is, most nations of the world. However, credit creation accompanies almost every aspect of IMF funding...

Twenty-five percent of each nation's IMF quota is paid in the form of gold, the remainder in the nations own currency. The 25% gold quota is the only component of IMF lending capacity that does not, in some way, constitute additional money created in parallel with debt.

The 75% of a nation's quota payable in national currency is invariably funded by the government concerned through the sale of bonds, thus adding to that nation's national debt. Therefore the IMF, whilst not itself creating credit, places monetary demands on member countries for quotas that can only be funded via each country's national deficit. This involves the sale of government bonds to commercial banks, leading to money creation by those banks.


This source of revenue forms the main fund of IMF monies available to developing nations.

Since the monetary demands on the IMF are constantly increasing, due to rising demand for Third World loans, the quota demands by the IMF have reached the point where (so-called) creditor nations such as America and Britain are reluctant to undertake yet more bond issues and further national debt to supply these funds.


So, in recent years the IMF has begun to circumvent the restrictions of its overall quota. By co-operating directly with commercial banks to organize more substantial loans than it can fund from its own quota resources, the IMF administers loan packages made up in part from its own quotas and in part from commercial sources.


For example, of the $56 billion loan advanced under the IMF to South Korea in the wake of the Asian crisis, only $20 billion was contributed by the Fund; the remaining $36 billion was arranged by direct co-operation with international commercial banks, which created money for the purpose.

The total funds of the IMF were substantially increased and its function and status as a money-creation agency clarified when, in 1979, the IMF instituted Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).


These SDRs were created, and intended to serve, as an additional international currency. Although these SDRs are credited to each nations account with the IMF, if a nation borrows these SDRs (defined in dollars) it must repay this amount, or pay interest on the loan. Whilst SDRs are described as amounts credited to a nation, no money or credit of any kind is put into nations accounts.


SDRs are actually a credit-facility just like a bank overdraft if they are borrowed, they must be repaid. Thus, the IMF is now creating and issuing money in the form of a new international currency, created in parallel with debt, under a system essentially the same as that of a bank... the IMF reserve being the original pool of quota funds.

In summary, of the $2,200 billion currently outstanding as Third World or developing country debt, the vast majority represents money created by commercial banks in parallel with debt.


In no sense do the loans advanced by the World Bank and IMF constitute monies owed to the creditor nations of the World Bank and IMF.

The World Bank co-operates directly with commercial banks in the creation and supply of money in parallel with debt. The IMF also negotiates directly with commercial banks to arrange combined IMF/commercial loan packages.

As for those sums loaned by the IMF from the total quotas supplied by member nations, these sums also do not constitute monies owed to 'creditor' nations. The monies subscribed as quotas were initially created by commercial banks through the agency of national debts.


Therefore both the contributing nation and the borrowing Third World nation carry a burden of debt associated with these sums. Both quotas and loans are owed, ultimately, to commercial banks.
The Invalidity of Third World Debt, 1998, pp.14-17.

(Also see on top "Third World Debt Can Be Cancelled").


Return to The Global Banking System

Return to Temas / Sociopolitica