Banking

Does Fractional Reserve Banking Endanger the Economy? A Debate

Texas Tech University's Robert Murphy vs. Cato's George Selgin at the Soho Forum

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On April 16, 2018, two free market economists debated a topic that has long divided libertarians. Fractional reserve banking refers to banks' standard practice of keeping only a portion of their depositors' money on hand and loaning out the rest. In The Mystery of Banking (1983), the anarcho-capitalist economist Murray Rothbard called fractional reserve banking "a shell game, a Ponzi scheme, a fraud in which fake warehouse receipts are issued and circulate as equivalent to the cash supposedly represented by the receipts." Other libertarian economists, such as Larry White and Steve Horwitz, have argued that the practice is perfectly defensible.

At The Soho Forum, a debate series in New York City that is sponsored by the Reason Foundation, Robert Murphy debated George Selgin over the following resolution: "Fractional Reserve banking poses a threat to the stability of market economies."

Murphy, a research assistant professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, argued for the affirmative. He has a Ph.D. in economics from NYU has addiliations with the Institute for Energy Research, the Mises Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Independent Institute. He has authored hundreds of articles and several books explaining economics to the layperson, including Choice: Cooperation, Enterprise, and Human Action.

Selgin, who opposed the resolution, is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Georgia. His research covers a broad range of topics within the field of monetary economics, including monetary history, macroeconomic theory, and the history of monetary thought. He is the author of The Theory of Free Banking, Bank Deregulation and Monetary Order, Less Than Zero: The Case for a Falling Price Level in a Growing Economy, and most recently Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage.

The Soho Forum runs Oxford-style debates, in which the audience votes on the resolution at the beginning and end of the event. The side that gains more ground is victorious. ?In this case, Selgin won by convincing 14 percent of the audience to switch over to his side.

Up next month at the Soho Forum: George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan vs. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser on whether "all government support of higher education should be abolished." The debate is tied to Caplan's recent book, The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Buy tickets here. Watch Nick Gillespie's interview with Caplan here.

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