7. “The Lender of Last Resort: A Comparative Analysis of Central Banking and Fractional-Reserve Free Banking.”
by Ben O’Neill
Abstract: The necessity for a government “lender of last resort” has been advanced as a justification for central banking. In this paper, I compare lending practices under central banking with those that would be likely to exist under a system of fractional-reserve free banking (FRFB). To do this I examine the underlying nature of banks as warehousing and credit-granting institutions and consider how redemption runs can arise as a consequence of fractional reserves in this system. Following the work of Thornton and Bagehot, I describe principles of prudent lending that can be used to stem a redemption run when it arises. I examine the market incentives that apply under FRFB and how these incentives are perverted under a system of central banking. I find that a government central bank is not well-placed to lend according to prudent standards, and in fact is likely to use its power to pursue political goals that are at odds with prudent lending. I examine the US financial crisis and the actions of the Federal Reserve System to illustrate this view.