Where Money Comes From

Where Money Comes From

Understanding the genesis of money is crucial for anyone keen on decoding the intricacies of modern economics and finance. The mechanisms of money creation, driven by central banks, commercial banks, and even novel digital currencies, underpin our entire economic system. By delving into the multifaceted processes of how money comes into existence, you’ll gain invaluable insights into the forces that shape monetary policy, trade, and personal financial management. In this article, we explore the essential roles played by different entities in money creation, the implications of government spending, and the impact of digital currencies. By exploring these concepts, you’ll be equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the financial world and be better positioned to navigate the complexities of macroeconomic decision-making. So, if you’re interested in demystifying the world of finance or are simply curious about the origins and functions of money, keep reading for a deep dive into the heart of our economic system.

Key Takeaways

  • Origins of Money: Central and commercial banks play pivotal roles in generating money. Central banks have the authority to manufacture physical and digital money, whereas commercial banks amplify the money supply through lending.
  • Fractional Reserve System: Under the fractional reserve system, commercial banks keep a fraction of the deposits as reserves and lend the remainder. The process of lending and re-depositing leads to a multiplication effect, increasing the money supply. Reserve requirements by the Federal Reserve ended on March 26, 2020.
  • Government’s Role: Governments indirectly influence money creation through deficit spending and issuing bonds. This spending stimulates economic activity and increases money in circulation.
  • Digital Currencies: Cryptocurrencies offer a novel way to create money. These digital currencies are generated through “mining” – solving complex mathematical puzzles, validating transactions, and maintaining a blockchain.
  • Functions of Money: Money serves as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value. It enables trade, standardizes value measurement, and facilitates saving for future use.

What is Money?

Money is a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value. It’s a widely accepted currency or electronic transfer of value that can be exchanged for goods and services. The concept of money has evolved and today includes various forms and functions. Here are some key attributes and roles of money:

  1. Medium of Exchange: Money is used as an intermediary in trade to avoid the inconvenience of a pure barter system. Instead of trading goods and services directly, individuals can use money as a medium to buy what they need and sell what they offer.
  2. Unit of Account: Money provides a standard measure for valuing goods and services. It allows us to compare the costs of various items and make informed decisions about what to buy.
  3. Store of Value: Money retains its value in purchasing power over time, allowing individuals to save and use it in the future. This contrasts with some goods, like perishables, that may lose weight over time.
  4. Standard of Deferred Payment: Money allows for establishing future contracts, such as loans or salaries, that are paid in standardized units.

Types of Money:

  1. Commodity Money: Physical goods used as a medium of exchange, like gold or silver coins. The value of commodity money is derived from the material it’s made of or the value of the commodity it represents. This was what originally backed paper money.
  2. Fiat Money: Currency a government has declared legal tender but not backed by a physical commodity. The value of fiat money is derived from the trust and confidence of the people who use it. Examples include paper currency and coins.
  3. Representative Money: Money representing a claim on a commodity (like gold or silver) that can be redeemed upon demand. For example, a gold certificate where the bearer could exchange the certificate for a certain amount of gold.
  4. Digital or Electronic Money: Money that exists only in digital form. This includes digital wallets, online bank accounts, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
  5. Cryptocurrency: A digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security and operates independently of a central authority. Bitcoin is the most well-known example.

Money is a crucial element of modern economies. It facilitates trade, provides a measure of value, enables saving and investment, and allows for financial planning and deferred payments.

How Money is Created

Money can be created through various mechanisms, depending on the context in which it’s made. Here’s an overview of how money is typically made in modern economies.

  1. Central Banks Create Money (Base Money):
    • Printing Physical Currency: Central banks (like the Federal Reserve in the US or the European Central Bank in the Eurozone) can print paper currency and mint coins. This is known as “fiat money,” legal tender backed by the government that issues it. The central bank controls the amount of money in circulation by increasing or decreasing the supply of physical currency.
    • Digital Money Creation: Central banks can also create digital money, which they use to buy assets like government bonds. This process is known as “quantitative easing.” When a central bank buys these assets from banks, it credits their accounts with new digital money. This increases the amount of money in the financial system.
  2. Commercial Banks Create Money (Broad Money):
    • Fractional Reserve Banking: Commercial banks also create money through “fractional reserve banking.” When a customer deposits money in a bank, the bank must keep a certain percentage (the reserve requirement) in its vaults or at the central bank. The rest can be loaned out to other customers. When the bank makes a loan, it creates new money by crediting the borrower’s account. This increases the money supply.
    • Federal Reserve Requirements: As announced on March 15, 2020, the Board reduced reserve requirement ratios to zero percent effective March 26, 2020. This action eliminated reserve requirements for all depository institutions.[1]
    • Money Multiplier Effect: The money creation process doesn’t stop with the first loan. When the borrower spends the money, it gets deposited in another bank, which can then lend out a portion of that deposit. This cycle continues, and the money supply increases each time. This phenomenon is known as the “money multiplier effect.”
  3. Government Deficits and Spending: Governments can indirectly create money by running deficits and spending money on projects, social programs, or other expenses. When the government spends more than it collects in taxes, it borrows money by issuing bonds. Banks and investors buy these bonds, and the government pays the money it borrows. This increases the money in circulation and stimulates economic activity.
  4. Digital and Cryptocurrencies: In recent years, digital currencies and cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin) have introduced new ways of creating money. These currencies are typically made through “mining,” where participants use computer power to solve complex mathematical puzzles and validate transactions on a blockchain. Once the math problem is solved, new coins are created and awarded to the miner. These new coins increase the money supply of digital cryptocurrency.

It’s important to note that money creation is a complex and multifaceted process influenced by monetary policy, economic conditions, and government regulations. Additionally, excessive money creation can lead to inflation, where the prices of goods and services rise, and the purchasing power of money decreases. Central banks and governments manage money creation to promote stable economic growth and control inflation.


Money, in its various forms and manifestations, underpins the modern economy. The lubricant facilitates commerce and trade, enabling individuals and businesses to exchange goods and services efficiently. Whether created by central banks, commercial banks, or even through novel mechanisms like cryptocurrency mining, money is the nexus of economic activity. Understanding the origins and functions of money is crucial, as it profoundly impacts economic policies, trade dynamics, and individual financial well-being. The processes of money creation and the roles played by different entities, including banks and governments, are integral to understanding the dynamics of the financial world.