DP15521 Central Bank Money: Liability, Asset, or Equity of the Nation?

Author(s): Jason Allen, Will Bateman, Simon Gleeson, Michael Kumhof, Rosa M Lastra, Saule Omarova
Publication Date: December 2020
Keyword(s): Assets, central bank balance sheet, Central bank digital currency, Central bank money, central bank reserves, currency, equity, Government Debt, liabilities, Quantitative easing
JEL(s): E41, E42, E44, E51, E52, E58, G21, H61, H63, K0, K11, K12
Programme Areas: Financial Economics, Monetary Economics and Fluctuations
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15521

Based on legal arguments, we advocate a conceptual and normative shift in our understanding of the economic character of central bank money (CBM). The widespread treatment of CBM as a central bank liability goes back to the gold standard, and uses analogies with commercial bank balance sheets. However, CBM is sui generis and legally not comparable to commercial bank money. Furthermore, in modern economies, CBM holders cannot demand repayment of CBM in anything other than CBM. CBM is not an asset of central banks either, and it is not central bank shareholder equity because it does not confer the same ownership rights as regular shareholder equity. Based on comparisons across a number of legal characteristics of financial instruments, we suggest that an appropriate characterization of CBM is as 'social equity' that confers rights of participation in the economy's payment system and thereby its economy. This interpretation is important for macroeconomic policy in light of quantitative easing and potential future issuance of central bank digital currency (CBDC). It suggests that in robust economies with credible monetary institutions, and where demand for CBM is sufficiently and sustainably high, large-scale issuance such as under CBDC is not inflationary, and it does not weaken public sector finances.