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What Everyone Absolutely Needs to Know About Money

I got my start studying economics at UCLA. That started me on a career that's lasted for more than 30 years, trading equities, bonds, commodities, currencies, derivatives, and real estate. It continues to be a great, rewarding career and it's afforded me a wonderful lifestyle.

No one is born with a mastery of these fields. It takes careful study and years of experience before one gets a real grasp of economics, money, and the markets.

But you have a great head start.

We live in the Information Age. There are hundreds of financial and business news outlets. Discount brokerages have opened up everywhere, putting the power directly in the traders' hands. The Internet offers a huge body of knowledge and opinion on investing, markets, and money.

All of this – and more – is available to each of us. But I've been wondering why there aren't more successful investors or traders. Then, in an "Ah-ha!" moment the other day, I realized why: No one teaches you how to "fish" the markets!

You know the old saying… Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

That's just what I'm going to do. Starting today, and continuing on, I'm going to use our Insights & Indictments space to give vital insights on mastering the markets.

You'll have the benefit of more than 30 years of experience and success in the palm of your hand. You will be the master of your own destiny.

Your first lesson starts with money. Here's what everyone absolutely needs to know about it.

It's the root of all things (yeah, maybe that includes evil, but we're not going there), so we have to understand it. Now, more than ever. You can't understand where gold might go, or the dollar, or stocks, or the economy if you don't understand money.

The history of money is fascinating, but we aren't exactly studying history. We're relating it to the present to predict the future – as best we can.

First there was commodity money, the exchange of goods or services for other goods or services.

Then came gold and silver – coveted precious metals that people imbued with value simply because they were rare and coveted.

People began exchanging commodities and goods and services for gold and silver because they knew other people would accept their gold and silver in exchange for their commodities, goods, and services.

Gold and silver coins were measured and stamped and became the first widely accepted money.

Goldsmiths, in Europe and elsewhere, offered safe storage of depositors' gold and silver and issued receipts for precious metals in their safekeeping. These receipts were evidence that the bearer had gold in safekeeping, and, since carrying around receipts was easier and safer than toting heavy metals, receipts became the new money.

Goldsmiths became bankers. The word banker itself comes to us, by turns, from the Old Italian word banca, bench. These benches were covered with green cloth, probably felt, and transactions were conducted there.

There, at the banca,these early bankers began to lend out depositors' gold – without the depositors knowing. These loans would be in the form of actual gold or depositors' receipts. The borrower would then pay a fee, interest, on the amount borrowed.

And just like that, as if by some alchemist's magic, fractional banking – the foundation of our modern banking system – began. Fractional banking is what drives money and credit creation to this day.

What follows is critical to your understanding of money today. It will manifest itself throughout almost all of your endeavors to master the markets and make money. It will come to you from everywhere, and you will start to see this strange phenomenon at work in the markets and in your life.

Eventually, word got out that bankers were lending to borrowers by giving them gold, or receipts, for gold they hadn't deposited and had no claim to. But, the original depositors weren't likely to want all their gold back at once, so as long as borrowers eventually turned in their borrowed receipts or replaced their receipts with gold, the original depositors accepted the fact that their gold was still there.

Besides, it didn't take long for them to demand some of the interest being earned on lending against their gold.

To ensure that there would be plenty of gold in the vaults to cover depositors' withdrawals, banks established reserves – an amount of gold that they would always keep on hand.

That's how fractional banking turned into fractional reserve banking, which is exactly how all banks operate today.

Now, let's move from the gold of the past to the greenbacks of today.

Let's say I deposit $1 million (cash for now – we'll get to credit, I promise) at my bank – a bank with a 10% reserve requirement. That means my bank has to put 10% of my money into its vault, in case I come looking to take out some of my money. My bank has lots of other depositors, so if I wanted my $1 million back, there would be enough in the reserve vault from all the reserves held aside to withdraw me all of my money.

After the bank puts aside $100,000 for me, it has $900,000 of my money to lend out. If it lends out that $900,000 to someone, there's a good chance that person will deposit their borrowed money back into the same bank until they need it. If not, they would deposit it at another bank, or pay a debt, or make an investment. In any event, that money would eventually make its way to some bank as a deposit.

Now the bank has another deposit. It will have to set aside 10% of that $900,000, or $90,000, and it can lend out another $810,000. And so on and so on.

That's the magic of fractional reserve banking. It multiplies money.

In the old days receipt money could be exchanged for gold – that's the gold standard, by the way. Lenders lent gold and extended credit by issuing receipts. But there would come times when depositors would want their gold and there wouldn't be enough to pay them back because it had all been lent out, by means of fractional banking magic.

Needless to say, banks went out of business, panics ensued, and lots of people were ruined.

These same systems were set up over and over again, with almost always the same outcome.

But, eventually, a few things changed.

Eventually, people realized that banks might fail, that reserves could be exhausted. At that point, people's receipt money became worthless. They demanded gold and silver.

So, what did the U.S. and other governments around the world do? They made "legal tender" laws that forced paper money, money they themselves would print, onto the people. It would be used without question "for all debts public and private."

These days, no country backs its paper currency with gold or silver. Money is backed by nothing other than the "full faith and credit" of whatever government is printing that money. The "full faith and credit" comes, in part, from the ability of the government to tax its citizens and raise money, to shore up the value of the currency. That's called fiat money.

That's today's lesson – the history of currency as it relates to fractional reserve banking, and the dangers of panic. We still use the magical fractional reserve system and we're still subject to all of the panic and ruin that magically comes when it all goes wrong.

But that's just the tip of the money story iceberg.

Governments made legal tender laws to make it illegal not to use their paper money – backed by nothing but promises. But they also granted a bunch of private bankers the right to lend those governments as much money as they "needed."

That's just more magic, and you have to see through it to play the game the way the insiders do.

If you enjoyed this, you're going to love next week's lesson.

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About the Author

Shah Gilani is the Event Trading Specialist for Money Map Press. He provides specific trading recommendations in Capital Wave Forecast, where he predicts gigantic "waves" of money forming and shows you how to play them for the biggest gains. In Zenith Trading Circle Shah reveals the worst companies in the markets - right from his coveted Bankruptcy Almanac - and how readers can trade them over and over again for huge gains. He also writes our most talked-about publication, Wall Street Insights & Indictments, where he reveals how Wall Street's high-stakes game is really played.

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  1. corey beckman | January 27, 2013

    Very interesting lesson

  2. Bruce L. Davies | January 27, 2013

    Absolutely great lesson. I have read many explanations but none as concise as this. i can't wait until next week. Are you going to discuss Boom & Bust as it relates to credit? i hope so!!

  3. Raymond Kordonowy MD | January 27, 2013

    Thanks Shah!

    Well written and clear for understanding. It will be fun to see where this all goes in you upcoming articles.

    Paid subscriber to MoneyMap report.

  4. fred stork | January 27, 2013

    I noticed you also made the reference to money being evil, amazing. it proves the proverb — "if you repeat it enough times, everyone will believe it.
    It's NOT what the Bible says, it says "for it's the LOVE of money (GREED), that is the root of all evil".
    Also, maybe you could mention that "money" is not bills or coins, it's everything used in exchange of values, so gold and copper and salt is all money.
    What I am getting at, to general public, money is bills and coins, but those are correctly called "currency". Gold etc. is money, but not currency, as it is intended for storage, not circulation.
    Great work, tho. I know, you are trying to keep it simple.
    I just know soon we will get to subjects where I will just shut up and listen….

  5. Ray Southwell | January 27, 2013

    Now you’re talking. Money is not evil. It is the love of money. People love money and want more. They believe money is wealth. It is not. If our government created fiat currency for productive use we would all prosper. President Lincoln and Kennedy created interest free money for use by government.
    In recent years interest on the debt has been $300 billion to $500 billion. If government created interest free money, for productive use, we could cut the interest on our debt.

  6. Thom | January 27, 2013

    Great article!

  7. Derek O'Dwyer | January 27, 2013

    Great article Shah – very clear and easy to see why the banks failed in recent years. looking forward to next week


  8. Bob from PA | January 27, 2013

    great tutorial
    please comment on the bond bubble

  9. Teresa | April 5, 2013

    An excellent, prize-winning documentary to watch which explains the
    history of fractional reserve
    banking is available free to watch. Check out "The Secret of Oz" on YouTube.

  10. Ethan | May 9, 2013

    Would somebody please inform this guy that the saying isn't that money is the root of all evil but the "The love of money…"Get your facts straight, folks. :)

  11. yngso | September 13, 2013

    You´re right, Fred, Ray and Ethan: Somebody explained to me that money is a tool, a means to get what we need and want. Money is a means of exchange, in itself worthless.
    Thanks for explaining how money and banking works, Shah!
    I suppose we can reduce the power of the banks by only borrowing for things we really need.

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