Skip to main content

Resolving the National Bank Note Paradox

Quarterly Review 1622 | Spring 1992

Download PDF


Resolving the National Bank Note Paradox


During the 1882–1914 period, U.S. national banks could issue circulating notes backed by specified government securities. Earlier attempts to explain yields on those securities by costs of note issue discovered a paradox: yields were too high. We point out two previously ignored sources of costs: idle notes and note redemptions that were highly variable, thereby exacerbating the problem of managing reserves. We present data on idle notes and estimate, from partial data on redemptions, the uncertainty due to redemptions. We also present a semiannual time series of an upper bound on the average additional return on equity a national bank would earn by fully using its note issue privilege. Since the median of this series is 0.5 percent and since this upper bound does not include the average costs stemming from the exacerbated reserve management problem, we conclude that the specified government securities did not have paradoxically high yields.