“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge”. W. S. Churchill.
Imagine that you personally own, outright, Britain’s largest bank, and you are legally entitled to put any credit figure you choose in your own account. Would you really go out and actually borrow any money from anyone? Of course not. But, you are aware that if word gets out that you have unlimited money available, various fools and chancers, (and some deserving cases) will come knocking, asking for some.
So you hit on the idea of making an elaborate facade of your “borrowing” this money, rather than just typing it into your account. To make it convincing, you allow institutions with substantial funds to invest, (such as pension funds) to “lend” it to you, in return for some interest. You stipulate that all transactions must be in pounds sterling, because this is your currency. This “lending” gets called “Bonds”, and you know that when the Bond matures, you can give them their money back. No need to actually use it, as you have plenty of your own funds, and no need to worry about the interest, as you have an unlimited supply of £ Sterling to pay it to them from. You can then tell the fools and chancers that, sorry, you can’t afford to borrow any more to give them. To convince them, you occasionally add up all these Bonds, and call this scary-sounding total “the National Debt”. You can also, if you choose, tell deserving cases (such as public health care, or similar, that you don’t really care about), that you can only “afford” to give them so much. You can also pretend that the Bank is independent of you, and makes its own decisions.
(And, as we have seen, particularly since the pandemic, you can also choose to issue substantial funds to chancers, such as your friends and associates, claiming it to be “for the public good”.)
Get the idea? You’re thinking, this can’t be it, can it? But it’s a simplified version of what actually happens. The UK government, of any party, owns the Bank of England outright, and we all know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. And because of this, it can no more run out of £ sterling, than a football stadium can run out of goals, or a marathon sprinter run short of kilometres.
Still not sure? Have a look at these. C, from a politician, is a fib.
And, if you’re still not sure…..here’s Robert Peston, on ITV News at Ten, 14th May: “…..when you’ve got an independent central bank, as we do, in the shape of the Bank of England, the Government can, er, for a period at least, more or less borrow as much as it likes. The Bank of England buys the debt. That’s what’s going on at the moment. It’s creating new money now.”
(note: Robert is not quite correct, here. The Bank of England is “independent” in name only. It is wholly owned by HM Government and is controlled by HM Treasury. It has a few minor autonomous powers subject to Treasury approval. So, the Government doesn’t actually “borrow”, it issues.)