I was watching a video about what gives money its value, and they say it's the total number of bills in circulation.

The Federal Reserve can print or remove money from circulation. But if somebody owns that money, they can't just take that money away right? So how do they take money out of circulation? Is there a limit on how much they can take out?

  • $\begingroup$ Central bank selling of government bonds might be seen as the reverse of quantitative easing $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Jan 5, 2017 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ The video link in your question is broken. $\endgroup$
    – Mick
    Jan 6, 2017 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ The IRS belongs to the Treasury NOT the Fed. But yes they also take money "out of circulation" hence dwindling the money supply. $\endgroup$
    – Pete
    Oct 26, 2022 at 0:29

3 Answers 3


One of the Federal Reserve's (the Fed) primary policy tools is the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Through open market operations the Fed can buy or sell securities on a secondary market. By buying securities they bring new money into circulation, by selling securities they take money out of circulation. Thus the Fed has a direct influence on the so called monetary base (M0, consisting of currency in circulation and reserves held by banks at the Fed).

It is true that the Fed cannot take the $-bills out of your pocket, but they don't have to. The Fed trades in securities, and every security has a price. Hence, if the Fed wants to take money out of circulation they "buy" dollars, by selling securities. At the market price there will by definition be people who are willing to give their money to the Fed in return for securities.

The value of money is determined by numerous factors beyond the monetary base (e.g. the money supply M1,M2,M3..., exchange rates) and is a concept harder to grasp, because value can be defined in various ways (as opposed to the "price" of money). But I think that goes beyond your question.

  • $\begingroup$ Likewise, when the Fed prints money, it buys securities instead of just giving free money to random people. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 26, 2022 at 2:40

Isn't MMT (https://www.investopedia.com/modern-monetary-theory-mmt-4588060) the theory that the US Federal Government (seemingly all branches) and the Federal Reserve currently operate under? How else could anyone justify deficit spending of the magnitude we are seeing and have seen for years? The real question is how is money in circulation destroyed. That would be through default. Somebody takes the loss.


Except of course the Fed actually CAN take the $-bills out of your pocket! They have a department called the Internal Revenue Service that does exactly this: extract money from circulation. The revenue from taxes is debited from the money supply at a pace that roughly matches the rate at which the Fed credits readily-liquidable accounts with new money at the direction of Congress through appropriations. But the two processes are not linked.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This doesn't quite seem to be correct - The IRS isn't part of the Fed. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2022 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ The IRS is nothing to do with the Fed. Taxes are not taken out of circulation, except in the viewpoint of MMT, which uses a different definition of circulation, and is not widely used. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Oct 26, 2022 at 1:58

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