Fed chief says, ‘We did it. … very sorry, won’t do it again’
By David Kupelian
The worldwide economic downturn called the Great Depression, which persisted from 1929 until about 1939, was the longest and worst depression ever experienced by the industrialized Western world. While originating in the U.S., it ended up causing drastic declines in output, severe unemployment, and acute deflation in virtually every country on earth. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the Great Depression ranks second only to the Civil War as the gravest crisis in American history.”
What exactly caused this economic tsunami that devastated the U.S. and much of the world?
In “A Monetary History of the United States,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman along with coauthor Anna J. Schwartz lay the mega-catastrophe of the Great Depression squarely at the feet of the Federal Reserve.
Here’s how Friedman summed up his views on the Fed and the Depression in an Oct. 1, 2000, interview with PBS:
PBS: You’ve written that what really caused the Depression was mistakes by the government. Looking back now, what in your view was the actual cause?
Friedman: Well, we have to distinguish between the recession of 1929, the early stages, and the conversion of that recession into a major catastrophe.
The recession was an ordinary business cycle. We had repeated recessions over hundreds of years, but what converted [this one] into a major depression was bad monetary policy.
The Federal Reserve System had been established to prevent what actually happened. It was set up to avoid a situation in which you would have to close down banks, in which you would have a banking crisis. And yet, under the Federal Reserve System, you had the worst banking crisis in the history of the United States. There’s no other example I can think of, of a government measure which produced so clearly the opposite of the results that were intended.
And what happened is that [the Federal Reserve] followed policies which led to a decline in the quantity of money by a third. For every $100 in paper money, in deposits, in cash, in currency, in existence in 1929, by the time you got to 1933 there was only about $65, $66 left. And that extraordinary collapse in the banking system, with about a third of the banks failing from beginning to end, with millions of people having their savings essentially washed out, that decline was utterly unnecessary.
At all times, the Federal Reserve had the power and the knowledge to have stopped that. And there were people at the time who were all the time urging them to do that. So it was, in my opinion, clearly a mistake of policy that led to the Great Depression.
Although economists have pontificated over the decades about this or that cause of the Great Depression, even the current Fed chairman Ben S. Bernanke, agrees with Friedman’s assessment that the Fed caused the Great Depression.
At a Nov. 8, 2002, conference to honor Friedman’s 90th birthday, Bernanke, then a Federal Reserve governor, gave a speech at Friedman’s old home base, the University of Chicago. Here’s a bit of what Bernanke, the man who now runs the Fed – and thus, one of the most powerful people in the world – had to say that day:
I can think of no greater honor than being invited to speak on the occasion of Milton Friedman’s ninetieth birthday. Among economic scholars, Friedman has no peer. …
Today I’d like to honor Milton Friedman by talking about one of his greatest contributions to economics, made in close collaboration with his distinguished coauthor, Anna J. Schwartz. This achievement is nothing less than to provide what has become the leading and most persuasive explanation of the worst economic disaster in American history, the onset of the Great Depression – or, as Friedman and Schwartz dubbed it, the Great Contraction of 1929-33.
… As everyone here knows, in their “Monetary History” Friedman and Schwartz made the case that the economic collapse of 1929-33 was the product of the nation’s monetary mechanism gone wrong. Contradicting the received wisdom at the time that they wrote, which held that money was a passive player in the events of the 1930s, Friedman and Schwartz argued that “the contraction is in fact a tragic testimonial to the importance of monetary forces.”
After citing how Friedman and Schwartz documented the Fed’s continual contraction of the money supply during the Depression and its aftermath – and the subsequent abandonment of the gold standard by many nations in order to stop the devastating monetary contraction – Bernanke adds:
… Before the creation of the Federal Reserve, Friedman and Schwartz noted, bank panics were typically handled by banks themselves – for example, through urban consortiums of private banks called clearinghouses. If a run on one or more banks in a city began, the clearinghouse might declare a suspension of payments, meaning that, temporarily, deposits would not be convertible into cash. Larger, stronger banks would then take the lead, first, in determining that the banks under attack were in fact fundamentally solvent, and second, in lending cash to those banks that needed to meet withdrawals. Though not an entirely satisfactory solution – the suspension of payments for several weeks was a significant hardship for the public – the system of suspension of payments usually prevented local banking panics from spreading or persisting. Large, solvent banks had an incentive to participate in curing panics because they knew that an unchecked panic might ultimately threaten their own deposits.
It was in large part to improve the management of banking panics that the Federal Reserve was created in 1913. However, as Friedman and Schwartz discuss in some detail, in the early 1930s the Federal Reserve did not serve that function. The problem within the Fed was largely doctrinal: Fed officials appeared to subscribe to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s infamous ‘liquidationist’ thesis, that weeding out “weak” banks was a harsh but necessary prerequisite to the recovery of the banking system. Moreover, most of the failing banks were small banks (as opposed to what we would now call money-center banks) and not members of the Federal Reserve System. Thus the Fed saw no particular need to try to stem the panics. At the same time, the large banks – which would have intervened before the founding of the Fed – felt that protecting their smaller brethren was no longer their responsibility. Indeed, since the large banks felt confident that the Fed would protect them if necessary, the weeding out of small competitors was a positive good, from their point of view.
In short, according to Friedman and Schwartz, because of institutional changes and misguided doctrines, the banking panics of the Great Contraction were much more severe and widespread than would have normally occurred during a downturn. …
Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.
Best wishes for your next ninety years.
Today, the entire Western financial world holds its breath every time the Fed chairman speaks, so influential are the central bank’s decisions on markets, interest rates and the economy in general. Yet the Fed, supposedly created to smooth out business cycles and prevent disruptive economic downswings like the Great Depression, has actually done the opposite.
Contend administration proposal has 3 pitfalls
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
At least 165 economists have signed a letter to Congress members warning of three pitfalls in the Bush administration’s $700 billion proposal to deal with the Wall Street crisis.
The economists say they are well aware of the current financial situation and agree there’s a need for bold action but ask Congress “not to rush.”
They urge lawmakers to hold appropriate hearings and “to carefully consider the right course of action.”
The three problems with the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the economists say, are its fairness, ambiguity and long-term effects.
President Bush was joined today by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at an emergency White House meeting on the plan. Key members of Congress said this morning they had struck a deal in principle, but the outcome of the proposal is unclear. Participants in the White House meeting called it extremely contentious.
The proposal allows the government to buy the faulty mortgage-based assets of severely weakened financial institutions to prevent them from collapsing and setting off a chain of events that would affect citizens, including depletion of retirement accounts, rising home foreclosures, bankrupt businesses and lost jobs.
The economists contend the plan is unfair, because it’s a “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense.”
“Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses,” the economists say in their letter. “Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”
The plan is ambiguous, they contend, as neither “the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear.”
“If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards,” the letter states.
If the plan is enacted, the economists argue further, “its effects will be with us for a generation.”
“For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity,” they say. “Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”
The signatories as of this morning were:
Acemoglu Daron (Massachussets Institute of Technology)
Adler Michael (Columbia University)
Admati Anat R. (Stanford University)
Alvarez Fernando (University of Chicago)
Andersen Torben (Northwestern University)
Barankay Iwan (University of Pennsylvania)
Barry Brian (University of Chicago)
Beim David (Columbia University)
Berk Jonathan (Stanford University)
Bisin Alberto (New York University)
Bittlingmayer George (University of Kansas)
Boldrin Michele (Washington University)
Brooks Taggert J. (University of Wisconsin)
Brynjolfsson Erik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Buera Francisco J.(UCLA)
Carroll Christopher (Johns Hopkins University)
Cassar Gavin (University of Pennsylvania)
Chaney Thomas (University of Chicago)
Chari Varadarajan V. (University of Minnesota)
Chauvin Keith W. (University of Kansas)
Chintagunta Pradeep K. (University of Chicago)
Christiano Lawrence J. (Northwestern University)
Cochrane John (University of Chicago)
Coleman John (Duke University)
Constantinides George M. (University of Chicago)
Crain Robert (UC Berkeley)
Culp Christopher (University of Chicago)
De Marzo Peter (Stanford University)
Dubé Jean-Pierre H. (University of Chicago)
Edlin Aaron (UC Berkeley)
Eichenbaum Martin (Northwestern University)
Ely Jeffrey (Northwestern University)
Eraslan Hülya K. K.(Johns Hopkins University)
Faulhaber Gerald (University of Pennsylvania)
Feldmann Sven (University of Melbourne)
Fernandez-Villaverde Jesus (University of Pennsylvania)
Fox Jeremy T. (University of Chicago)
Frank Murray Z.(University of Minnesota)
Fuchs William (University of Chicago)
Fudenberg Drew (Harvard University)
Gabaix Xavier (New York University)
Gao Paul (Notre Dame University)
Garicano Luis (University of Chicago)
Gerakos Joseph J. (University of Chicago)
Gibbs Michael (University of Chicago)
Goettler Ron (University of Chicago)
Goldin Claudia (Harvard University)
Gordon Robert J. (Northwestern University)
Guadalupe Maria (Columbia University)
Hagerty Kathleen (Northwestern University)
Hamada Robert S. (University of Chicago)
Hansen Lars (University of Chicago)
Harris Milton (University of Chicago)
Hart Oliver (Harvard University)
Hazlett Thomas W. (George Mason University)
Heaton John (University of Chicago)
Heckman James (University of Chicago – Nobel Laureate)
Henderson David R. (Hoover Institution)
Henisz, Witold (University of Pennsylvania)
Hertzberg Andrew (Columbia University)
Hite Gailen (Columbia University)
Hitsch Günter J. (University of Chicago)
Hodrick Robert J. (Columbia University)
Hopenhayn Hugo (UCLA)
Hurst Erik (University of Chicago)
Imrohoroglu Ayse (University of Southern California)
Israel Ronen (London Business School)
Jaffee Dwight M. (UC Berkeley)
Jagannathan Ravi (Northwestern University)
Jenter Dirk (Stanford University)
Jones Charles M. (Columbia Business School)
Kaboski Joseph P. (Ohio State University)
Kaplan Ethan (Stockholm University)
Karolyi, Andrew (Ohio State University)
Kashyap Anil (University of Chicago)
Keim Donald B (University of Pennsylvania)
Ketkar Suhas L (Vanderbilt University)
Kiesling Lynne (Northwestern University)
Klenow Pete (Stanford University)
Koch Paul (University of Kansas)
Kocherlakota Narayana (University of Minnesota)
Koijen Ralph S.J. (University of Chicago)
Kondo Jiro (Northwestern University)
Korteweg Arthur (Stanford University)
Kortum Samuel (University of Chicago)
Krueger Dirk (University of Pennsylvania)
Ledesma Patricia (Northwestern University)
Lee Lung-fei (Ohio State University)
Leuz Christian (University of Chicago)
Levine David I.(UC Berkeley)
Levine David K.(Washington University)
Linnainmaa Juhani (University of Chicago)
Lucas Robert (University of Chicago – Nobel Laureate)
Luttmer Erzo G.J. (University of Minnesota)
Manski Charles F. (Northwestern University)
Martin Ian (Stanford University)
Mayer Christopher (Columbia University)
Mazzeo Michael (Northwestern University)
McDonald Robert (Northwestern University)
Meadow Scott F. (University of Chicago)
Mehra Rajnish (UC Santa Barbara)
Mian Atif (University of Chicago)
Middlebrook Art (University of Chicago)
Miguel Edward (UC Berkeley)
Miravete Eugenio J. (University of Texas at Austin)
Miron Jeffrey (Harvard University)
Moretti Enrico (UC Berkeley)
Moriguchi Chiaki (Northwestern University)
Moro Andrea (Vanderbilt University)
Morse Adair (University of Chicago)
Mortensen Dale T. (Northwestern University)
Mortimer Julie Holland (Harvard University)
Muralidharan Karthik (UC San Diego)
Nevo Aviv (Northwestern University)
Ohanian Lee (UCLA)
Pagliari Joseph (University of Chicago)
Papanikolaou Dimitris (Northwestern University)
Paul Evans (Ohio State University)
Peltzman Sam (University of Chicago)
Perri Fabrizio (University of Minnesota)
Phelan Christopher (University of Minnesota)
Piazzesi Monika (Stanford University)
Piskorski Tomasz (Columbia University)
Rampini Adriano (Duke University)
Reagan Patricia (Ohio State University)
Reich Michael (UC Berkeley)
Reuben Ernesto (Northwestern University)
Roberts Michael (University of Pennsylvania)
Rogers Michele (Northwestern University)
Rotella Elyce (Indiana University)
Ruud Paul (Vassar College)
Safford Sean (University of Chicago)
Sandbu Martin E. (University of Pennsylvania)
Sapienza Paola (Northwestern University)
Savor Pavel (University of Pennsylvania)
Scharfstein David (Harvard University)
Seim Katja (University of Pennsylvania)
Shang-Jin Wei (Columbia University)
Shimer Robert (University of Chicago)
Shore Stephen H. (Johns Hopkins University)
Siegel Ron (Northwestern University)
Smith David C. (University of Virginia)
Smith Vernon L.(Chapman University- Nobel Laureate)
Sorensen Morten (Columbia University)
Spiegel Matthew (Yale University)
Stevenson Betsey (University of Pennsylvania)
Stokey Nancy (University of Chicago)
Strahan Philip (Boston College)
Strebulaev Ilya (Stanford University)
Sufi Amir (University of Chicago)
Tabarrok Alex (George Mason University)
Taylor Alan M. (UC Davis)
Thompson Tim (Northwestern University)
Tschoegl Adrian E. (University of Pennsylvania)
Uhlig Harald (University of Chicago)
Ulrich, Maxim (Columbia University)
Van Buskirk Andrew (University of Chicago)
Veronesi Pietro (University of Chicago)
Vissing-Jorgensen Annette (Northwestern University)
Wacziarg Romain (UCLA)
Weill Pierre-Olivier (UCLA)
Williamson Samuel H. (Miami University)
Witte Mark (Northwestern University)
Wolfers Justin (University of Pennsylvania)
Woutersen Tiemen (Johns Hopkins University)
Zingales Luigi (University of Chicago)
Tancredo cites anti-American, anti-Jewish grandstanding
WASHINGTON – With the clock ticking on his final days in Congress, Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a former presidential candidate, is introducing a flurry of controversial legislation – the latest, a bid to kick the United Nations out of the U.S.
“The U.N. has coddled brutal dictators, anti-Semites, state sponsors of terrorism, and nuclear proliferators – while excluding democratic countries from membership and turning a blind eye to humanitarian tragedies and gross violations of human rights around the globe,” Tancredo said. “The U.N.’s continued presence in the United States is an embarrassment to our nation, and the time has come for this ineffective organization to pack its bags and hit the road.”
This week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is back in New York to address the U.N. His speech has drawn thousands of protesters in New York City.
Tancredo’s bill, dubbed the U.N. Eviction Act, would direct Attorney General Michael Mukasey to initiate condemnation proceedings against all United Nations properties within the United States, and sell the property to the highest bidder on the open market. The proceeds will be given to the Treasury Department to pay down the national debt. The bill would also bar the future purchase of property in the United States or U.S. territories by the U.N. or any of its agencies, and revokes the diplomatic privileges and immunities that U.N. officials and representatives currently enjoy.
“I refuse to sit idly by while Americans are forced to host Islamofascist dictators, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so they can spew anti-American rhetoric just blocks from Ground Zero,” Tancredo continued.
Tancredo said the U.N. is an organization known for its bureaucracy and has become a showcase for anti-American dictators like Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and, of course, Ahmadinejad. He said it has also become little more than a rubber stamp for Chinese and Russian foreign policy initiatives – blocking membership by the democratic nation of Taiwan in the world body, and failing to take any meaningful steps to halt the ongoing genocide in Sudan or the illicit nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran.
“If the U.N. is so keen to accommodate the foreign policy demands of rogue nations and dictatorships, perhaps the world body might be more comfortable relocating to one,” concluded Tancredo. “I’m sure Ban Ki-Moon will have no trouble securing a new location in downtown Pyongyang or Tehran.”
http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=76026″>Last week, Tancredo made news by introducing legislation to prevent Islamic law from gaining a foothold in the U.S. legal system, as it has in other countries.
HR 6975, the Jihad Prevention Act, would allow American authorities to prevent advocates of Islamic law, or Shariah, from entering the country, revoke the visa of any foreigners that champion it and revoke naturalization for citizens that seek to implement it in the U.S.