learning from economic history

Before the monetarist revolution, most economists believed that the quantity of money circulating in the economy had no influence on prices or on growth. History showed otherwise, Friedman and Schwartz argued. Every time the Federal Reserve (and the central banks before it) created an excess of money, either by keeping interest rates too low or by injecting liquidity into banks, prices inflated. At first, the easy money might seem to boost consumers’ purchasing power. But the increase would be only apparent, since sellers tended to raise the prices of their goods to absorb the extra funds. Investors would then start speculating on short-term bets—whether tulips in the seventeenth century or subprime mortgages more recently—seeking to beat the expected inflation. Eventually, such “manias,” as Schwartz calls them, would begin replacing long-term investment, thus destroying entrepreneurship and harming economic growth.

By contrast, by removing excess liquidity, the central bank can cause the sudden collapse of speculative excess, and it can also hurt healthy recovery or growth by constricting the money supply. There is now a near-consensus among economists that lack of liquidity caused the Great Depression. During the severe downturn of 1930, the Fed did nothing as a first group of banks failed. Other depositors became alarmed that they would lose their money if their banks failed, too, leading to further bank runs, propelling a frightening downward economic spiral.
- City Journal

1 comment:

Dave said...

I wonder what economists will say 70 years from now about the current situation.