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Pre-Fed Panics: Their Causes, Cont’d

Posted by Gonzalo Schwarz
May 31, 2012
Earlier we posted a reply, by Dr. Bob Murphy, to an NYT blog post by Dr. Paul Krugman, wherein Murphy criticized Krugman’s interpretation of certain statistics and used work by Dr. Steven Horwitz to buttress his argument. Here Dr. Joseph Salerno takes issue with Dr. Horwitz’ conclusions, and adds his thoughts to the matter.

Kudos to Bob Murphy for his incisive exposé and demolition of Krugman’s statistical legerdemain in today’s Mises Daily.  It is not only an enlightening piece but also a delightful read.

I have one small but obtrusive nit to pick with Bob, however.  Bob links to a blog post by Steve Horwitz, which he praises as “a good job explaining why Krugman’s understanding of US banking history is flawed, because we didn’t have laissez-faire banking in the late 1800s.”  Clicking on the link I found that Horwitz started out promisingly enough, arguing, contra Krugman, that late 19th-century America “was emphatically not a land of minimal government in banking” and that “the federal and state governments played a huge role in the banking industry and it was those regulations that  were responsible for the pre-Fed panics.”  I was excited to read more, but then my heart sank when Horwitz listed the two “most relevant regulations” in generating these panics as:

 1) the prohibition on interstate banking, which created overly small and undiversified banks that were highly prone to failure; and 2) the requirement that federally chartered banks back their currency with purchases of US government bonds, which made it prohibitively expensive to issue more currency when the demand rose, leading to the currency shortages and resulting panics that culminated in the Panic of 1907.

Huh?  These regulations were of almost no significance in causing the cyclical booms that culminated in the Panics of 1873, 1884 1893, and 1907.  Horwitz never mentions the underlying cause of these cyclical fluctuations: the establishment of a quasi-central banking cartel among seven privileged New York banks resulting in the almost complete centralization of U.S. gold reserves in their vaults by the National Bank acts of 1863-1864.  This New York City banking cartel was able to expand willy nilly the monetary base and the overall money supply by expanding their own  notes and deposits on top of gold reserves.   Their notes and deposits were then used as reserves by lower tier banks (Reserve City Banks and Country Banks) on which  to  pyramid their own notes and deposits. This is well understood even by mainstream monetary historians.  For example,  John J. Klein (Money and the Economy, 2nd ed., 1970, pp. 145-46) pointed out: …

Continue reading at mises.org…

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