September 19, 2007
Alan Greenspan and Jon Stewart on free markets versus central banking

From tonight’s Daily Show (my transcription from the Tivo’d interview):

Jon Stewart: Many people are free-market capitalists, and they always talk about free-market capitalism, and that is our economic theory. So why do we have a Fed? Is the free market – wouldn’t the market take care of interest rates and all that? Why do we have someone adjusting the rates if we are a free-market society?

Alan Greenspan: You’re raising a very fundamental question. … You didn’t need central bank when we were on the gold standard, which was back in the nineteenth century. And all of the automatic things occurred because people would buy and sell gold, and the market would do what the Fed does now. But: most everybody in the world by the 1930s decided that the gold standard was strangling the economy. And universally this gold standard was abandoned. But: you need somebody to determine –or some mechanism – how much money is out there, because remember, the amount of money relates to the amount of inflation in the economy. … In any event the more money you have, relative to the amount of goods, the more inflation you have, and that’s not good. So:

Stewart: So we’re not a free market then.

Greenspan: No. No.

Stewart: There’s a visible – there’s a benevolent hand that touches us.

Greenspan: Absolutely. You’re quite correct. To the extent that there is a central bank governing the amount of money in the system, that is not a free market. Most people call it regulation.

Stewart did indeed raise a very fundamental question. Greenspan’s answers were quite accurate as far as they went, but they left out a few details.

(1) The monetary system on the gold standard used mostly bank-issued money, and (to the extent that banks were unregulated) the volume of bank-issued money was market-regulated.

(2) We were on the gold standard at the time the Fed was established, so it follows (from Greenspan’s second sentence) that the Fed was not needed when it was established.

(3) Those who decided that the gold standard should be abandoned were mistaken. Greenspan does believe this, or at least he used to.

(4) A gold-backed system in which the amount of money is governed by free markets, and not by a central bank, is called free banking.

Addendum: Back in January 2006, as Greenspan was leaving office, I commented that "It will be interesting to see whether Greenspan, the erstwhile gold standard advocate, becomes more openly skeptical of central banking once no longer at the helm." He hinted at, but missed the chance to clearly convey, that message tonight.

Addendum2: A clip of the interview is available at the Daily Show website under "most recent videos".

Comments are open.

Posted by Lawrence H. White at 12:40 AM in Economics

Comments

thats some very f-in important things he left out then, no?
if thats not even called a free-market, but free-banking

Posted by: danja at September 19, 2007 10:50 AM

why he does not come right out and say what's true....

hint: don't bite the hand that made you filthy rich.

Posted by: blah at September 19, 2007 11:45 AM

Completely free markets are not all that people think they are cracked up to be. To many people with nongeniune intents can manipulate an unregulated market that could lead to lots of serious problems. I think America has had spurts of unregulated sections of our economy and time and again our capitalist have shown reasons for some regulation... the real problem is the difference between some and a lot.

Posted by: bobniborg at September 19, 2007 12:02 PM

"One if by Land and the Lantern is Lit..."

Our Constitutional Republic has been destroyed. The foundation of American Liberty has been either distorted, erased or forgotten. Our entire planet is ruled by an oligarchy of established bankers, oilmen and global corporations. We the People find ourselves enslaved and intoxicated by an economic system that by design, destroys the prosperity, development and education of the Worlds Citizenry.

The Federal Reserve and its fiat monetary policy need to be abolished. The unconstitutional (and enslaving) 16th Amendment needs to be repealed. Congress needs to listen to the people and convene an Article V Convention so we may work towards restoring the Constitutional Republic that our "elected" officials have stolen from us and sold to the highest bidder within the corporatocracy.

Our government is allowing the corporate elite to successfully merge Canada, Mexico and the United States into a single supra-national entity, the North American Union - complete with its new currency the "Amero", which will be ushered in just after the fabricated collapse of our economy. The fascist Tories within our government are working towards another false-flag attack similar to 9/11 to "justify" an attack on Iran and the further erosion of our civil liberties in America.

A Halliburton subsidiary, KBR has already been awarded a $385 million contract to construct "detention centers" in the United States. Any puppet President of the United States now has the power to enact martial law and fully transform America into a police state. The conditioned-complacent public in this country and all the Worlds Citizenry need to act now to save what few liberties we have left. Rediscover Patriotism. Resurrect Dissent. The time has come to ascend upon Washington and RESTORE THE REPUBLIC!

Posted by: JL Wallace at September 19, 2007 12:32 PM

in respone to 'JL WALLACE'...
"they", know that will not happen. For the 3 or 4 different reasons why people will not revolt
(#1 reason is the fear of death). Most of the world and especially the U.S. population is brain dead. The only question is, when the shit does go down, what are YOU gonna do?

Posted by: jojo at September 19, 2007 01:17 PM

The fundamental questions I have are why do we work? What is prosperity? If I work 60 hours a week and the oligarchs get rich, isn't that OK since I have indoor plumbing, air conditioning and food whenever I want? No yachts nor filet mignons but I don't miss what I never had.

A third of my money goes to taxes so I guess I'm paying the oligarchs to be rich.

Posted by: Michael at September 19, 2007 01:19 PM

Hi,
Very good observation. I am working on the issue of inflation, wealth and real liquidity crisis on a fiat system. Please check my article on the subject at http://services.thebankruptcynews.com/blog/?p=47. I think we are about to start the exponential inflationary curve.
Thanks for your valuable information
Jerry

Posted by: Jerry at September 19, 2007 01:47 PM

The problem is that corporations have turned us into a "throw away society". If something breaks, corporations make more money if you go back to them to replace it rather than you going to a shop to have it repaired.

The end result is that we are now buying more of the same products and the products we buy are getting crappier in terms of materials and craftsmanship and this trend seems to just be getting worse.

It might be difficult to see because many of us have grown accustomed to this kind of environment, but just think of people in other countries who are accustomed to butchering and processing their own local foods and think of trying to convince them that a McDonald's would be better. I would agree that some regulations and standards are needed for a good food industry, but I think that our system has some very dangerous side effects. The main one I can think of being that more money is flowing out of these communities than is staying in with these kinds of businesses than if you were to buy your food from a local farmer's market.

How were we tricked into not improving on the farmer's market scheme we had going? Because corporations became masters of the art of advertising and public relations which basically brainwashed many Americans into accepting the new trend and actually got them to believe that it was in their best interests!!

Posted by: Moses Cahyn at September 19, 2007 02:13 PM

Thanks for linking to the video-- the whole conversation is fascinating. I have to say, Jon Stewart could have easily taken the low road in this interview, but he asked about something all us plebians might have wondered about the Fed, and I think it was far more edifying than merely quizzing Greenspan about Bush. I hope he will take a similar tack when he interviews Wes Clarke tonight.

Posted by: Shii at September 19, 2007 02:14 PM

Shii...you an idiot.

Stewart is just like the fox news dicks..and all other 'news'..propaganda to keep people ignorant and docile...

Posted by: BEN at September 19, 2007 03:34 PM

These are important, but the Fed is also a check on the Treasury. Free-banking functions on banks printing their own currency, but if the government wants to print a national currency, they obviously need to know how much to print, and to keep that amount from being subjected to politicking, we have the Fed. If we had free-banking, there would be markets for currency from different banks, and all of the accompanying, constantly changing exchange rates to keep track of. And the Fed is getting much better at it's job, too. Over the last century they have drastically improved their performance in helping the economy, and I think they'll keep getting better at it, not worse.

Posted by: garcia at September 19, 2007 04:17 PM

@ Ben

Jon Stewart's show is admittedly FAKE news, not purportedly true news, as is Fox. Stewart is a comedian, not an anchorperson.

Posted by: garcia at September 19, 2007 04:19 PM

Garcia,
The Fed has only been around for a century and look at all the disasters and near disasters we have had under their hyper-inflationary and super speculative tactics...The Fed was never supposed to be. Most of the constitution convention debaters did not want a central bank, in fact the matter almost kept from the constitution from being written. The writer's knew what would happen if a central bank existed...the bankers would own everything. THIS IS WHY THEY GAVE THE POWER TO PRINT MONEY ONLY TO CONGRESS...WHO WOULD NOT(supposedly) MILK THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FOR ALL MONEY THEY GOT.

Posted by: BEN at September 19, 2007 06:29 PM

Welcome to the Mafia State called USA.

9/11 was perpetrated by Bush, Cheney, & the US military

http://home.comcast.net/~plutarch/911.html

Posted by: Joel at September 19, 2007 08:23 PM

The news this morning seemed to make a big deal out of the interest cut. It doesn’t solve the true problems we have. One is that we have run up the price of homes the same way we ran up the price of stock in the thirties. Another is the runaway cost of all of the wars we are in.

The interest rate cut is like throwing a drowning economy a marshmallow for a life preserver. It’s still going to drown. Just not as fast.

Here is some information on a little history of the Federal Reserve.

A group of bankers and businessmen had been trying to monopolize the banking industry. In 1912 Woodrow Wilson was elected President with the aid of a bribe from them.

They formed the Federal Reserve and are like our personal credit cards are for us except they are the credit card for the government. Well that and they pay no taxes that I know of. Anyway they’re at about at their 100-year anniversary.

They have grown to proportions that I believe they now control many of the politicians of the world. Not only can they buy politicians of both parties here, and control our borders, they can also control much of our spending.

Have you ever wondered why our once great nation has been spending money the way it does. It is sort of like how it would be to have a hundred wives on your credit cards and all of them dating those that own the credit card companies.

They make money when they lend money.

Here is a link about the Federal Reserve that seems pretty good to me.

http://www.apfn.org/apfn/reserve.htm

The video, “G. Edward Griffin on the Federal Reserve System” is pretty sort and easy to get through.


"I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country.
A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit.
Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation,
therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men.
We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely
controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world.
No longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by
conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by
the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men."

-Woodrow Wilson

Posted by: Carson at September 19, 2007 10:20 PM

Garcia, your ignorance is showing. The FED is getting better at destroying wealth, not improving the economy. From 1805 to the establishment of the FED in 1913, the US dollar increased in value 5%. Since the establishment of the FED, the dollar has LOST over 95% of its value. And you think the FED is a good thing? What, are you nuts?

Posted by: Henry at September 20, 2007 12:46 PM

bobniborg claims that "Completely free markets are not all that people think they are cracked up to be. " because "many people... can manipulate an unregulated market". However regulated markets are far easier to manipulate to the cost of the general public. Time and time again regulation has been introduced to cope with imaginary or trivial problems and created far worse problems in their stead. The idea that the free market is a disaster is contradicted by all economic history.

Posted by: Michael Price at September 20, 2007 08:25 PM

Its a double edged sword... think about how inefficient the economy would be if every bank printed its own currency.

Also, a cheaper currency isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Cheaper US dollar means more EXPORTS. More EXPORTS means more DOMESTIC JOBS as well as TOURISM. This isn't all the Fed's fault. The dollar has weakened because the world is moving their capital into emerging economies such as India, China, and South America.

Inflation has been around even during the gold standard. It goes hand in hand with currency.

As for the Woodrow Wilson quote... do you think the original founding fathers were a bunch of self righteous middle class men? They were wealthy upper class.

Posted by: Economist at September 22, 2007 06:00 AM

Its a double edged sword... think about how inefficient the economy would be if every bank printed its own currency.

Also, a cheaper currency isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Cheaper US dollar means more EXPORTS. More EXPORTS means more DOMESTIC JOBS as well as TOURISM. This isn't all the Fed's fault. The dollar has weakened because the world is moving their capital into emerging economies such as India, China, and South America.

Inflation has been around even during the gold standard. It goes hand in hand with currency.

As for the Woodrow Wilson quote... do you think the original founding fathers were a bunch of self righteous middle class men? They were wealthy upper class.

Posted by: Economist at September 22, 2007 02:53 PM

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it. -Adam Smith

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