This morning I had the pleasure of doing a presentation on “Milton Friedman, Market Monetarism and the Great Recession” (and a bit on internet-Austrians) for a group of clever young students at the CEPOS Akademi in Copenhagen. CEPOS Akademi is essentially the Danish Free Market think tank CEPOS’s summer university.
Obviously I had told the students that at the core of the euro crisis is monetary policy failure and that monetary policy in the euro zone remains deflationary and that the solution is quantitative easing within a rule-based framework – preferably nominal GDP targeting.
One of the students asked me a question that I have heard before: “If the solution is this simple why didn’t the ECB not do the right thing yet?”
I tried to answer the question as good as I could drawing Public Choice theory and “construction failure”, but as I was driving home in a taxi I opened a small pamphlet from the Institute of Economic Affairs that I had in my bag.
In the pamphlet Money, Inflation and the Constitutional Position of the Central Bank an article by Milton Friedman – The Counter-Revolution in Monetary Theory – has been reprinted.
On page 70 the answer to the student’s question popped up.
This is Milton Friedman – not on the euro crisis (for obviously reasons) but on the Great Depression, but the story is the same:
As it happens, this interpretation of the depression was completely wrong. It turns out, as I shall point out more fully below, that on re-examination, the depression is a tragic testament to the effectiveness of monetary policy, not a demonstration of its impotence. But what mattered for the world of ideas was not what was true but what was believed to be true. And it was believed at the time that monetary policy had been tried and had been found wanting.
In part that view reflected the natural tendency for the monetary authorities to blame other forces for the terrible economic events that were occurring. The people who run monetary policy are human beings, even as you and I, and a common human characteristic is that if anything bad happens it is somebody else’s fault. In the course of collaborating on a book on the monetary history of the United States, I had the dismal task of reading through 50 years of annual reports of the Federal Reserve Board. The only element that lightened that dreary task was the cyclical oscillation in the power attributed to monetary policy by the system. In good years the report would read ‘Thanks to the excellent monetary policy of the Federal Reserve…’ In bad years the report would read ‘Despite the excellent policy of the Federal Reserve…’, and it would go on to point out that monetary policy really was, after all, very weak and other forces so much stronger.
The monetary authorities proclaimed that they were pursuing easy money policies when in fact they were not, and their protestations were largely accepted.
This is of course the exact same discussion we are having today about the Great Recession. When in doubt – read Friedman.
PS Friedman tells the same story in this Youtube video.