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History Is Clear

November 13, 2008

Tags The FedInterventionismOther Schools of Thought

[This article originally appeared on LewRockwell.com.]


It is often said "there are no atheists in a foxhole." The other week, as world financial markets melted down, CNBC go-to wise man Art Cashen put a market spin on that familiar line drolly saying, "there are no libertarians in a market crash."

The crusty Cashen is certainly right for the most part. Plenty of financial talking heads who argue for free markets and smaller government on a daily basis suddenly screamed that government must intervene to "save capitalism." Of course, the idea that government must print multiple blizzards worth of money to save a system where individuals and businesses trade with each other unfettered makes as much sense as presidents who claim that war must be waged to "protect the peace."

The fact is that what we've been enjoying since the Federal Reserve was created is anything but free-market capitalism. The value of the dollar has been pushed down 99 percent and the economy has been a series of booms, followed by busts, ad nauseam since J.P. Morgan partner Harry Davidson and other big bank chieftains secretly took a train to go duck hunting on Jekyll Island in 1910. Of course, the ducks were safe, but Americans since have paid the price for the Federal Reserve–system idea that was hatched that weekend. As historian Gabriel Kolko wrote,

The entire banking reform movement, at all crucial stages, was centralized in the hands of a few men who for years were linked, ideologically and personally, with one another … the major function, inspiration and direction of the measure [the Federal Reserve Act] was to serve the banking community in general, and large bankers specifically.

The TV pragmatists probably forget that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto that creating "a centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly" should be near the top of any communist's agenda.

Is it any wonder that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan has morphed into the federal government taking equity stakes in banks, mortgage companies, and at least one insurance company? As Oscar B. Johannsen wrote, "A socialized banking system is the precursor of socialism in all business." (By the time you read this, airlines and car manufacturers may be partially owned by the government.)

But the level of economic knowledge displayed in main-street print or on TV has dropped lower than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Economist and historian Tom DiLorenzo got an earful on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program recently from former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, who admonished DiLorenzo: "How could you criticize Hamilton? He's the architect of the American economy!" DiLorenzo's new book Hamilton's Curse shows us that Buchanan and other Alexander Hamilton apologists have it all wrong. "Hamilton was an enemy of free-market capitalism and early America's foremost proponent of mercantilism, the system of government-granted monopolies, corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs and other policies that generally benefited politically connected businesses at the expense of the rest of society," DiLorenzo explains.

As Lew Rockwell points out, the real cause of the current financial crisis can be summed up with two words: fiat money. The word fiat means, "out of nothing." And since 1971, when Nixon proclaimed, "We are all Keynesians now," and severed the last link that tied the dollar to gold, the amount of dollars created by the Fed out of nothing has grown over 10 times, as measured by M-2 (from $685 billion in August 1971 to $7.7 trillion in August 2008).

As if all this past monetary expansion weren't enough, the Fed is now working overtime, in concert with the world's other central banks, to create what investor Jim Rogers told a foreign CNBC audience will be "a monetary holocaust."

Rogers didn't make any friends with others on Wall Street with those comments. As Rockwell points out, "The best way to fall out of favor with the regime — or its pseudolibertarian and neocon supporters — is to question its central bankers."

But history is clear: more fiat money won't solve this crisis; a return to sounder money will.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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