Nov 4, 2007

Milton Friedman on Greenspan's legacy

Over the course of a long friendship, Alan Greenspan and I have generally found ourselves in accord on monetary theory and policy, with one major exception. I have long favored the use of strict rules to control the amount of money created. Alan says I am wrong and that discretion is preferable, indeed essential. Now that his 18-year stint as chairman of the Fed is finished, I must confess that his performance has persuaded me that he is right -- in his own case.

His performance has indeed been remarkable. There is no other period of comparable length in which the Federal Reserve System has performed so well. It is more than a difference of degree; it approaches a difference of kind. For the first 70 years after it opened in 1914, the Fed did far more harm than good, presiding over inflation in two World Wars, converting a moderate recession into the great depression, and then, in the 1970s, producing the most serious peacetime inflation in our nation's history. We would clearly have been better off for those 70 years if the Federal Reserve System had never been established.

Inflation averaged 3.7% per year from the end of World War II to the Volker era, but only 2.4% per year during the Greenspan era... Price stability fostered innovation and supported a high level of productivity...

It has long been an open question whether central banks have the technical ability to maintain stable prices. Their repeated failures to do so suggested that they did not -- whence, in part, my preference for rigid rules. Alan Greenspan's great achievement is to have demonstrated that it is possible to maintain stable prices. He has set a standard.

~ Milton Friedman, "Alan Greenspan's Legacy," The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2006

No comments: