Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The wisdom of Merton Miller

Here he is on the Great Depression:
Responsibility for turning an ordinary downturn into a depression of unprecedented
severity lies primarily with the managers of the Federal Reserve System.
They failed to carry out their duties as the residual supplier of liquidity to
the public and to the banking system. The U.S. money supply imploded by
30 percent between 1930 and 1932, dragging the economy and the price level down with it. When that happens even AAA credits get to look like
junk bonds.
That is from his Nobel Lecture in 1990. Yes, that is indeed the Nobel-winning Miller of Modigliani-Miller fame who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago calling for intervention by the Federal Reserve. Because he gets it: There is no 'non-intervention' by the Fed - monetary policy always is 'something and the market is freest and most efficient when it is predictable with regard to stabilizing the macroeconomic variables of interest.

Ironically, he did not think that Federal Reserve could fail again in similar fashion as it did during the Great Depression:
That such a nightmare scenario might be repeated under present day
conditions is always possible, of course, but, until recently at least, most
economists would have dismissed it as extremely unlikely.
Even Nobel-Prize winners can be wrong, I guess.

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