Blog/America's Economic History
Posted Apr 16, 2015 by Martin Armstrong
QUESTION: Hello Martin-
Great work and I wish you the best.
One question regarding your recent email alerts from your blog in regards to the “money out of thin air” discussion that was/is going on.
What is your opinion on how G. Edward Griffen’s book, “The Creature From Jekyll Island”, relates to the discussion on the above topic. Do you think he is wrong on his analysis of the Federal Reserve?
Thank you for your time, sir and I look forward to your answer and opinion because it seems that you and him have conflicting opinions.
ANSWER: This is like asking to criticize the Bible since so many people believe every word written in this book. Well here it goes. Thousands of hate e-mails will flood in, but conspiracy myths be damned, they are a cover-up for the real culprit – Congress. Some people hate central banks because of this book, they believe Andrew Jackson was a hero and are oblivious to the fact that he set off a round of wildcat banking that ended in yet another sovereign debt default among the states who then tried to bailout their own banks.
Well, fiction be damned. “The Creature From Jekyll Island” is amateurish at best and another total misrepresentation of the facts and events. It is very one-sided and ignores the real political manipulation of the Fed by the government for their own self-interest. It promotes the very same Marxist/socialistic beliefs from the Progressive Era that gave us the New Deal and robbed every one of their future: altering the family structure in the West forever.
The original design of the Fed was to be private, for banks were to contribute to fund their own bailouts, as JP Morgan had done taking the lead during the Panic of 1907. It was not to be a government bailout operation. The United States had no central bank at that time. There was never any intent to create the institution as it exists today: the original design was altered dramatically by lawyers who never understood the madness of their own minds in their pursuit of power as politicians.
We must also look at the context of the era from which Griffin draws his ideas. We must be EXTREMELY careful with much of what he said is sheer propaganda, directed at the bankers to support the rise of Marxism – the new Progressive Movement. This movement finally succeeded with the New Deal and the Great Depression focusing blame at bankers, when in fact Europe collapsed into a Sovereign Debt Crisis in 1931, which sent the dollar soaring and a capital concentration from around the world made the 1929 high just as the Nikkei peaked in Japan during 1989. To look at this era we absolutely MUST step back and look at the whole situation dispassionately. If we do not put this conspiracy aside, we will never understand what really needs to be reformed.
Before Woodrow Wilson became president, he was the head of Princeton University, and uttered praise for Morgan and his effort to save the banking system during the Panic of 1907. The Marxists were responsible were turning the bankers to evil in an attempt to eliminate freedom. After all, this was the rising sentiment cheering Marxism and demonizing capital focus on the bankers. This was their agenda that we are still plagued by to this day. This book championed the entire Marxist argument without realizing whose side he took.
We must be EXTREMELY careful here for to advocate the end of central banking is to advocate communism. Do not forget that 1917 saw the Russian Revolution and in 1918 the Communist Revolution in Germany that produced their famous hyperinflation. Be careful what you wish for, if it became true you would hand more power to the government, and they would love that to happen. There goes all your freedom and with electronic money, you will be converted to economic slaves for the state, not so different from just living the dream in the Matrix. Ask yourself, do you want the truth or do you prefer to live the dream? Their dream by the way, not yours.
The difference between the bankers of Morgan’s day and today is very different. The crisis unfolded because of the classic mismatch between deposits, which are on a demand basis, and loans, which are long-term like mortgages. When the demands to withdraw exceed available cash (fractional banking), the bank fails. Today, the bankers are traders and have moved to transnational banking to stay liquid abandoning the old days of Morgan when banks were relationship oriented and did not resell the loans they made acting more like brokers.
JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, told Congress that the bank’s massive loss can be blamed on insufficient risk controls and a failure by traders to understand the bets they were placing. He actually stated that he failed in his management yet retained the job for he was really fully on-board. This is not relationship banking and it is entirely different from the days of J.P. Morgan view of banking. Dimon lobbied Congress to rollback Dodd-Frank so they could continue to trade maintaining their transaction banking model they used to get Congress to repeal Glass-Steagall by the Clinton Administration and now Hillary begs for money from the same people and wants to run the nation as SHE DID before (like Cheney). Thanks to the Clintons, who are always available to the highest bidder, when the banks blow up on trading again, this will bite Congress in the ass for the 2016 elections. I hope that if we understand the problem, we will make the right solution this time if we examine the truth.
Yes, the Fed began effectively as private consortium of banks to accomplish what J.P. Morgan did to rescue the banking system during the Panic of 1907 that saved the day. The banking crisis of that era was not due to people blowing up with their trading as in Transactional Banking today. The Panic of 1907 was the classic mismatch between demand and loans – the fractional banking element.
Morgan knew that this collapse in CONFIDENCE would not end by just saving the Trust Company of America. Morgan now summoned the heads of various banks in New York and kept them until they agreed to provide loans of $8.25 million. Morgan convinced the Treasury to deposit $25 million in NY banks. John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in America, deposited $10 million with City and called the Associated Press to announce his pledge to help the NY banks. Nonetheless, the New York banks then, as now, proved to be their worst enemy. Despite the efforts of Morgan to create this infusion, they were reluctant to lend any money for short-term stock trading. The stock market crashed as a result. By 1:30 pm on October 24th, the president of the NYSE went to tell Morgan the exchange would close early. Morgan was livid. He understood that this would reinforce the Panic and he drew the line and would not allow it. Morgan warned that if the NYSE closed early, it would be catastrophic, to say the least. Once again, he summoned the bankers who arrived by about 2:00 pm and Morgan pretty much yelled at them, warning that as many as 50 stock brokerage firms would fail unless they could raise $25 million within the next 10 minutes! By 2:16 pm, 14 banks pledged $23.6 million to keep the stock exchange alive. The money reached the exchange by 2:30 pm, to finish trading at 3:00 pm. In reality, they only needed to reach $19 million. Despite his hatred for the press who seldom treated him fairly, Morgan gave a rare comment to the press, discussing the matter at hand.
The next day, the NYSE needed more money, but this time Morgan could only raise $9.7 million. Morgan directed the NYSE not to use the money for margin sales or short selling. The exchange made it to the close. Morgan knew he had to turn the minds of the people and to restore their critical CONFIDENCE to stop the Panic. Morgan than formed two committees: one for persuading the clergy to preach calm to their congregations on Sunday, and the other to sell the idea of the claim to the press. Morgan was desperately trying to hold the nation together. Unknown even to his associates, the City of New York could not raise enough money through its bond issue and it informed Morgan that it needed $20 million by November 1st, 1907, or the city would go into bankruptcy. Morgan himself contracted to purchase $30 million in New York City bonds.
On November 2nd, 1907, one of the largest stock exchange brokers, Moore & Schley, was heavily in debt using the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. stock as collateral. The thinly traded stock was under pressure. Their creditors would now surely call their loans. Morgan called another emergency meeting for a proposal put forth that US Steel Corp, would acquire the stock in bulk. Yet another crisis was looming. Runs were now likely to hit two banks on Monday. Morgan summoned 120 banks and told them he would not proceed with the US Steel deal unless they supported the banks.
Morgan proceeded to lock them in his library and told them they have to come up with $25 million to save the banks. It took almost 2 hours. Morgan finally convinced them that they had to bailout the banks to save their own skins. They signed the agreement, and he unlocked the doors and let them leave.
Morgan was saving the nation again, single-handedly. He then turned back to save the NYSE. He knew the problem would be the Marxist inspired Antitrust Laws (Sherman Antitrust Act), and the crusading Marxist/Progressive President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919). Breaking up companies that he believed were monopolies became the primary focus of Roosevelt’s administration. To save the day, he would have to see that the Antitrust Laws must yield.
Two men thus traveled to the White House to implore Roosevelt to set aside his Antitrust Laws to save the nation. As typical, Roosevelt’s secretary refused to let them in to discuss the problem. The two men, Frick and Gary of US Steel turned to James Garfield who was Secretary of the Interior at that time and son former President Garfield. They pleaded with him to go to the president directly. Garfield had convinced Roosevelt to review the proposal and Roosevelt were for the first time forced into a corner. He had to realize a collapse of the NYSE would take place if he did not yield to his anti-corporate beliefs. Roosevelt later lamented:
“It was necessary for us to decide on the instant before the Stock Exchange opened, for the situation in New York was such that any hour might be vital. I do not believe that anyone could justly criticize me for saying that I would not feel like objecting to the purchase under those circumstances.”
Following the near catastrophic financial disaster is known as the Panic of 1907, the movement for banking reform picked up steam among Wall Street bankers, Republicans, and a few eastern Democrats. However, much of the country was still distrustful of bankers and of banking in general, especially after Panic of 1907. After two decades of minority status, Democrats regained control of Congress in 1910 and were able to block several Republican attempts at reform, even though they recognized the need for some kind of currency and banking changes. As always, it was more important to further political party power than actually do the right thing for the nation.
In 1912, President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, and in his populist-friendly acceptance speech, he warned against the “money trusts,” and advised that a concentration of the control of credit may at any time become infinitely dangerous to free enterprise. It was the anti-Wall Street agenda.
Behind the scenes, the Panic of 1907 revealed the weak underbelly to the American financial system. After the scare that the Panic of 1907 created among the bankers, they demanded reform. The following year, Congress enacted the Aldrich-Vreeland Act of 1908 establishing the National Monetary Commission forming a study group of experts to come up with a nonpartisan solution. They viewed the lack of a central bank in America, in contrast to Europe, as the threat to economic stability among the bankers as filled by J.P. Morgan during that crisis.
A National Monetary Commission formed and the Republican leader in the Senate, Senator Nelson Aldrich (1841-1915) took charge. Aldrich was a brilliant man who was passionate about revising the American financial system. The Commission went to Europe and was duly impressed at how well they believed the central banks in Britain and Germany handled the stabilization of the overall economy and the promotion of international trade. The Commission issued some 30 reports between 1909 and 1912, which preserved a wonderfully detailed resource surveying of banking systems of the late 19th and early 20th centuries at that time. These reports examined also the Canadian banking history in addition to the banking and currency systems of Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, and other nations. They also provided an excellent review of domestic U.S. financial laws federally as well as state banking statutes. These reports contain essays of contemporary specialists as well as a host of data in tables, charts, graphs, and facsimiles of banking forms and documents. There are also transcripts of relevant political speeches, interviews, and various hearings.
In 1910, Aldrich met with Frank Vanderlip of National City Bank (Citibank), Henry Davison of Morgan Bank, and Paul Warburg of the Kuhn, Loeb Investment House secretly. They met at Jekyll Island, a resort island off the coast of Georgia, to discuss and formulate banking reform, including plans for a form of central banking that would accomplish the role of J.P. Morgan played during the Panic of 1907. They held the meeting in secret because the participants knew that the House of Representatives would reject any plan they generated given the intense hatred of the bankers and Wall Street in the festering Marxist/Progressive atmosphere.
Unfortunately, because this meeting was in secret involving Wall Street, the whole Jekyll Island affair remains cloaked in conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, this intense bias and conspiracy theory has always overestimated both the purpose and significance of the meeting in light of the extensive work of the National Monetary Commission. Reform was essential. However, those two words – political economy – could not be divorced.
Upon his return, Aldrich’s investigation led to his plan in 1912 to bring central banking to the United States with all its promises of financial stability and expanded international roles in trade and money flow. Aldrich knew the dangers of American politics and insisted that control by impartial experts was essential. Placing bankers at the helm rather than politicians was really the only way to proceed. The two words, political economy, had to be divorced in his mind. There was to be absolutely NO political meddling in finance as had been the case under Andrew Jackson (1757-1845). Aldrich asserted that a central bank was essential yet the diversity and size of the United States presented a distinctly different twist to the European situation.
Aldrich concluded that Europe had many countries with diverse economic models. He realized that while the United States needed a central bank, paradoxically it also required simultaneous decentralization to cope with both the economy and the self-defeating American political system. Aldrich appreciated the fact that local politicians and bankers would attack the central banks, as they had the First and Second Bank of the United States. Aldrich introduced his brilliant plan in 62nd and 63rd Congresses (1912 and 1913). As always, the political winds changed and the Democrats in 1912 won control of both of the House and the Senate as well as the White House.
The Aldrich Plan proposed a system of fifteen regional central banks, called National Reserve Associations, whose actions were to be coordinated by a national board of commercial bankers to do NO more than be a lender of last resort as J.P. Morgan had acted during the Panic of 1907. The National Reserve Association would make emergency loans to member banks, they would create money to provide an elastic currency that enabled equal exchanges for demand deposits, and would act as a fiscal agent for the federal government. Congress ended up rejecting Aldrich’s idea, which was defeated in the House as politics superseded the national good. However, his outline did become a model for a future implemented bill. The problem with the Aldrich Plan was that it gave bankers control over the regional banks, a prospect that did not sit well with the populist Democratic Party or with President Wilson. The Democrats and Wilson were fearful that the reforms would grant more control of the financial system to bankers and the politicians could not meddle as they saw fit. The history of the First and Second Bank of the United States was repeating. The political economy cannot be divorced.
The need for a central bank was really far too great and even the Democrats recognized it behind closed doors. Eventually, the Federal Reserve Act passed 43-25 and this altered the actual role of currency. MONEY was now becoming “elastic” for the Federal Reserve would issue currency notes thereby creating a money supply that increases and decreases as the economy expands and shrinks. This new “Elastic Money” would become an essential function of the Federal Reserve System in its early days, where it would regulate the amount of money supply permitted to be in circulation. This was essential due to the wild swings during the 19th century in the economy caused by the chance discoveries of gold in California, Alaska, and silver that disrupted the economy and arbitrarily increased the money supply with nobody in charge.
Effectively, the 20th century saw unrestrained printing of paper dollars caused by political fiscal mismanagement whereas the 19th century was plagued by chance discoveries of precious metals that had the same effects. The California Gold Rush injected a huge wave of inflation because the sheer supply of money increased sharply. The same argument that paper money has caused inflation during the 20th century applied to gold during the 19th century.
Essentially, this new ability to have an Elastic Money Supply became a perceived necessity to ensure that the reserves held in trust by the government were adequate to back the amount of coins and currency permitted to circulate. It was a nonpartisan decision to deal with shifts in the economy whereas politicians could not be responsible no matter what. The Federal Reserve would now prevent excessive conditions that would lead the country into financial chaos and ultimate ruin as nearly took place during the Panic of 1907. The Fed would expand the money supply during periods of economic decline and contract the money supply during economic booms. Of course, the politicians would later seize control of the Fed and ensure it would be party time all the time.
Optimal monetary policy is supposed to facilitate exchange within the economy to avoid aggregate shocks that affect individuals and economic sectors (industries) unequally. Exchange may be conducted using either bank deposits that some see as “inside money” or “fiat” currency, which some refer to as “outside money” that is created by leverage or fractional banking. A central monetary authority both controls the stock of “outside money” and pursues an interest rate policy that is intended to affect the rate at which private banks create “inside money”. The modern context views it as the optimal monetary policy, requiring management of both interest rates and the quantity of outside money. By controlling interest rates the monetary authority can affect the price level in the short-run and adjust households’ consumption, so they believe, and therefore this provides insurance against unfavorable aggregate shocks to the money supply tempering the boom-bust cycle.
However, the feasibility of manipulating the interest rate policy and the quantity of money, as we will see, is purely a fantasy in the new modern global economy. These concepts quickly proved to be far too parochial. The global economy was about to receive a major shock that would turn it on its head – World War I which began July 28th, 1914 and lasted until November 11th, 1918. The war involved more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, and a loss of more than 9 million soldiers killed in combat. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28th, 1914 was the excuse for the war, but in reality, it was the culmination of centuries of contests for imperialistic power in Europe. Ferdinand was the heir to the Austria- Hungarian Empire throne, which was the remnant of the Holy Roman Empire. This allowed the hatred between many rivals bringing into the conflict the German Empire, Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, British Empire, French Empire, and Italy. In the end, the Financial Capital of Europe, which migrated from Babylon to Athens, then Rome, Byzantine, Northern Italy centered in Florence/Genoa/Venice, to Amsterdam, and then to London in 1689, now migrated to the United States beginning in 1914.
With World War I, the American politicians began to alter the Fed. Its original design was brilliant. To stimulate the economy and suppress unemployment, they would buy corporate paper. With World War I, Congress ordered the Fed to support the US debt. They would not return to the original design of the Fed set out in 1913.
With the Great Depression, the major banking collapse took place largely due to the Sovereign Debt Default of 1931. Banks failed as money vanished from circulation collapsing the velocity. Asset values collapsed and land, which had sold for $2.50 an acre during the mid-1800s, fell to 10 cents. No degree of limiting fractional banking would save the day when the bond market collapses. We see the huge spike in foreign bonds listed in 1928 on the NYSE, and the collapse as defaults began to rage from 1931 onward.
Franklin Roosevelt, every much a socialist as Teddy even though a Democrat, altered the Fed usurping all power to Washington. The branches remained, but they no longer served the purpose of managing the local economy. It was now one-size-fits-all. It would be Congress who appoints the directors and Fed Chairman, while the technical ownership of a rescue fund for bankers is only there in name, not reality. Goldman Sachs switched tactics and installed its people in the Treasury not for banking, but for trading. They were Obama’s biggest contributors, but make no mistake: Goldman Sachs is a trader, not a bank with branches taking deposits from little old ladies.
Today, the Fed is nothing like its original intended design. This alter was not caused by bankers, but by politicians. Now, it has the authority to take over anything it thinks is too big to fail, which is not limited to banks. It could take over Google, McDonalds, or anything as long as it states it would harm the economy.
We need a central bank, but not one manipulated by government. There should be a simple insurance fund for banks as originally intended without using taxpayers’ money. It should not be restricted to buying government debt. Instead, it should protect jobs by its original focus to buy corporate paper in times of stress. We must look closely at the Fed to see that its manipulation by Congress for political reasons. It was supposed to support government bonds during World War II, but it took until 1951 to rescind.
The Fed is not evil, but rather it is the manipulation of the Fed by politicians. It is use to blame for economy booms and busts while Congress avoids all responsibility. Now, the Fed is stuck in a very difficult situation. It is charges with Keyensian/Marxist ideas of manipulating the economy when its original design was only to deal with a banking crisis.
Tomorrow we will look at the risks we now face from the REALITY of political manipulation of the Fed.