History is only as useful as the lessons it imparts. With that in mind, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland kicked off events marking the 100-year anniversary of the Federal Reserve with a gathering of giants in the field of economic history.
Presenters at the December 13-14, 2012 conference, titled Current Policy under the Lens of Economic History: A Conference to Commemorate the Federal Reserve System’s Centennial, cast an analytical eye on the evolution of Fed policies over the past century. Conference organizers also used the occasion to celebrate the lifetime achievements of Michael Bordo of Rutgers University. Bordo, a longtime visiting scholar at the Cleveland Fed and other Reserve Banks, is one of the country’s leading economic historians. He is known both for his detailed knowledge of monetary and central-bank history as well as his ability to discern lessons from the past and relate them to current events.
This was no meeting of Fed partisans, per se, although many of the presenters hold or formerly held positions in the System. These were reflective economists who share a deep interest and sometimes concern about the abiding impact of central-bank policies. In studying the Fed’s history, it’s safe to say they hope to improve our economic future. Among them:
- Marvin Goodfriend, formerly of the Richmond Fed and now Carnegie Mellon University, has long distinguished himself as an economist who cares not only about decisions at the next Fed policy meeting, but about the long-term durability of the institution.
- Allan Meltzer, also of Carnegie Mellon, is perhaps best known for his two-volume A History of the Federal Reserve, considered the definitive word on the subject. He might also be called among the world’s first-generation of “monetarists,” a branch of economic thought popularized by Milton Friedman.
- Hugh Rockoff and Eugene White of Rutgers University, who presented “The Oeuvre of Michael D. Bordo.”
- From the Bank of Canada, Lawrence Schembri, and Carleton University’s Ehsan Choudhri, who compare the very different booms and busts in the United States and Canada.
- Barry Eichengreen, from the University of California, Berkeley, who is an economic historian. Eichengreen is one of those rare economists who is lauded for his technical work, such as the book, Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, as for his missives in the popular press.
Eichengreen summed up the spirit of the conference when he noted that history's ultimate utility may not lie just in its predictive or explanatory power, but in its capacity for giving us humility as we address current events. Watch for a full report on the conference and key takeaways in the next issue of Forefront.