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The Ron Paul/Alan Greenspan
Congressional Exchanges

Transcripts of the historic hearings before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Financial Services during question & answer sessions, 1997-2005


2001

2/28/2001

Mr. PAUL. Thank you.

Welcome, Mr. Chairman. In the last few weeks, you have received a fair amount of criticism and suggestions about what to do with interest rates and the economy, and I think that is going to continue, because I suspect that we are moving into what you call-you do not call it a ''recession,'' but a ''retrenchment.'' I guess that may be a new word.

But anyway, there will be a lot of suggestions as to what you should do, and I do not want to presume to make a suggestion, what interest rates should be, but I would like to address more the system that you have been asked to manage, because in many ways I think it is an unmanageable system, and yet it is key to what is happening in our economy. We have a system that you operate where you are continuously asked to lower interest rates.

I would like to remind my colleagues and everybody else that when you are asked to lower interest rates, you are asked in reality to expand the money supply, because you have to go out and buy something. You buy debt. So every time somebody says, ''lower the interest rates,'' they say ''inflate the money supply.'' I think that is important.

You had a little conversation before about the money supply, and conceded it is important, but you admit you don't even know what a good proxy is, so it is very difficult to talk about the money supply. I am disappointed that we don't concentrate on that, talk about it more, even to the point now that we are-that you no longer make projections. I think this is admission almost of defeat.

There is no requirement for you to say, well, we are going to expand the money supply at a precise rate, so we are past that point of a tradition that has existed for a long time. But I think it is an unmanageable system and it leads to bad ideas and bad consequences, because we concentrate on prices, which is a consequence of the inflation of the money supply. Therefore, if a PPI is satisfactory, we neglect the fact that the money supply is surging, and doing a lot of mischief. Therefore we say, ''Well, maybe if we just slow up the economy. If we slow up the economy, it is going to take care of the inflation.''

I think we are really missing the point. You did mention a couple of words in your testimony today that I thought were important acknowledging that there are problems in the economy that we have to address. You talked about ''excesses'' and ''imbalances'' and the need for ''retrenchment.''

I believe what is important is that we connect the excesses and the imbalances to the policy that you operate, because I think that is key. Instead of being reassured that the PPI is OK, if we would have looked at the excesses, maybe there would have been an indication that there was a problem in the overspeculation in the stock market.

But here we have a monetary system that creates a speculation where NASDAQ goes to 5,000, and then we have a lot of analysts telling us it is a good buy, yet you now are citing the analysts as saying there is going to be a lot of growth. I am not sure which analyst you are quoting, but I am not sure that would be all that reassuring. But I think we should really talk about the money supply and what we are doing.

In 1996, you expressed a concern about ''irrational exuberance in the stock market,'' and I think that was very justified. But since that time, the money supply measured by M3 went up $2.25 trillion. The stock market, of course, has soared. I see the imbalances as a consequence of excessive credit. The system has defects in it.

You are expected to know what the proper interest rate is. I don't think you can know it, or the Federal Reserve can know. I think only the market can dictate the proper interest rate. I don't think you know what the proper money supply is. You admit you don't even have a good proxy for measuring the money supply. Yet that is your job, and yet all we ever hear is people coming and saying, ''Mr. Greenspan, if you want to avert a downturn, if you want to save us, just print more money.'' That is essentially what this system is doing.

Now, the one question I have, quickly, is your plan that you mentioned in the Senate about using other securities like State bonds and foreign bonds, and others in order for you to buy more debt to monetize. I think it is ironic with a $5.7 trillion national debt, we are running out of things to buy.

Mr. GREENSPAN. Just remember that of that $5.7 trillion, a very large part is held in trust funds of the United States Government, so that the net debt is really $3.5 trillion, of which the Federal Reserve owns more than $500 billion.

Mr. PAUL. Could it be an advantage to make some of that marketable, rather than going out and buying municipal bonds, foreign debtor-state bonds?

Mr. GREENSPAN. No, because-I don't want to get into the accounting processes here, but if you are dealing with a unified budget accounting system, all of that debt is intragovernmental transfers and essentially is a wash. You have to have external securities to affect the economy.

What we were discussing in the remarks with respect to what the Federal Reserve is looking at is what type of securities we could use for so-called ''repurchase agreements'' which are collateralized. In other words, when we engage in an open market operation through a repurchase agreement, what we have now is Federal Government securities as collateral. The question is, if we don't have them, what other kinds of collateral would we use? We are therefore talking about, for example, State and local securities.

But the crucial issue there is that to the extent that we use securities which are more risky than the Federal Government's, we basically just take more collateral to offset that. So we can maintain the same degree of risk. And what we are trying to evaluate is various different types of securities which we can employ solely for the purpose of protecting the transaction from default.

7/18/2001

Dr. PAUL. [Presiding.] You mention about the Keynesian approach to economics of a few decades ago, believing that they could eliminate the business cycle; and your conclusion is, really you can't, because you can't control human nature. And I agree that you can't control human nature and I agree that human nature and subjectivity is very important.

But I would also argue that businessmen are human beings and enjoy human nature-they are rational humans, and they react in a rational way to interest rates and the signals they get from you and the Federal Reserve. And therefore, when interest rates are artificially kept low, they will do precisely what they have done; they generate to overcapacity. And, of course, in a recession, this has to be liquidated and we are now in that stage. It doesn't surprise the hard money school that we are in this phase of liquidating this overcapacity, and it should be; but we
would also argue that the Fed may be doing exactly the wrong thing.

Everybody criticizes you. Nobody comes to you and says, ''Oh, Mr. Greenspan, you print too much money; you generate too much credit; your interest rates are too low.'' But the argument from this other school is saying that, precisely the opposite.
It says that because, in the past, you manipulated interest rates, you have caused the boom, therefore, you have made it a certainty that we would have a recession. And literally, by quickly resuming the inflation, the debasement of the currency, that sometimes works and sometimes it doesn't work and that we are now in a period where it isn't working.

It didn't work in Japan, and this is part of human nature too, or the way the businessman responds. One time he responds the way you want and the next time he does not. So, is there a possibility that you recognize that maybe interest rates were manipulated in the wrong direction, and maybe if we had to live with a fiat currency, it would have been better, since 1990, to take the average rate of the overnight rate and just make it 4.5 percent, just left it there, rather than doing this and causing all these gyrations?

I would like you to comment on this, these ideas about monetary policy, in the hopes that maybe we can avoid what we in the hard money school see as a very serious problem and one that could get a lot worse, where we do not revive our economy, just as Japan has not been able to revive theirs.

Mr. GREENSPAN. Mr. Chairman, so long as you have fiat currency, which is a statutory issue, a central bank properly functioning will endeavor to, in many cases, replicate what a gold standard would itself generate.

If you take the period in the United States where the gold standard was functioning as close as you can get to its ideal, which would be from probably 1879 probably through the turn of the century, you had a number of business cycles in that period. And in many respects, they had very much the same characteristics that
we just observed in the last couple of years: the euphoria that builds up when the outlook improves and people overextend themselves and the markets shut them down.

Well, what shut down the market was the very significant rise in real, long-term interest rates in 1999, and in that regard, that is the way a gold standard would have worked. So I would submit to you that the presumption that if you have a hard currency regime, you will somehow alter human nature any more than a fiat
currency one will, I will suggest that that does not happen.

I certainly agree with you that if we would just pump out liquidity indefinitely, the distortions that would occur in the system would be very difficult to pull back together. I submit that is not what we do, and indeed, I would argue that given the fact that we have a fiat currency and that is the law of the land, we do as good a job as one can do in the context of the issues that you raise.

(5)

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