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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



Mr. PAUL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome, Chairman Greenspan. I wanted to start by referring to a speech you gave in January at the American Numismatic Society where you spoke profoundly about monetary policy and said that central bankers have had relative success over the past decades, and it raises hopes that the fiat monetary system can be managed in a responsible way. So I think you're still at the point of hoping that this system will work. I maintain that the jury is still out on whether or not fiat money will work over the long-term.

And then you followed it up by saying, in case it didn't work, and I don't know whether you had tongue-in-cheek or not about this, but you said that we might have to go back to sea shells and oxen as our medium of exchange.

And then you reassured everybody that the discount window would have an adequate supply of oxen. Chairman Oxley, if we get to this point, which I suspect we will someday, I ask you that we have hearings to debate the issue of what medium of exchange we have before the Fed starts using oxen as a medium of exchange.

Chairman OXLEY. Are you referring to the Chairman here?

Mr. PAUL. Yes, I hope that you will at least consider that. But I think it is an important point and I want to relate that to the Enron issue, because in many ways, I think the system that you have been asked to manage is similar to being asked to manage an Enron system. Because Congress is notoriously in favor of deficit spending, we're currently expanding the national debt at $250 billion a year, and we have nearly a $6 trillion debt.

Now we create that debt by buying votes. We spend a lot of money. Then the Federal Reserve comes in and they buy that debt in order to maintain the interest rate that they think is the right interest rate. And they take that and use it as an asset. You put it in the bank. You call this debt that we created an asset, and you use it as collateral for our Federal Reserve notes. So that's a pretty good scheme, and I think in the moral terms, as well as the economic terms, it's very similar to how Enron operates. I'm not convinced the system works very well because a lot of people here praise you for the adequate amount of liquidity and that's what inflation is: create more money, lower interest rates. Every time you ask for liquidity, and every time you ask for lower interest rates, you're asking for inflation of the money supply. I think that what we fail to do is to ask about the cost. Do we ever concern ourselves about the people who have had two-thirds of their income removed because they happened to be savers and living off interest? We gouge them with inflation, the loss of purchasing power, and taxes. A lot of people in this country have suffered from this particular system.

Now the analogy I would like to draw is something you said in your testimony on page 13, and you have mentioned several times now that Enron may be a good lesson, and I think it is. And I'm not for more of this regulation by SEC. I think you're correct that derivatives provide a market tool that is worthwhile, but you also said the Enron decline is an effective illustration of the vulnerability of a firm whose market value largely rests on capitalized reputation, with very little on no physical assets. That's exactly what our monetary system is all about, and that's why I believe the dollar is vulnerable. We in Congress do not have a responsibility to run Enron. Some other government has the responsibility to deal with fraud. We have a responsibility to the dollar, and I think that's what we fail so often to address around here.

In addition, you said that Enron provides encouragement that the force of market discipline can be counted on over time to foster a much greater transparency. That's exactly what the market does with money. If you look at the rapid and the sudden devaluations of the fiat currencies around the world, such as what happened to us in 1979 and 1980, that was the market coming in and forcing vulnerability and transparency on us. Now gold gives you a hint as to what's happening. Gold has sent a mild message in this past year. In spite of the fact that central banks and others continually sell and loan out gold and push the price of gold down, there is a message there.

So I would ask you, can you see any corollary whatsoever on what you're asked to do in running our monetary system to that which Enron was involved in?

Mr. GREENSPAN. I hope there are fundamental differences. First, dealing with essentially a fiat currency, what it is that we are doing is that the currency is granted value by fiat of the sovereign, as it is said in the textbooks. The issue there is that in years past, there has been considerable evidence that fiat currencies have been mismanaged in general, and that inflation has been too often the result. What I was mentioning in the speech that you were referring to is the fact there is some evidence that we're learning that lesson, learning how to manage a fiat currency. I've always had some considerable skepticism about whether that in the long run can succeed, but I must say to you that the evidence of recent decades is that it has been succeeding. Whether that continues is a forecast which I can't really project on.

The Enron situation is essentially one in which there was an endeavor to imply that earnings were much greater than they really were, that increasing debt was hidden. I can think of no reason to have done what they did with their off-balance sheet transactions other than to obscure the extent of the debt they had, and what essentially was squandered in that process was the reputational capital which they had succeeded in achieving over a period of time. And I don't perceive that anything that we are doing as a Central Bank involves anything related to that. I hope that where we need to be transparent and indicate what we are doing we do so, and we do so except in those areas where it, as I mentioned to you previously, inhibits the ability to actually function as a Central Bank.

But as I say in summary, I hope your analogy is inappropriate.

Mr. PAUL. I guess we'll all keep hoping.


The gentleman from Texas, Dr. Paul.

Dr. PAUL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Chairman Greenspan. I have listened carefully to your testimony, but I get the sense I may be listening to the chairman of the board of Central Economic Planning rather than the Chairman of a Board that has been entrusted with protecting the value of the dollar.

I have, for quite a few years now, expressed concern about the value of the dollar, which I think we neglect here in the Congress, here in the committee, and I do not think that the Federal Reserve has done a good job in protecting the value of the dollar. It seems that maybe others are coming around to this viewpoint, because I see that the head of the IMF Mr. Koehler, has expressed a concern and made a suggestion that all the central bankers of the world need to lay plans for the near future to possibly prop up the dollar. So others have this same concern.

You have in your testimony expressed concern about the greed factor on Wall Street, which obviously is there, and you implied that this has come out from the excessive capitalization, excessive valuations, which may be true. But I think where you have come up short is in failing to explain why we have financial bubbles. I think if you have fiat money and excessive credit, you create financial bubbles, and you also undermine the value of the dollar, and now we are facing that consequence.

We see the disintegration of some of these markets. At the same time, we have potential real depreciation of the value of our dollar. We have pursued rampant inflation of the money supply since you have been chairman of the Federal Reserve. We have literally created $4.7 trillion worth of new money in M-3. Even in this last year with this tremendous burst of inflation of the money supply, it has gone up, since last January, over $1 trillion. You can't have anything but lower value of that unit of account if you keep printing and creating new money.

Now, I would like to bring us back to sound money, and I would want to quote an eminent economist by the name of Alan Greenspan who gives me some credibility on what I am interested in. A time ago you said, ''in the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value without gold. This is the shabby secret of the welfare state that tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the hidden confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights.''

But gold always has always had to be undermined if fiat money is to work, and there has to be an illusion of trust for paper money to work. I think this has been happening for thousands of years. At one time the kings clipped coins, then they debased the metals, then we learned how to print money. Even as recently as the 1960s, for us to perpetuate a myth about our monetary system, we dumped two-thirds of our gold, 500 million ounces of gold, on to the market at $35 an ounce, in order to try to convince people to trust the money.

Even today, there is a fair amount of trading by central banks in gold, the dumping of hundreds of tons of gold, loaning of gold, for the sole purpose of making sure this indicator of gold does not discredit the paper money, and I think there is a definite concerted effort to do that.

My questions are twofold relating to gold. One, I have been trying desperately to find out the total amount of gold either dumped and sold on the markets by all the central banks of the world, or loaned by the central banks of the world. This is in hundreds and hundreds of tons. But those figures are not available to me. Maybe you can help me find this.

I think it would be important to know since all central banks still deal with and hold gold, whether they are dumping or loaning or buying, for that matter. But along this line, I have a bill that would say that our government, our Treasury, could not deal in gold and could not be involved in the gold market, unless the Congress knows about it.

That, to me, seems like such a reasonable approach and a reasonable request, but they say they don't use it, so therefore, we don't need the bill. If they are not trading in gold, what would be the harm in the Congress knowing about handling and dealing with this asset, gold?

Mr. GREENSPAN. Well, first of all, neither we nor the Treasury trades gold. My impression is that were we to do so, we would announce it. It is certainly the case that others do. There are data published monthly or quarterly which show the reported gold holdings in central banks throughout the world, so you do know who holds what.

The actual trading data, I don't think is available, although the London Gold Exchange does show what its volume numbers are, and periodically individual central banks do indicate when they are planning to sell gold, but they all report what they own. So it may well be the case that you can't find specific transactions, I think, but you can find the net results of those transactions, and they are published. But as far as the United States is concerned, we don't do it.



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