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1997-1999 transcripts
2000-2002 transcripts
2003-2005 transcripts

The Alan Greenspan-Ron Paul Congressional Exchanges
(2003-2005)

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

2003

2/12/2003

Mr. PAUL. Thank you.

Welcome, Chairman Greenspan. I have a question relating to the speech that you gave at the Economic Club in New York in December, because you introduced your speech with three paragraphs dealing with gold and monetary policy. And you made some very pertinent points about gold, indicating that from the year 1800 to 1929, the price levels were essentially stable under gold. And after we got rid of the gold restraint on the monetary authorities, prices have essentially increased by over tenfold since that time. But you follow that by indicating that inflation, when it was out of control in 1979, monetary policy changed direction and they were able to take care of inflation, more or less conquer inflation, and that now you are more or less not concerned about inflation, that your concern really is about deflation.

And it was interesting that you brought up the subject of gold, of course, and there is a lot of speculation as to exactly why you did this and what this means. But my question deals with whether or not we should forget about inflation, whether or not this has been dead and buried. Federal Reserve credit for the last 3 months has gone up at the rate of over 28 percent. Inflation is a monetary event, so therefore we have monetary inflation. The median CPI is almost going up at twice the rate as the CPI, close to 4 percent. The Commodity Research Bureau Index is going up, in the last 15 months over 35 percent. Gold is up 36 percent over 18 months or 15 months. Oil is up 60 percent. So we have a lot of inflation. And we have medical care costs skyrocketing, housing costs going up, the cost of education going up, the cost of energy going up. And to assume that we shouldn’t be concerned about inflation, all we can do now is print money. I would suggest that this is what we have been doing for 3 years, the monetary authorities. You have lowered the discount rate 12 times, and there is still no signs of good economic growth. So when will you express a concern about an inflationary recession? Because that to me seems like our greatest threat, because that has existed before. We even had a taste of it in the 1970s. We called it stagflation.

So I would like you to comment on that as well as follow up on your comments on just why you might have brought up the subject of gold at the New York speech.

Mr. GREENSPAN. First of all, we have not lessened our concerns about inflation. Indeed, our general presumption is that we seek stable prices, and stable prices mean no inflation nor deflation.

The reason I raised the issue of gold is the fact that the general wisdom during the period subsequent to the 1930s was that as we moved to an essentially fiat money standard, that there was no anchor to the general price level. And indeed, what we subsequently observed is, as you point out, a very marked increase in general price levels, indeed, around the world as we removed ourselves from commodity standards, and specifically gold.

I had always thought that the fiat money system was chronically and inevitably an inflation vehicle, and indeed, said so repeatedly. I have been quite surprised, and I must say pleased, by the fact that central bankers have been able to effectively simulate many of the characteristics of the gold standard by constraining the degree of finance in a manner which effectively has brought down general price levels.

The individual price levels to which you allude are certainly correct. I might say the gold and the oil issue are clearly war-related and not fundamental, but we still are looking at the broadest measures of average inflation, and the best statistics that we have still indicate very low inflation with no evidence of an acceleration. That does not mean, however, that we believe that inflation is somehow inconceivable any time in the future. We will maintain a considerable vigilance on the issue of inflation, and are looking all the time for evidence of an emergence of inflation, which at this particular time we do not see. But that does not mean that we believe inflation is dead and that we need not be concerned about it. We will continue to monitor the financial system as best we can to make certain that we keep prices stable. They are stable now, and we hope to be able to continue that indefinitely into the future.

2004

7/21/2004

The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Paul.

Mr. PAUL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good morning, Chairman Greenspan. Yesterday’s testimony was received in the press as you painting a pretty rosy picture of the economy. You have already remarked a second time on one statement you made that I would like to comment on again, because I think my colleagues should pay close attention to it: And that is your statement that corporate investment in fixed capital and inventory has apparently continued to fall short. The protracted nature of this shortfall is unprecedented over the past 3 decades. The proportion of temporary hires relative to total employment continues to rise.

I think that is very, very significant and probably should be taken in the context of the rosy picture of the economy.

Also, at the end of your statement, you make a comment about inflation in the long run, which I entirely agree with. And that is, it is important to remind ourselves, you say, that inflation in the long run is a monetary phenomenon. However, you sort of duck the issue on the short run, that various factors affect inflation in the short run, and yet I think monetary policy is pretty important in the short run. And our temptation here and too often with central banks is to measure inflation only by Government measurement of CPI, where the free-market economists, from Ricardo to Mises to the current free-market economists, argue the case that, once a central bank interferes with interest rates and lowers them below the real rate, that investors and others do make mistakes, such as overinvestment and now investment over-capacity, excessive debt, and speculation. And, therefore, I think that we should concentrate more on the short run effects of monetary policy

Over the last several months, you had been hit by two groups. One half is saying that you are raising rates too fast, and the other half says you are way too slow. And of course it begs the question of whether or not you are really right on target. But from a free-market perspective, one would have to argue that you can’t know and you don’t know, and only the market can decide the proper money supply and only the market can decide the right interest rates. Otherwise, we invite these many problems that we face.

As the economy slowed in 2000, 2001, of course, there was an aggressive approach by inflating and lowering the interest rates to an unprecedented level of 1 percent. But lo and behold, when we look back at this, we find out that manufacturing really hasn’t recovered, savings hasn’t recovered, the housing bubble continues, the current account deficit is way out of whack, continuing to grow as our foreign debt grew, and consumer debt is rising as well as Government debt.

So it looks like this 1 percent really hasn’t done much good other than prevent the deflating of the bubble, which means that, yes, we have had a temporary victory, but we have delayed the inevitable, the pain and suffering that must always come after the distortion occurs from a period of time of inflating.

So my question to you is, how unique do you think this period of time is that we live in and the job that you have? To me, it is not surprising that half the people think you are too early and the other half think you are too late on raising rates. But since fiat money has never survived for long periods of time in all of history, is it possible that the funnel of tasks that you face today is a historic event, possibly the beginning of the end of the fiat system that replaced Brenton Woods 33 years ago? And since there is no evidence that fiat money works on the long run, is there any possibility that you would entertain that, quote, ”We may have to address the subject of overall monetary policy not only domestically but internationally in order to restore real growth”?

Mr. GREENSPAN. Well, Congressman, you are raising the more fundamental question as to being on a commodity standard or another standard. And this issue has been debated, as you know as well as I, extensively for a significant period of time.

Once you decide that a commodity standard such as the gold standard is, for whatever reasons, not acceptable in a society and you go to a fiat currency, then the question is automatically, unless you have Government endeavoring to determine the supply of the currency, it is very difficult to create what effectively the gold standard did.

I think you will find, as I have indicated to you before, that most effective central banks in this fiat money period tend to be successful largely because we tend to replicate which would probably have occurred under a commodity standard in general.

I have stated in the past that I have always thought that fiat currencies by their nature are inflationary. I was taken back by observing the fact that, from the early 1990s forward, Japan demonstrated that fact not to be a broad universal principle. And what I have begun to realize is that, because we tend to replicate a good deal of what a commodity standard would do, we are not getting the long-term inflationary consequences of fiat money. I will tell you, I am surprised by that fact. But it is, as best I can judge, a fact.

2005

7/20/2005

Mr. PAUL. If, indeed, this is your last appearance before our committee, Mr. Greenspan, I would have to say that, in the future, I’m sure I’ll find these hearings a lot less interesting.

But I do have a couple of parting questions for you. Keynes, when he wrote his general theory, made the point that he has tremendous faith in central bank credit creation because it would stimulate productivity.

But along with this, he also recognized that it would push prices and labor costs up. But he saw this as a convenience, not a disadvantage, because he realized that, in the corrective phase of the economic business cycle, that wages had to go down which people wouldn’t accept, a nominal decrease in wages, but if they were decreased in real terms, it would serve the economic benefit.

Likewise, I think this same principle can be applied to our debt. To me, this system that we have today is a convenient way to default on our debt to liquidate our debt after the inflationary scheme.

Even you, in the 1960s, described the paper system as a scheme for the confiscation of wealth.

And, in many ways, I think this is exactly what has happened. We have learned to adapt to deficit financing. But in many ways, the total debt is not that bad because it goes down in real terms.

As bad as it is, in real terms, it’s not nearly as high.

But, since we went on a total paper standard in 1971, we have increased our money supply essentially 12-fold. Debt in this country, federal debt, has gone up 19-fold but that is in nominal dollars, not in real dollars.

So my question is this: Is it not true that the paper system that we work with today is actually a scheme to default on our debt? And is it not true that, for this reason, that’s a good argument for people not eventually, at some day wanting to buy Treasury bills because they will be paid back with cheaper dollars?

And, indeed, in our lifetime, we certainly experienced this in the late 1970s that interest rates had to go up pretty high and that this paper system serves the interests of big government and deficit financing because it’s a sneaky way of paying for it.

At the same time, it hurts the people who are retired and put their money in savings.

And aligned with this question, I would like to ask something to dealing exactly with gold, is that: If paper money today it seems to be working rather well but if the paper system doesn’t work, when will the time come? What will the signs be that we should reconsider gold?

Even in 1981, when you came before the Gold Commission, people were frightened about what was happening and that’s not too many years ago. And you testified that it might not be a bad idea to back our government bonds with gold in order to bring down interest rates.

So what are the conditions that might exist for the central bankers of the world to reconsider gold?

We do know that they haven’t given up on gold. They haven’t gotten rid of their gold. They’re holding it there for some reason.

So what’s the purpose of the gold if it isn’t with the idea that some day they might need it? They don’t hold lead or pork bellies. They hold gold.

So what are the conditions that you might anticipate when the world may reconsider gold?

Mr. GREENSPAN. Well, you say central banks own gold or monetary authorities own gold. The United States is a large gold holder. And you have to ask yourself: Why do we hold gold?

And the answer is essentially, implicitly, the one that you’ve raised namely that, over the generations, when fiat monies arose and, indeed, created the type of problems which I think you correctly identify of the 1970s, although the implication that it was some scheme or conspiracy gives it a much more conscious focus than actually, as I recall, it was occurring. It was more inadvertence that created the basic problems.

But as I’ve testified here before to a similar question, central bankers began to realize in the late 1970s how deleterious a factor the inflation was.

And, indeed, since the late ’70s, central bankers generally have behaved as though we were on the gold standard.

And, indeed, the extent of liquidity contraction that has occurred as a consequence of the various different efforts on the part of monetary authorities is a clear indication that we recognize that excessive creation of liquidity creates inflation which, in turn, undermines economic growth.

So that the question is: Would there be any advantage, at this particular stage, in going back to the gold standard?

And the answer is: I don’t think so, because we’re acting as though we were there.

Would it have been a question at least open in 1981, as you put it? And the answer is yes.

Remember, the gold price was $800 an ounce. We were dealing with extraordinary imbalances, interest rates were up sharply, the system looked to be highly unstable and we needed to do something.

Now, we did something. The United States Paul Volcker, as you may recall, in 1979 came into office and put a very severe clamp on the expansion of credit, and that led to a long sequence of events here, which we are benefiting from up to this date.

So I think central banking, I believe, has learned the dangers of fiat money, and I think, as a consequence of that, we’ve behaved as though there are, indeed, real reserves underneath the system.


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