Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gary North on Irving Fisher: The Most Influential Economic Crank in American history

Austrian economist Gary North on a smackdown of the late Irving Fisher. (hat tip Bob Wenzel) 
Fisher was the most influential economic crank in American history. Fisher offered a simple formula that supposedly enables economists to understand the complexities of monetary policy and its effects on the price level: MV=PT. It relies on an intellectual construct, namely, the price level. This must be created by statisticians and economists. The formula does not explain cause-and-effect in terms of the transmission and spread of newly created money throughout the economy. It is totally an aggregate concept. It ignores individuals who make decisions: in government, central banks, commercial banks, and specific markets.

Ludwig von Mises' theory of money begins with real central banks, real borrowers, and the spread of fiat money over time: none of which is considered by Fisher or Friedman.

Fisher proved in 1929 that he was the most highly educated economic fool in the world. He went public with two predictions.
"There may be a recession in stock prices, but not anything in the nature of a crash." (i>New York Times, Sept. 5, 1929)
"Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months." (Oct. 17, 1929)

Then, over the next four years, he lost his own personal fortune. He was so poor in 1933 that Yale University had to subsidize housing for him. Yet this consummate fool, whose economic theories not only led to a catastrophic personal error, but which to a great extent were responsible for the original monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, which it pursued in the late 1920s, is now heralded as some kind of economic genius. Friedman regarded him as "the greatest economist the United States has ever produced." (Money Mischief, p. 37).

Fisher was a crank, and Mises exposed him as a crank within a year of the publication of Fisher's 1911 book. If you want to get an idea of how different their theories are, read Mark Thornton's article. Fisher believed that we can safely trust the government or its central bank to formulate monetary policy. He opposed the gold coin standard, because he thought it is inefficient. That was also true of Friedman. Neither of them ever understood that the free market is capable of providing a sufficient quantity of money, by means of gold mining, for a market economy. Supply and demand for goods and services are regulated by means of a private currency system that itself is created by market processes. Neither Fisher nor Friedman ever believed this. They both believed that the government must intervene in order to create a reliable monetary system, so that there can be economic growth, market clearing processes, and individual liberty. They both believed in the wisdom and power of the state with respect to the central commodity in an economy, namely, the money supply.
Ironically Irving Fisher has been regarded as the “greatest economist of the last century” by some.

Nonetheless, I find Mr. Fisher’s sequential description of debt deflation as useful

Mr. North also points out that Mr. Fisher was also a eugenics crank

Read the rest here.

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