Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The Wretched Volcker"

I'm reading, Inside the Nixon Administration, The Secret Diary of Arthur Burns 1969-74. It's a fascinating memoir. Burns was chairman of the Federal Reserve from February 1970 to January 1978.

Burns, it should be noted, was responsible for the delay in Murray Rothbard receiving his PhD from Columbia University. Rothbard battled Burns and didn't get his PhD until Burns left Columbia to become Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Dwight Eisenhower.

According to Burns' diary, he was against Nixon going off the gold standard by closing the gold window to foreigners, and wrote of Volcker:
My exposition was very simple, and I think the President understood it, but I doubt Conally did. Somehow poor and wretched Volcker--never knowing where he stood on any issue--had succeeded in instilling an irrational fear of gold in his tyrannical master, whom he tried constantly to please by catering to his hatred of foreigners (particularly the French) instead of his capacity (not inconsiderable) for straight reasoning.
Of the understanding of economics of the people around Nixon, Burns wrote:
Here we were--Kissinger a brilliant political analyst, but admittedly ignorant of economics; Conally, a thoroughly confused politician, suppressing his desire to punish foreigners in view of the President's moving away from narrow domestic political considerations; Shultz, a no less confused amateur economist; I, the only one there with any knowledge of the subject, but even I not a real expert on some aspects of the intricate international problem! What a way to reach decisions!
BTW: When it came to money printing both Burns and Volcker were inflationists.

During his period as Fed chairman, Burns was something of a money printer king. From time he joined the Fed in February 1970 to January 1978 (when he left the fed), M2 money supply grew from $586 billion to $1.3 trillion, an overall increase of 183% which is a 20.2% annualized rate.

During Volcker's period as Fed chairman from August 1979 to August 1987, M2 money supply grew from $1.4 trillion to $2.8 trillion. A gain of 93%, which is a 11.6% annualized rate.

M2 money supply currently stands at $8.3 trillion.


  1. Connally. I'm not the spelling or grammar police, but I just spent 5 minutes googling to figure out if there was someone other than John Connally involved here.

  2. I have no burden to defend any substantive policy decision he made, but I'm not sure what Burns meant by describing George Shultz as an "amateur economist"--Shultz holds a bachelor's degree in econ. from Princeton and a PhD in econ. from MIT.