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Who Broke the Economy?

The blame rests squarely with the Federal Reserve.

By Thomas E. Woods Jr.

When Young Americans for Liberty at Indiana University first invited me to speak last year, the group ran into resistance from the university administration. Having consulted the economics department, the relevant university office declared that I was “uncredentialed” and that perhaps a professor from IU’s economics faculty could give a nice lecture instead. I was uncredentialed, presumably, because my education at Harvard and Columbia was in history, not economics.

The student group refused to take this lying down, and made such a stink in the local media, pointing to my bio and the reception of my book Meltdown – including the friendly coverage it received from mainstream outlets like Barron’s, CBS.com, and UPI – that the university not only reversed its stance but even partially funded my appearance, which took place on September 21 of this year.

The Indiana Daily Student (circulation 15,500) offered me a 600-word guest column in the wake of my appearance. Here’s what I wrote, which they published verbatim (complete with a comments section). ~ Tom Woods

The free market did not cause the financial crisis, and the Elmer’s glue and Scotch tape our wise leaders have applied to the economy are only prolonging the agony. That’s the thesis of my 2009 New York Times bestseller, Meltdown.

That’s not a popular thing to say in Bloomington, I learned several months ago.

When Young Americans for Liberty at IU hit a bureaucratic stone wall in trying to invite me to campus – a problem I can’t say I’ve run into at any other university – the local media took notice. But it was the comment sections that were a particular hoot. It was as though I had insulted Stalin in the old Soviet Union. Who does this idiot think he is? How dare he speak of our wise overlords that way! Why, they’re just looking out for the good of the people! And so on, as if I’d stumbled into some kind of cliché competition.

Then, when the university reversed itself and even helped fund my appearance, the comments switched to, “If I had time, I’d go over there and set this guy straight!” Uh-huh. The large crowd that came to hear me a couple weeks ago couldn’t have been friendlier.

What I explained at IU was that asset bubbles, like the housing bubble we’ve just lived through, do not occur spontaneously. If people bought lots of houses on the free market, interest rates would rise as the banks’ loanable funds were depleted. That would put an end to speculation in real estate.

But thanks to the Federal Reserve System (or simply the “Fed”), which is no part of the free market, large infusions of money created out of thin air kept interest rates low, and thus perpetuated the bubble. During an asset bubble, demand for the asset in question rises, as does its price. Where would people get the money to keep buying an increasingly costly asset if the government’s officially approved money machine weren’t there to flood the economy with cash?

It was this interference with interest rates, pushing them well below where the free market would have set them, that set in motion the classic boom-bust cycle we’ve just witnessed. F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize for showing how central banks like the Federal Reserve, by interfering with interest rates and not allowing them to tell entrepreneurs the truth about economic conditions, divert the economy into unsustainable configurations that inevitably come undone in a crash. (Hayek belongs to a tradition of free-market thought called the Austrian School of economics.)

None of this has anything to do with the free market.

Adding fuel to the fire was the so-called Greenspan put, the unofficial policy of the Greenspan Fed that promised assistance to private firms in the event of risky investments gone bad. What kind of incentives do you suppose that created?

The point of being in college is to learn how to think beyond clichés. Forget the quacks who told us, cluelessly, that everything was fine with the economy in 2007. Look instead to modern spokesmen of the Austrian School like Peter Schiff, Ron Paul, and Jim Grant. You know, the people who, unlike your professors (who, by the way, tried to keep a dissident voice from speaking on campus), predicted the recent crash to a T.

Want to know what really happened to the economy, and why your job prospects are so bleak? Watch Peter Schiff’s YouTube “Why the Meltdown Should Have Surprised No One.” That’s the first step toward becoming the independent thinker that four years at IU are supposed to make of you.


Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of ten books, including the just released Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. This essay originally appeared at LewRockwell.com. Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com.

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