THE GREAT EXPERIMENT
Quarterly Review and Outlook – Fourth Quarter 2008, Hoisington Investment Management Company
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The late Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman, noted in his 1963 book, Monetary History of the United States (coauthored with Anna Swartz), that the money stock decreased by a massive 31% in the Great Depression. The turnover of that money, called velocity, fell 21%. Nominal GDP equals money multiplied by velocity. Consequently, from 1929 to 1933 the breakdown of both measures resulted in a contraction in nominal GDP of approximately 50%. However, Friedman postulated that if the Fed had not let money shrink, velocity would have been steady and the Great Depression would have been averted, i.e., nominal GDP would not have collapsed. Our current Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, is an expert on the Great Depression, and he has, in fact, adopted Friedman’s strategy to greatly expand the money supply. Whether this prescription for economic stability will work in a period of over indebtedness, such as now exists in the U.S., is most uncertain. Indeed, this could be called the “great experiment” since this economic theory has yet to be thoroughly tested in the real world.