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The promise and performance of the Federal Reserve as lender of last resort 1914-1933

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  • Michael D. Bordo
  • David C. Wheelock

Abstract

This paper examines the origins and early performance of the Federal Reserve as lender of last resort. The Fed was established to overcome the problems of the National Banking era, in particular an “inelastic” currency and the absence of an effective lender of last resort. As conceived by Paul Warburg and Nelson Aldrich at Jekyll Island in 1910, the Fed’s discount window and bankers acceptance-purchase facilities were expected to solve the problems that had caused banking panics in the National Banking era. Banking panics returned with a vengeance in the 1930s, however, and we examine why the Fed failed to live up to the promise of its founders. Although many factors contributed to the Fed’s failures, we argue that the failure of the Federal Reserve Act to faithfully recreate the conditions that had enabled European central banks to perform effectively as lenders of last resort, or to reform the inherently unstable U.S. banking system, were crucial. The Fed’s failures led to numerous reforms in the mid-1930s, including expansion of the Fed’s lending authority and changes in the System’s structure, as well as changes that made the U.S. banking system less prone to banking panics. Finally, we consider lessons about the design of lender of last resort policies that might be drawn from the Fed’s early history.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its series Working Papers with number 2010-036.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2010-036

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Keywords: Lenders of last resort ; Banks and banking; Central ; Federal Reserve Act;

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  1. Wheelock, David C, 1990. "Member Bank Borrowing and the Fed's Contractionary Monetary Policy during the Great Depression," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 22(4), pages 409-26, November.
  2. John C. Williams & John B. Taylor, 2009. "A Black Swan in the Money Market," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 58-83, January.
  3. Rolnick, Arthur J & Weber, Warren E, 1983. "New Evidence on the Free Banking Era," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 1080-91, December.
  4. Wheelock, David C., 1989. "The Strategy and Consistency of Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1919–1933," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(02), pages 459-461, June.
  5. David C. Wheelock, 2010. "Lessons learned? comparing the Federal Reserve's responses to the crises of 1929-1933 and 2007-2009," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Mar, pages 89-108.
  6. Claudia Goldin & Hugh Rockoff, 1992. "Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic History: A Volume to Honor Robert W. Fogel," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gold92-1, May.
  7. Michael D. Bordo & Angela Redish, 1996. "A Comparison of the Stability and Efficiency of the Canadian and American Banking Systems 1870-1925," NBER Historical Working Papers 0067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Michael D. Bordo & Angela Redish & Hugh Rockoff, 2011. "Why didn’t Canada have a banking crisis in 2008 (or in 1930, or 1907, or ...)?," NBER Working Papers 17312, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Peter Temin, 1991. "Lessons from the Great Depression," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262700441, December.
  10. Miron, Jeffrey A, 1986. "Financial Panics, the Seasonality of the Nominal Interest Rate, and theFounding of the Fed," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(1), pages 125-40, March.
  11. David C. Wheelock, 1992. "Seasonal accommodation and the financial crises of the Great Depression: did the Fed "furnish an elastic currency?"," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Nov, pages 3-18.
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Cited by:
  1. Gary B. Gorton & Andrew Metrick, 2013. "The Federal Reserve and Financial Regulation: The First Hundred Years," NBER Working Papers 19292, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Bordo, Michael D., 2012. "Could the United States have had a better central bank? An historical counterfactual speculation," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 597-607.
  3. Gary Gorton & Andrew Metrick, 2013. "The Federal Reserve and Panic Prevention: The Roles of Financial Regulation and Lender of Last Resort," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(4), pages 45-64, Fall.

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