Anna Schwartz, RIP

Last Thursday night, I was in Niagra Falls en route to the History of Economics Society Conference at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario to present a paper on the Sraffa-Hayek debate (co-authored with my FTC colleague Paul Zimmerman) when I saw the news that Anna Schwartz had passed away a few hours earlier. The news brought back memories of how I first got to know Anna in 1985, thanks to our mutual friend Harvey Segal, formerly chief economist at Citibank, who had recently joined the Manhattan Institute where I was a Senior Fellow and had just started writing my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform. When Harvey suggested that it would be a good idea for me to meet and get to know Anna, I was not so sure that it was such a good idea, because I knew that I was going to be writing critically about Friedman and Monetarism, and about the explanation for the Great Depression given by Friedman and Schwartz in their Monetary History of the US. Nevertheless, Harvey was insistent, dismissing my misgivings and assuring me that Anna was not only a great scholar, but a wonderful and kind-hearted person, and that she would not take offense at a sincerely held difference of opinion. Taking Harvey’s word, I went to visit Anna at her office at the NBER on the NYU campus at Washington Square, but not without some residual trepidation at what was in store for me. But when I arrived at her office, I was immediately put at ease by her genuine warmth and interest in my work, based on what Harvey had told her about me and what I was doing. About a year later when my first draft was complete and submitted to Cambridge University Press, I was truly gratified when I received the report that Anna had written to the editors at Cambridge about my manuscript, praising the book as an important contribution to monetary economics even while registering her own disagreement with certain positions I had taken that were at odds with what she and Friedman had written.

Over the next couple of years Anna and I actually became even closer when, after finishing Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I accepted an offer to edit a proposed encyclopedia of business cycles and depressions, an assignment that I later bitterly regretted accepting when the enormity of the project that I had undertaken became all too clear to me.  After taking the assignment, I think that Anna was probably the first person that I contacted, and she agreed to serve as a consulting editor, and immediately put me in touch with two of her colleagues at the National Bureau, Victor Zarnowitz, and Geoffrey Moore. During my decade-long struggle to plan, execute, and see to conclusion this project, it was in no small part thanks to the generous and unstinting assistance of my three original consulting editors, Anna, Victor Zarnowitz, and Geof Moore. Over time, they were soon joined by other distinguished economists (Tom Cooley, Barry Eichengreen, Harald Hagemann, Phil Klein, Roger Kormendi, David Laidler, Phil Mirowski, Ed Nell, Lionello Punzo and Alesandro Vercelli) whose interest in and enthusiasm for the project kept me going when I wanted nothing more than to rid myself of this troublesome project. But without the help I received at the very start from Anna, and from Victor Zarnowitz and Geof Moore, the project would have never gotten off the ground. Sadly, with Anna gone, none of my original three consulting editors is still with us. Nor is another dear friend, Harvey Segal. I shall miss, but will not forget, them.

In a small tribute to Anna’s memory, I reproduce below (in part) the entry, written by Michael Bordo, on Anna Jacobsen Schwartz (1915 – 2012), from Business Cycles and Depressions: An Encyclopedia.

Anna Schwartz has contributed significantly to our understanding of the role of money in propagating and exacerbating business-cycle disturbances. Schwartz’s collaboration with Milton Friedman in the highly acclaimed money and business-cycle project of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) helped establish the modern quantity theory of money (or Monetarism) as a dominant explanation for macroeconomic instability. Her contributions lie in the four related areas of monetary statistics, monetary history, monetary theory and policy, and international arrangements.

Born in New York City, she received a B. A. from Barnard College in 1934, an M.A. from Columbia in 1936, and a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1964. Most of Schwartz’s career has been spent in active research. After a year at the United States Department of Agriculture in 1936, she spent five years at Columbia University’s Social Science Research Council. She joined the NBER in 1941, where she has remained ever since. In 1981-82, Schwartz served as staff director of the United States Gold Commission and was responsible for writing the Gold Commission Report.

Schwartz’s early research was focused mainly on economic history and statistics. A collaboration with A. D. Gayer and W. W. Rostow from 1936 to 1941 produced a massive and important study of cycles and trends in the British economy during the Industrial Revolution, The Growth and Fluctuation of the British Economy, 1790-1850. The authors adopted NBER techniques to isolate cycles and trends in key time series of economic performance. Historical analysis was then interwoven with descriptive statistics to present an anatomy of the development of the British economy in this important period.

Schwartz collaborated with Milton Friedman on the NBER’s money and business-cycle project over a period of thirty years. This research resulted in three volumes: A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Monetary Statistics of the United States, and Monetary Trends in the United States and the United Kingdom, 1875-1975. . . .

The overwhelming historical evidence gathered by Schwartz linking economic instability to erratic monetary behavior, in turn a product of discretionary monetary policy, has convinced her of the desirability of stable money brought about through a constant money-growth rule. The evidence of particular interest to the student of cyclical phenomena is the banking panics in the United States between 1873 and 1933, especially from 1930 to 1933. Banking panics were a key ingredient in virtually every severe cyclical downturn and were critical in converting a serious, but not unusual, downturn beginning in 19329 into the “Great Contraction.” According to Schwartz’s research, each of the panics could have been allayed by timely and appropriate lender-of-last-resort intervention by the monetary authorities. Moreover, the likelihood of panics ever occurring would be remote in a stable monetary environment.

4 Responses to “Anna Schwartz, RIP”

  1. 1 Tas von Gleichen June 26, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Great Achievement.

  2. 2 CG July 3, 2012 at 7:24 am

    such a nice post, dad 🙂

  1. 1 Williamson v. Sumner « Uneasy Money Trackback on July 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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About Me

David Glasner
Washington, DC

I am an economist in the Washington DC area. My research and writing has been mostly on monetary economics and policy and the history of economics. In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued for a non-Monetarist non-Keynesian approach to monetary policy, based on a theory of a competitive supply of money. Over the years, I have become increasingly impressed by the similarities between my approach and that of R. G. Hawtrey and hope to bring Hawtrey's unduly neglected contributions to the attention of a wider audience.

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