Anna Schwartz, Pioneering Monetarist

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By Michael Bordo

Anna Schwartz was one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century. She spent all of her 70-year career at the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York City. I first met Anna in 1970 when I was at the Bureau on a Visiting Fellowship. Milton Friedman, my dissertation adviser at the University of Chicago, had arranged it for me to help me finish my dissertation in U.S. Monetary History. He wanted me to have access to her expertise first hand.

Anna had done path-breaking research since the 1930s in assembling the monetary statistics that were at the heart of her three monumental books written with Milton Friedman -- "A Monetary History of the United States" ( 1963), "Monetary Statistics of the United States" ( 1970) and "Monetary Trends of the United States and United Kingdom"( 1982). I had the good fortune of collaborating with her on papers ever since; we just finished writing ( with Owen Humpage of the Cleveland Fed) “U.S. Exchange Market Operations in the Twentieth Century.”

Anna had a deep understanding of every aspect of monetary economics. She was a founding member of the Monetary Economics program at the NBER and rarely missed a meeting since the early 1980's. She had an ability to get to the essence of even the most technically arcane papers presented by the young hotshots of the Ivy League. When Anna pronounced, it was like hearing the Delphic Oracle as she informed the young genius du jour that his argument didn’t make sense and had little to do with economic reality. Total silence would follow.

Anna had more information in her brain on the monetary institutions and monetary histories of the U.S. and the U.K than the rest of the economics profession put together. She could cite at will the details of long-forgotten debates, legislation, financial crises and scandals.

Anna was also a pioneering monetarist and one of the founders, in 1973, of the Shadow Open Market Committee. She never gave up on the modern quantity theory of money and the importance of monetary aggregates. She had little patience with the supporters and practitioners of discretionary monetary policy. She was also a strong believer in free markets and had little patience for those who doubted the power of the market.

Anna Schwartz was a great economist but also a very warm, caring human being. She would always smile when I talked about my children and she would light up when speaking about the accomplishments of her four children and her grandchildren and great grandchildren. We will miss her.

(Michael Bordo is Professor of Economics at Rutgers University, a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.)


-0- Jun/22/2012 14:59 GMT