By Mr. Robert P. Bremner

William McChesney Martin Jr. (no relation to me, so far as i do know) is a vital determine in US historical past. He led the Federal Reserve method from 1951 to 1970, effectively protecting its independence in 5 administrations. this can be the 1st, and up to now the single, book-length biography of him.

after all, the Fed's company is financial coverage, a dizzyingly abstruse topic. yet Robert P. Bremner explains it so lucidly that even I, with just a rudimentary wisdom of economics, was once in a position to realize it.

whilst the Fed's financial coverage is going incorrect, the results are stark: failed companies, misplaced jobs, misplaced mark downs. not just do abstractions like GDP or CPI elicit consternation, yet actual humans round the state undergo crushing reverses. by way of an identical token, financial coverage is designed and performed by way of genuine individuals with actual supporters and competitors, households and careers, ideas and objectives. Robert P. Bremner attracts enough sketches of the most characters in William McChesney Martin's lifestyles and paintings, yet I want he'd rounded them out a section extra. particularly i feel he is too nonjudgmental approximately Martin's competitors.

to understand Martin's virtues, although, it is not essential to distinction them along with his rivals' vices. Bremner recounts Martin's blunders in addition to his successes--indeed, Martin himself in 1970 took the blame for failing to stay clear of what he referred to as "the wildest inflation because the Civil War." however the individual and public servant who emerges from those pages is unfailingly committed, courageous--and sincere. these have been the times.

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Unfor- Augean Stables of Capitalism 45 tunately, this fragile atmosphere of reconciliation was soon eroded by the corrosive realities of implementing these changes. There is little in internal or public documents to indicate that SEC officials gave much consideration to the excruciating pressure that ten straight years of poor stock market conditions placed on Martin and other Exchange leaders. Trading volume for 1939 was the lowest in twenty-two years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was still only one-third of its 1929 peak and only 10 percent above its value in 1919.

Despite his setback in managing relations with the SEC, Martin made progress, or at least the appearance of it, on other fronts. In a style that would become a trademark, Martin personally announced all initiatives taken by the Exchange and quickly established himself as its spokesman. On 12 May, Martin appointed a Presidential Nominating Committee with Paul Shields as chairman. Shields, a man of firm character and the most knowledgeable of the reformers, understood the difficulty of reforming the Exchange.

It committed itself to relevant research, dissemination of economic thought and, reflecting Martin’s pragmatism, encouraging the direct acceptance of new ideas by businessmen and legislators. Martin’s ambition to undertake the Economic Forum in the worst year of the Great Depression reveals much about him. It reflects his desire for a great calling, in this case to initiate a national dialogue about pressing economic issues, even though he was only a twenty-six-year-old junior stockbroker.

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