Monday, June 15, 2009

Books on Panics and Depressions

I finished recently an interesting book--The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market's Perfect Storm by Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr. The panic was a catylist for the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. With no "lender of last resort," it took private individuals such as J.P. Morgan to arrange loans and guarantees to the banks and trusts that were facing bank runs due to the panic. People Morgan relied on included Benjamin Strong and George F. Baker. Strong plays a prominent role in another interesting book--Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed. The latter book concerns the four central bankers of the U.S., Great Britain, France and Germany, and mistakes made that led to the Great Depression. Strong was the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, which was the dominant bank at the time. Strong died in 1928--before the onset of the depression. Friedman and Schwartz, in their history of monetary policy, state that they think Strong may have helped prevent some of the worst decisions made during the depression.

Of interest to me also was the inclusion of George F. Baker. Hope College has a Baker Scholar's Program and I am one of the advisors to the group. Originally, it was formed through money from a trust left by George F. Baker for educational purposes. Later, the family pulled out of educational endeavors, but Hope was permitted to maintain the George F. Baker name. Baker was a banker and close associate of J.P. Morgan. He also gave money for the start of the Harvard Business School. In an appendix in The Panic of 1907, the authors state that Baker cofounded the First National Bank of New York in 1863 at the age of 23. He was a director in 22 corporations and also a philanthropist, providing gifts that founded the Harvard Business School and Baker Library at Dartmouth.

At Hope, the Bakers are juniors and seniors who were selected after interviews with local businesspeople. The emphasis is on student leadership. The group meets with businesspeople, both locally and on trips that usually include New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Over the last two years, visits have included Cisco, Google, JPMorgan Chase, ADP, and the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. The current Bakers are a great group, and it is a pleasure to work with them. Their website can be found here.

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