America’s Bank – struggle to create Federal Reserve – great book

If you want to learn more about early 20th-Century America, look no further than America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve by Roger Lowenstein.

You will learn a a great deal about the years from 1907 – 1914, about the great figures of the time (William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Nelson Aldrich, Paul Warburg, Carter Glass, JP Morgan, and more).

Before the creation of the Federal Reserve (in December 1913), money was issued by banks, not by the state. (Even after 1913, it took a long while for the federal government to issue money that we think of today).

A $20 bill from 1900 issued by the First National Bank of Carlyle, Illinois

Much of banking was decentralized and uncoordinated. While this had the pro-Jeffersonian benefits of having limited involvement from the Federal Government, it led to a lot of boom and bust cycles.

Lowenstein is also the author of When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management (which is a fantastic book) which covers a much more active Federal Reserve 85 years later.

One of the most interesting things that I learned from this book is that in the early 1900s, protectionism was championed by the entrenched aristocracy (the wealthy business people and the New York bankers) and the anti-tariff movement was championed by the populists (like William Jennings Bryan). Of course, today, tariffs are seen as a populist agenda. Interesting how issues can flip over a hundred years.

Summation: America’s Bank is worthwhile and well-written book. Rating 4 of 5.

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