Allan H. Meltzer

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Allan H. Meltzer
Elaine Chao Meets with Allan H. Meltzer 174-CD-L03-11-03B-003 (cropped).jpg
Meltzer in 2003
BornFebruary 6, 1928
DiedMay 8, 2017(2017-05-08) (aged 89)
Nationality American
Institution Carnegie Mellon University
Field Economist
School or
Alma mater Duke University (BA, MA)
Influences Karl Brunner
Milton Friedman
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Allan H. Meltzer ( /ˈmɛltsər/ ; February 6, 1928 – May 8, 2017) was an American economist and Allan H. Meltzer Professor of Political Economy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business and Institute for Politics and Strategy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [1] Meltzer specialized on studying monetary policy and the US Federal Reserve System, and authored several academic papers and books on the development and applications of monetary policy, and about the history of central banking in the US. [2] Together with Karl Brunner, he created the Shadow Open Market Committee: a monetarist council that deeply criticized the Federal Open Market Committee. [3]


Meltzer originated the aphorism "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. It doesn't work." That is, guarding companies from failure "removes the dynamic process that makes stockholders responsible for losses and disciplines managers who make mistakes." [4]


He was born in 1928 Boston, Massachusetts. [5] Meltzer received his A.B. and M.A. degrees from Duke University in 1948 and 1955, respectively. He earned his Ph.D. degree from UCLA in 1958 under supervision of Karl Brunner. [6] [7] He became an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon the following year. [8]

Meltzer served, from 1973 to 1999, as the Chair of the Shadow Open Market Committee, a group of economists, academics, and bankers that met to critique the actions of the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee. He served as an Acting Member of the Council of Economic Advisors in 1988–89 at the end of the Ronald Reagan administration. He was a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Meltzer was the first ever recipient of the AEI's Irving Kristol award in 2003. [9] He was honored at the award dinner by President George W. Bush, who remarked "I know I'm not the featured speaker; I'm just a warm-up act for Allan Meltzer." [10]

Meltzer was the Chairman of the Congressionally-mandated International Financial Institution Advisory Commission, [11] known as the Meltzer Commission. The Commission's majority report (2000) proposed changes to the operations of the International Monetary Fund and especially to those of the World Bank, which the majority recommended should withdraw from lending to "middle income countries". Four (out of 5) Commission members nominated by the then-minority Congressional Democrats filed a dissent from the majority's recommendations (Bergsten, Huber, Levinson and Torres), though one of the four (Huber) both voted for the majority report and joined the dissent. The official vote tally in favor was thus recorded as 8 to 3. Controversy over the majority's arguments and recommendations continued after the report's publication: critics, including David de Ferranti, a former Vice President at the World Bank, argued inter alia that the majority's report reflected ideological preconceptions rather than any demonstrated understanding of how the World Bank actually works, including the extensive complementarities between World Bank programs and private sector investment in developing countries. The Commission's report is defended by Meltzer's chief advisor Adam Lerrick and critiqued by de Ferranti in their respective chapters in an edited volume published by the Center for Global Development and fully accessible on the web. The report's recommendations were not adopted by subsequent U.S. administrations of either party.

Meltzer was critical of the Federal Reserve's decision to rescue the leading bond-insurer AIG when it did so in 2008: "these disasters should be headed off early, or should be left to the marketplace to settle." [12] In turn, the Fed's decision not to rescue Lehman Brothers was one which, at the time, Meltzer appeared to applaud. Contrasting it with the AIG rescue, he commented: "I would say we ought to look at Lehman Brothers. They let Lehman Brothers fail. Within a few days, just a few days, Barclays was there buying up some of Lehman's assets..." [12] A year later, however, Meltzer expressed a more critical view of the Fed's handling of the Lehman case: "After 30 years of bailing out almost all large financial firms, the Fed made the horrendous mistake of changing its policy in the midst of a recession... Allowing Lehman to fail without warning is one of the worst blunders in Federal Reserve history..." [13]

In May 2009, Meltzer warned that "the enormous increase in bank reserves—caused by the Fed’s purchases of bonds and mortgages—will surely bring on severe inflation if allowed to remain." [14] Four years after Meltzer's comment, with the Fed's quantitative easing program still continuing, US inflation as measured by the consumer price index (CPI-U) was running at a year-on-year rate of 1.4%, [15] while expected inflation over a 10-year period, as estimated by the Cleveland Federal Reserve, was running at around 1.6%. [16] Meltzer's argument that nobody had expected the lack of inflation has been challenged by Paul Krugman. [17]

Meltzer's study A History of the Federal Reserve is considered the most comprehensive history of the central bank. [18] Volume I covers the years from the creation of the Fed in 1913 until the accord with the Treasury in 1951. [19] [20] Volume II Book 1 covers the years from the accord in 1951 until 1969, [21] and Volume II Book 2 discusses the period from 1970 until the end of the Great Inflation in the mid-1980s. [22]

Meltzer served as president of the Mont Pelerin Society for the 2012–2014 term. [23] Meltzer has opposed US adoption of a "cap and trade" scheme for carbon emissions, designed to help combat global climate change. [13]


Allan H. Meltzer and Scott F. Richard (1981). "A Rational Theory of the Size of Government," Journal of Political Economy, 89(5), pp. 914–927. Abstract.

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  19. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (1 September 2003). "Allan H. Meltzer: The author of "A History of the Federal Reserve" and architect of the Shadow Open Market Committee shares his thoughts on everything from failures of the Fed to international monetary reform" (Interview). Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  20. Meltzer, Allan (2009). A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 2, Book 1, 1951–1969. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   978-0226520018.
  21. Meltzer, Allan (2009). A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 2, Book 2, 1970–1986. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   978-0226519944.
  22. "The Mont Pelerin Society". Archived from the original on 2014-12-13. Retrieved 2012-12-25.