Henry Calvert Simons

Last updated
Henry Calvert Simons
Genri Kalvert Saimons.jpg
Born(1899-10-09)October 9, 1899
DiedJune 19, 1946(1946-06-19) (aged 46)
Nationality United States
Field Economics
School or
Chicago School of Economics
Influences Frank H. Knight

Henry Calvert Simons ( /ˈsmənz/ ; October 9, 1899 – June 19, 1946) was an American economist at the University of Chicago. A protégé of Frank Knight, [1] his antitrust and monetarist models influenced the Chicago school of economics. He was a founding author of the Chicago plan for monetary reform that found broad support in the years following the 1930s Depression, which would have abolished the fractional-reserve banking system, which Simons viewed to be inherently unstable. This would have prevented unsecured bank credit from circulating as a "money substitute" in the financial system, and it would be replaced with money created by the government or central bank that would not be subject to bank runs.


Simons is noted for a definition of economic income, developed in common with Robert M. Haig, known as the Haig–Simons equation.


Program of reform

In one of his essays, A Positive Program for Laissez Faire (1934) Simons set out a program of reform to bring private enterprise back to life during the Great Depression.

Eliminate all forms of monopolistic market power, to include the breakup of large oligopolistic corporations and application of antitrust laws to labor unions. A Federal incorporation law could be used to limit corporation size and where technology required giant firms for reasons of low cost production the Federal government should own and operate them... Promote economic stability by reform of the monetary system and establishment of stable rules for monetary policy... Reform the tax system and promote equity through income tax... Abolish all tariffs... Limit waste by restricting advertising and other wasteful merchandising practices.

Henry Simons argued for changing the financial architecture of the United States to make monetary policy more effective and mitigate periodic cycles of inflation and deflation. The goal of changing the "monetary rules of the game" in this way was to "prevent… the affliction of extreme industrial fluctuations".

Corporate finance and the business cycle

According to Simons, financial disturbances in the economy are perpetuated by "extreme alternations of hoarding and dis-hoarding" of money. Short-term obligations (loans) issued by banks and corporations effectively create "abundant (fiat) money substitutes during booms". When demand becomes sluggish, a sector of the economy undergoes a shrinkage, or the economy as a whole begins to lapse into depression, "hopeless efforts at liquidation" of the secondary monies, or "fire sales," result.

Simons believed that a financial system so structured would be "repeatedly exposed to complete insolvency". In due course, government intervention would inevitably be necessary to forestall insolvency due to traders' bad bets and margin calls by lenders.[ citation needed ]

A recent example would be the $10 billion bailout by the Federal Reserve of Bear Stearns, a multinational global investment bank, in 2008. John Mauldin, a senior member of the financial services industry, writes: "If Bear had not been put into sound hands and provided solvency and liquidity, the credit markets would simply have frozen… The stock market would have crashed by 20% or more… We would have seen tens of trillions of dollars wiped out in equity holdings all over the world." The Bear Stearns debacle was a watershed event in a housing market crisis that precipitated massive devaluations, left the economy reeling, and required massive government action.

This is the chain of events predicted by Henry Simons in the event of a large-scale liquidation of inflated securities such as mortgage loans. In Economic Policy for a Free Society [2] Simons writes that all it takes to precipitate a massive liquidation of securities is "a relatively small decline of security values". Simons is emphatic in pointing out that corporations that traded on a "shoestring of equity, and under a mass of current liabilities" are "placing their working capital precariously on call," and hence at risk, in the event of the slightest financial disturbance.

Banking reform

In Simons' ideal economy, nothing would be circulated but "pure assets" and "pure money," rather than "near moneys," "practically moneys," and other precarious forms of short-term instruments that were responsible for much of the existing volatility. Simons, an opponent of the gold standard, advocated non interest-bearing debt and opposed the issuance of short-term debt for financing public or corporate obligations. He also opposed the payment of interest on money, demand deposits, and savings. Simons envisioned private banks which played a substantially different role in society than they currently do. Rather than controlling the money supply through the issuance of debt, Simons' banks would be more akin to "investment trusts" than anything else.

In the interest of stability, Simons envisioned banks that would have a choice of two types of holdings: long-term bonds, or consols, and cash. Simultaneously, they would hold increased reserves, up to 100%. Simons saw this as beneficial in that its ultimate consequences would be the prevention of "bank-financed inflation of securities and real estate" through the leveraged creation of secondary forms of money.

Simons advocated the separation of deposit and transaction windows and the institutional separation of banks as "lender-investors" and banks as depository agencies. The primary benefit would be to enable lending and investing institutions to focus on the provision of "long term capital in equity form" (233). Banks could be "free to provide such funds out of their own capital". Short-term interest-based commercial loans would be phased out, since one of the "unfortunate effects of modern banking," as Simons viewed it, was that it had "facilitated and encouraged the use of short-term financing in business generally".

Money supply

Simons believed the price level needed to be more flexible to accommodate fluctuations in output and employment.[ citation needed ] To this end, he advocated a minimum of short-term borrowing, and a maximum of government control over the circulation of money. This would result in an economy with a greater tolerance of disturbances and the prevention of "accumulated maladjustments" all coming to bear at once on the economy. In sum, for Simons, a financial system in which the movement of the price level was in many ways beholden to the creation and liquidation of short-term securities is problematic and threatens instability.


  1. Hamowy, Ronald (2008). "Economics, Chicago School of". In Hamowy, Ronald (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 135–37. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n85. ISBN   978-1412965804. LCCN   2008009151. OCLC   750831024.
  2. Henry Calvert Simons (1948). Economic Policy for a Free Society . University of Chicago Press.

Related Research Articles

Central bank Government body that manages currency and monetary policy

A central bank, reserve bank, or monetary authority is an institution that manages the currency and monetary policy of a state or formal monetary union, and oversees their commercial banking system. In contrast to a commercial bank, a central bank possesses a monopoly on increasing the monetary base. Most central banks also have supervisory and regulatory powers to ensure the stability of member institutions, to prevent bank runs, and to discourage reckless or fraudulent behavior by member banks.

Federal Reserve Central banking system of the United States

The Federal Reserve System is the central banking system of the United States of America. It was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, after a series of financial panics led to the desire for central control of the monetary system in order to alleviate financial crises. Over the years, events such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and the Great Recession during the 2000s have led to the expansion of the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve System.

Finance Academic discipline studying businesses and investments

Finance is a term for matters regarding the management, creation, and study of money and investments. Specifically, it deals with the questions of how an individual, company or government acquires money – called capital in the context of a business – and how they spend or invest that money. Finance is then often divided into the following broad categories: personal finance, corporate finance, and public finance.

Monetary policy of the United States

Monetary policy concerns the actions of a central bank or other regulatory authorities that determine the size and rate of growth of the money supply. For example, in the United States, the Federal Reserve is in charge of monetary policy, and implements it primarily by performing operations that influence short-term interest rates.

Monetary economics is the branch of economics that studies the different competing theories of money: it provides a framework for analyzing money and considers its functions, and it considers how money, for example fiat currency, can gain acceptance purely because of its convenience as a public good. The discipline has historically prefigured, and remains integrally linked to, macroeconomics. This branch also examines the effects of monetary systems, including regulation of money and associated financial institutions and international aspects.

Monetary policy Policy adopted by the monetary authority to control the short-term interest rate or the money supply

Monetary policy is the policy adopted by the monetary authority of a nation to control either the interest rate payable for very short-term borrowing or the money supply, often as an attempt to reduce inflation or the interest rate, to ensure price stability and general trust of the value and stability of the nation's currency.

Fractional-reserve banking

Fractional-reserve banking is the system of banking worldwide. It involves banks accepting deposits from customers and making loans to borrowers while holding in reserve an amount equal to only a fraction of the bank's deposit liabilities. Bank reserves are held as cash in the bank or as balances in the bank's account at a central bank. The country's central bank determines the minimum amount that banks must hold in liquid assets, called the "reserve requirement" or "reserve ratio". Banks usually hold more than this minimum amount, keeping excess reserves.

An open market operation (OMO) is an activity by a central bank to give liquidity in its currency to a bank or a group of banks. The central bank can either buy or sell government bonds in the open market or, in what is now mostly the preferred solution, enter into a repo or secured lending transaction with a commercial bank: the central bank gives the money as a deposit for a defined period and synchronously takes an eligible asset as collateral.

Money creation Process by which the money supply of an economic region is increased

Money creation, or money issuance, is the process by which the money supply of a country, or of an economic or monetary region, is increased. In most modern economies, most of the money supply is in the form of bank deposits. Central banks monitor the amount of money in the economy by measuring monetary aggregates, consisting of cash and bank deposits. Money creation occurs when the quantity of monetary aggregates increase.

Bank rate, also known as discount rate in American English, is the rate of interest which a central bank charges on its loans and advances to a commercial bank. The bank rate is known by a number of different terms depending on the country, and has changed over time in some countries as the mechanisms used to manage the rate have changed.

Bank of Canada Central bank of Canada

The Bank of Canada is a Crown corporation and Canada's central bank. Chartered in 1934 under the Bank of Canada Act, it is responsible for formulating Canada's monetary policy, and for the promotion of a safe and sound financial system within Canada. The Bank of Canada is the sole issuing authority of Canadian banknotes, provides banking services and money management for the government, and loans money to Canadian financial institutions. The contract to produce the banknotes has been held by the Canadian Bank Note Company since 1935.

The real economy concerns the production, purchase and flow of goods and services within an economy. It is contrasted with the financial economy, which concerns the aspects of the economy that deal purely in transactions of fiat money and other financial assets, which represent ownership or claims to ownership of real sector goods and services.

Quantitative easing Monetary policy tool

Quantitative easing (QE) is a monetary policy whereby a central bank purchases predetermined amounts of government bonds or other financial assets in order to inject money into the economy to expand economic activity. Quantitative easing is considered to be an unconventional form of monetary policy, which is usually used when inflation is very low or negative, and when standard monetary policy instruments have become ineffective.

The U.S. central banking system, the Federal Reserve, in partnership with central banks around the world, took several steps to address the subprime mortgage crisis. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated in early 2008: "Broadly, the Federal Reserve’s response has followed two tracks: efforts to support market liquidity and functioning and the pursuit of our macroeconomic objectives through monetary policy." A 2011 study by the Government Accountability Office found that "on numerous occasions in 2008 and 2009, the Federal Reserve Board invoked emergency authority under the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to authorize new broad-based programs and financial assistance to individual institutions to stabilize financial markets. Loans outstanding for the emergency programs peaked at more than $1 trillion in late 2008."

The interbank lending market is a market in which banks lend funds to one another for a specified term. Most interbank loans are for maturities of one week or less, the majority being over day. Such loans are made at the interbank rate. A sharp decline in transaction volume in this market was a major contributing factor to the collapse of several financial institutions during the financial crisis of 2007–2008.

The credit channel mechanism of monetary policy describes the theory that a central bank's policy changes affect the amount of credit that banks issue to firms and consumers for purchases, which in turn affects the real economy.

Financial crisis of 2007–2008 Global financial crisis

The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the global financial crisis (GFC), was a severe worldwide economic crisis. Prior to the COVID-19 recession in 2020, it was considered by many economists to have been the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. Predatory lending targeting low-income homebuyers, excessive risk-taking by global financial institutions, and the bursting of the United States housing bubble culminated in a "perfect storm". Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) tied to American real estate, as well as a vast web of derivatives linked to those MBS, collapsed in value. Financial institutions worldwide suffered severe damage, reaching a climax with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 and a subsequent international banking crisis.

The Sukhamoy Chakravarty Committee was formed in December 1982 under the chairmanship of Prof. Sukhamoy Chakroborty to assess the functioning of the Indian Monetary system. Its goal was to improve monetary regulation, a feat that was hoped would enable price stability. The committee, which submitted its report in April 1985, believed that price stability was essential for promoting growth and achieving other social objectives.

Thomas M. Humphrey

Thomas MacGillivray Humphrey is an American economist. Until 2005 he was a research advisor and senior economist in the research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and editor of the Bank's flagship publication, the Economic Quarterly. His publications cover macroeconomics, monetary economics, and the history of economic thought. Mark Blaug called him the "undisputed master" of British classical monetary thought.

Anil K. Kashyap is the Stevens Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Kashyap's research focuses on price setting, the Japanese economy, monetary policy, financial intermediation and regulation. As an author, he is held in libraries worldwide.