Biography and History

The Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy, active from November 1933 to 1970, was composed of economists and other financial experts who sought to educate the public and United States government on sound monetary policy. The Committee advocated for a return to the gold standard and sought to combat what they saw as dangerous inflationist sentiment and aggressive monetary policies of the time through public addresses, publishing articles and pamphlets, and testifying before Congress.

The Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy (hereafter "the Committee") was organized on November 17, 1933 by a group of monetary economists as an educational organization. Faced with what they perceived as the spread of inflationist sentiment and many aggressive political banking movements in the early 1930s, the Committee members dedicated themselves to educating the American public and government on what constituted sound monetary policy. The Committee also established itself as a watchdog of the currency system, opposing currency depreciation in all forms and seeking to return the United States to the gold standard. The organizers of the Committee recruited the nation's leading monetary and banking economists for the Committee's membership, drawn for the most part from college and university faculties, with the intention of establishing the Committee as a source of unbiased, scientific information on money and banking. The Committee was composed of eighty to ninety-five individuals and included many of the monetary economists of the United States who had experience in setting up or supervising currency systems, such as Edwin W. Kemmerer, Oliver M. W. Sprague, H. Parker Willis, Ernest L. Bogart, William W. Cumberland, and John Parke Young. The driving force behind the Committee was Walter E. Spahr of Columbia University. Spahr served as Secretary-Treasurer from 1933 to 1945 and as Executive Vice President and Treasurer from 1946 to 1970. Additionally, he was editor of the monthly publication Monetary Notes and its predecessor "Intra-Committee Communications," wrote numerous articles and addresses, and maintained correspondence with a large number of like-minded economists in the United States and abroad.

The Committee issued public statements on money and banking bills being considered by Congress, on Administration policies in those fields, and on monetary programs which had inspired considerable interest in the general public. All official pronouncements of the Committee included the names of the members who endorsed it, maintaining the independence of each member by not allowing anyone to speak for another. The Committee also published pamphlets and articles written by members that discussed the current issues and basic monetary principles in a way that was useful for the general public. Beginning in 1941, the Committee published a monthly "Intra-Committee Communication," first just for members and later for a wider audience, which was renamed Monetary Notes in 1944 and published until February 1970. The publication, which was written by Walter E. Spahr, discussed monetary and fiscal matters and analyzed important trends toward or away from sound monetary policies.

One of the chief goals of the Committee was to make their publications available as widely as possible, free of charge. Publications were sent to all members of Congress, important government officials, newspapers and magazines, radio commentators, Washington correspondents, libraries, contributors to the Committee's work, members of the Committee, a mailing list open to the public, and then to wider lists of educators, leaders, and students as their funds permitted. The Committee also sent publications to several other countries. In addition to their publication efforts, the Committee influenced monetary policies through the work of individual members. Members testified before House and Senate committees and provided information and advice to Congressmen and other government officials, and would provide public support for Congressmen who were advocating unpopular policies that the Committee judged to be sound. Members also gave radio addresses and spoke before banking, business, and civic groups.

Because so many of the Committee's efforts focused on influencing legislation, it was difficult for them to determine the exact effect of their labors. While they were active, it became more difficult for bills that the Committee opposed to be passed and several were defeated. The abilities of the President to devalue the gold dollar and to issue "greenbacks" were removed, and through their publications they exposed questionable practices of the Treasury and Federal Reserve that were subsequently stopped by Congress. However, the United States never returned to the gold standard that the Committee advocated as the sound currency system.

The Committee was supported through donations from the public, typically solicited through mailings or the efforts of individual members, which funded the maintenance of the Committee's office, the publication and distribution of the Committee's literature, and the expenses of members who traveled to Washington to testify before Congress or to attend meetings held by the Executive Committee. Because of their reliance on donations, the Committee often faced financial difficulties. In order to balance the budget, members donated significant amounts of money and Walter E. Spahr frequently worked while collecting less than half of his salary. The Committee also found it difficult to obtain donations from foundations because, due to their work to influence legislation, they were sometimes perceived as a special-interest lobbying group rather than the educational organization they sought to be. This difficulty increased when the Internal Revenue Service revoked the Committee's tax-exempt status as an educational organization in 1962, ruling that because their primary focus was to influence legislation, the Committee was an "action organization" and contributions to the Committee could no longer be used as tax deductions.

The Executive Committee met for a special session on January 31, 1970 to determine the fate of the Committee following the death of Walter E. Spahr a few days earlier, since Spahr had been the driving force behind the Committee for many years. With a 6 to 2 vote, the Executive Committee resolved to liquidate the Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy by May 31, 1970 and immediately establish a successor committee with similar aims and a comparable membership. While the dissenting two felt that maintaining the name was important for the group's image, the majority felt that the financial difficulties of the Committee were better solved with a new organization which would have a tax-exempt status and a clean slate. They formed the Committee for Monetary Research and Education, with Donald L. Kemmerer as the first president, in 1971. As of 2007, the organization was still active.

There were six presidents of the Committee:

Ray B. Westerfield (1933-1935)

Edwin W. Kemmerer (1936-1945)

Leonard P. Ayres (1946)

Benjamin M. Anderson (1947-1949)

James Washington Bell (acting President 1949-1953, President 1953-1967)

Donald L. Kemmerer (1967-1970)

Source: From the finding aid for MC022

  • Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy Records. 1925-1971 (inclusive), 1940-1970 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC022

    The Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy, active from November 1933 to 1970, was composed of economists and other financial experts who sought to educate the public and United States government on sound monetary policy. The Committee advocated for a return to the gold standard and sought to combat what they saw as dangerous inflationist sentiment and aggressive monetary policies of the time through public addresses, publishing articles and pamphlets, and testifying before Congress. The records document the Committee's work, as well as its organization and administration, and include correspondence, meeting minutes, and publications.

  • Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy Records. 1925-1971 (inclusive), 1940-1970 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC022

    The Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy, active from November 1933 to 1970, was composed of economists and other financial experts who sought to educate the public and United States government on sound monetary policy. The Committee advocated for a return to the gold standard and sought to combat what they saw as dangerous inflationist sentiment and aggressive monetary policies of the time through public addresses, publishing articles and pamphlets, and testifying before Congress. The records document the Committee's work, as well as its organization and administration, and include correspondence, meeting minutes, and publications.

  • John E. Rovensky Papers. 1920-1968 (inclusive), 1920-1929 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC116

    John E. Rovensky (1880-1970) was a banker and economist. As a banker, he held the position of vice president at the National Bank of Commerce, Bank of America, and City Bank. As an economist, he was a member of the Economists' National Committee on Monetary Policy, the National Monetary Association, and the Stable Money Association. Rovensky's papers document his work as an economist, including his tenure as president of the Stable Money Association in 1927. The papers are comprised of correspondence, offprints, and newspaper clippings.

  • Walter E. Spahr Papers. 1923-1966 (inclusive), 1930-1950 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC121

    Walter E. Spahr (1891-1970) was a professor of economics at New York University who was a strong supporter of the gold standard. Spahr was a founding member and officer of the Economists' National Committee for Monetary Policy, which advocated for sound monetary policies for the United States. Spahr's papers document his scholarship and include his writings and related correspondence.

  • Edwin W. Kemmerer Papers. 1875-1945 (inclusive), 1920-1945 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC146

    Edwin W. Kemmerer (1875-1945), internationally known as "The Money Doctor," was an economist and government advisor with expertise in finance and currency. Kemmerer served as a financial advisor to many governments, mostly in Latin America, and spent the majority of his academic career at Princeton University. Kemmerer's papers document his advisory and scholarly career and include his professional correspondence, writings, and files from his financial advisory work.