Marriner Eccles (1890-1977)

Marriner Eccles served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1934 to 1948, and continued as a board member until July 1951 [1]. Eccles was a key figure in the expansionary economics of the New Deal. As chair of the Fed he oversaw a loosening of monetary policy & revival of credit and he also advocated for “priming the pump” with increased federal spending, as opposed to being overly concerned with balancing the budget [2].

Marriner Stoddard Eccles was born into a large family on September 9, 1890 in Logan, Utah. He received a high school education at Brigham Young College and, after his father died in 1912, Eccles began managing the family’s business affairs. Throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1920s, he became a leading businessman and banker in Utah. Later, as the Great Depression began destroying the nation’s financial system, “Eccles gained national attention for successfully preventing the collapse of his bank in 1931” [3]. He was also notable for being one of FDR’s few supporters from the ranks of business.

Shortly before Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in as president, Eccles advised Congress on a “five-point plan” he had devised to resuscitate the nation’s economy. Eccles advocated that the federal government provide financial aid to the states for the care of their needy citizens; provide funds for public works projects; implement agricultural controls to raise the prices of farm goods; facilitate long-term and low-interest loans for the refinancing of farm mortgages; and cancel certain debts. These ideas foreshadowed many New Deal policies and programs [4].

Eccles was willing to criticize the failures of the American economic system: “It is a national disgrace that such suffering should be permitted in this, the wealthiest country in the world. The present condition is not the fault of the unemployed, but that of our business, financial, and political leadership” [5]. He is also well known for explaining the Great Depression in terms of inequality: “As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, [this], in turn, implies a distribution of wealth…to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation’s economic machinery. Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth….But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants. In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped” [6].

After he left the Federal Reserve, Eccles returned to Utah and resumed his banking and business career. Nonetheless, he stayed active in national affairs. For example, “He was one of the first nationally known businessmen to speak out against the Vietnam War” [7]. Eccles died in Salt Lake City on December 18, 1977, at the age of 87. He was survived by his second wife, Sara Madison Glassie (his first wife was May Campbell Young, married in 1913 and divorced in 1950), a daughter, a son, two brothers and four sisters [8]. Today, the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington, D.C., is called the “Marriner S. Eccles Building” [9].

Sources: (1) “Marriner S. Eccles,” Federal Reserve History, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, http://www.federalreservehistory.org/People/DetailView/75, accessed December 29, 2015. (2) See, e.g., Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History, New York: Free Press, 2011, pp. 391-392. (3) See note 1. (4) “Investigation of Economic Problems,” Hearings Before The Committee On Finance, United States Senate, Seventy-Second Congress, Second Session, February 13 to 28, 1933,” pp. 712-713, available at http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/docs/meltzer/ecctes33.pdf, accessed December 29, 2015. (5) Ibid. (6) See, e.g., Robert Reich, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, New York: Vintage Books, 2011, pp. 17-18. (7) “Marriner S. Eccles is Dead at 87; Headed Reserve Board For 12 Years,” New York Times, December 20, 1977. (8) Ibid. (9) “History of the Marriner S. Eccles Building and William McChesney Martin, Jr. Building,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, http://www.federalreserve.gov/aboutthefed/aroundtheboard/history-buildings.htm, accessed December 29, 2015.