The Cato Institute contributed to an egregious offense against responsible discourse on Friday. In an episode of Glenn Beck's Fox News show devoted to “get[ting] educated on the Fed,” Beck presented two guests as experts on the Federal Reserve. One was Mark Calabria, who holds a doctorate in economics and is the director of financial regulation studies for Cato.
The other was G. Edward Griffin, author of the anti-Fed book The Creature From Jekyll Island, life member of the John Birch Society, and promoter of multiple lunatic conspiracy theories.
Another of the books Griffin has written is titled World Without Cancer: The Story Of Vitamin B17. It "marshals the evidence" that cancer is caused by a dietary deficiency that can be cured with “an essential food compound.” The book explains that “orthodox medicine” has “waged war” against this cure because of a “hidden economic and power agenda.” Griffin also co-produced a film called What in the World Are They Spraying? The Chemtrail/Geo-Engineering Coverup, which claims that we are “being sprayed with toxic substances without our consent” and that “they are lying to us about it.”
The Cato Institute is a Washington think tank that strives to advance libertarian ideas through credible methods -- writing research reports, publishing books, and hosting policy forums. Calabria has served as a Senate committee staffer and as a deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban development. This all contrasts starkly with the fevered conspiracy theories that are Griffin's stock-in-trade.
Whether Calabria knew that he was going to appear with Griffin or not, he and the Cato Institute should apologize for helping to confer legitimacy on Griffin and his fringe ideas.
On Beck's show, Griffin asserted that if the Federal Reserve were “challeng[ed],” it would “pull out all the stops and try and ruin the economy and then blame it on the fact that we were challenging the Federal Reserve.” Beck then asked Calabria how “connected” the central banks of the world are, and Calabria responded by saying, “There really is a bankers' club that's been there since the beginning” :
BECK: If you have people who, like you say, can -- can control through monetary policy, you'll never get those people. You'll never make that change, because they would control too much of the money. I mean, they could make the pain enormous. Am I wrong in that?
GRIFFIN: Well -- that -- no, you're quite right. In fact, we have the precedent for that during the fight between President Jackson and the Second Bank of the United States. The head of the Central Bank, which was that version of the Federal Reserve today, his name was Nicholas Biddle. And he fought back exactly that way.
When Jackson tried to generate support for getting rid of the Second Bank, he said, “I will pull the country down.” He said, “The nation will fall, the people will fall, but the bank will not fall.” That was his exact quote.
And he practically succeeded in doing that. So, you can be sure in a contest of this kind, where we're challenging the Federal Reserve power, there's no question in my mind that they will pull out all the stops and try and ruin the economy and then blame it on the fact that we were challenging the Federal Reserve.
BECK: Let me ask this one question from you, Mark, and then we have to take a break. And that is, how much of -- how connected are the central banks? How connected -- I mean, how much -- when I saw them say, “You know what, we're going to devalue everybody's money here for a while to help Japan out.” I thought, “Wait, wait. Hold it.” Don't you really -- shouldn't you talk to maybe, I don't know, the people of the world? And they're just moving together as one, central bank to central bank.
CALABRIA: There really is a bankers' club that's been there since the beginning. For instance -- I mean, even among mainstream economists, it's generally recognized that the Federal Reserve of New York's efforts to support the British pound and support the Bank of England in the 1920s helped cause the stock market bubble here. And you see that -- and it's been continued ever since.
I mean, we lent tons of money during the crisis to other central banks, and this is the problem, is that they talk to each other. You know, so their constituency is protecting each other and making each other look good, not essentially listening to the what the American public wants. So, I do think there's a real problem that they're not looking out for our interests as much as they're looking out for the interests of each other.
BECK: Back in just a second.
This sort of rhetoric gives credence to conspiracy theories about a cabal of bankers secretly controlling the economy, and it echoes the ideas that Griffin promotes.
An April 5, 2006, article from the East Bay Express (Oakland, CA) summarized the theme of Griffin's The Creature From Jekyll Island (from Nexis):
Sometime in the last few years Johnson and Heineman began reading about mortgage elimination programs on the Internet. Such schemes aren't just a way to make money; they're a longtime staple for conspiracy theorists who claim the American monetary system is based on a massive fraud perpetrated by a cabal of bankers. The godfather of this movement is G. Edward Griffin, the founder of American Media, a Southern California company that distributes books and videos about conspiracies ranging from the banking system, to the September 11 attacks to the secret society Skull & Bones. In the early 1990s Griffin published The Creature from Jekyll Island, the movement's bible, in which he claimed that ever since the United States replaced the gold standard with paper money, the country has been plagued by inflation, while banking elites print money out of thin air to secretly enrich themselves.
Furthermore, Griffin is exactly the sort of person National Review founder William F. Buckley was targeting when he excommunicated the John Birch Society from the conservative movement. Griffin has written that he joined “in 1961, only a few months after the Society began actively recruiting.” He went on to describe his intimate involvement with the group:
I was given the immediate task of forming a chapter, which I did in Playa del Rey, California. I became a volunteer Section Leader and eventually resigned from my junior-executive position with a large insurance company to become the Society's Los Angeles Coordinator, and then Major Coordinator for California. Later, I traveled around the U.S. to train other Coordinators and Section Leaders. I was authorized to deal with the public as an official national spokesman. In 1972 I produced a recruiting film entitled This Is The John Birch Society. In 1975, I wrote The Life and Words of Robert Welch, the biography of the Society's founder.
As a reminder, Welch called President Eisenhower a “conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy” and asserted that the U.S. government was “under operational control of the Communist party.”
Griffin has also written that he can “understand how mention of my association with The John Birch Society may cause some people to raise an eyebrow,” but that "[t]here is nothing about it that is contrary to the highest standards of morality and ethical conduct":
I can understand how mention of my association with The John Birch Society may cause some people to raise an eyebrow. The general impression among many is that the Society is an extremist organization made up of kooks, McCarthyites, and racists. So let me jump to the bottom line.
I am a life member of The John Birch Society and, for several years in the 1960s, served on the Society's staff as a Major Coordinator and official spokesman. From over forty years of personal contact with its members and leadership, I can say with authority that the Society is an excellent educational organization promoting limited government and opposing collectivism in all of its forms. There is nothing about it that is contrary to the highest standards of morality and ethical conduct.
The question of whether people like Griffin have a place in the conservative movement was answered a generation ago.
Glenn Beck brought Calabria on his show to validate Griffin's ideas about the Federal Reserve. In the process, Calabria helped to legitimize paranoid conspiracy theories that have no place in our national conversation.
Again, he and the Cato Institute should apologize.