J.P. Morgan's Way
There is no arguing J.P. Morgan’s monumental influence. As both the guardian of America’s financial sturdiness and a well-appointed exploiter of the system’s regulatory shortcomings, Morgan’s actions raised questions that still resonate: What does it mean for Wall Street to be out of control? How best can government and business collaborate when it comes to buttressing a fragile economy? Should financial interests be allowed to profit from government bailouts? By delving into Morgan’s attitudes and way of thinking, we can begin to understand the motivations and limitations of modern-day financial giants like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and even Warren Buffett. These are lessons that none of us can afford to ignore.
It would be a mistake to think of John Pierpont Morgan as the Ben Bernanke of his day. In truth, Morgan was more powerful than any Federal Reserve chairman, serving as a one-man central bank long before that institution’s birth in 1913. And although the financier died that year at age 75, he was indirectly responsible for the Fed’s creation.
J.P. Morgan’s display of so much clout in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century stoked the nation’s inherent fear of concentrated wealth. It was a mixture of that fear and the recognition that the only man suitable for the role of central banker had lately departed this earth that ultimately led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System. Henceforth, the government, not Morgan, would regulate the supply of money and credit, ensure the safety and soundness of the system, and step in to defuse financial panics.
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