The Federal Reserve’s Power Grab – The Insanity Knows no Boundaries
June 24, 2009 · Posted in Interventionism
Statements from President Obama and the people around him reaffirm a sad fact. They have not learned a single thing. The New York Times writes Behind the Scenes, Fed Chief Advocates Bigger Role:
WASHINGTON — During the debate over financial regulation, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has been surprisingly quiet.
But behind the scenes, he has been a forceful proponent of giving the Fed more power, both defending his management of the economic crisis and arguing that more authority would help the agency act more decisively to reduce the chances of a recurrence, according to interviews with lawmakers and officials from the Fed, the Treasury and the White House.
I may point out, as I have again and again, that credit expansion and the consumption business cycle were created by none less than the central bank, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the fractional reserve banks under its oversight. Giving the Fed more power will accomplish the opposite of reducing the chance of a recurrence. We need more regulation, not more decrees from a government institution, or an institution that only exists by means of government granted monopoly. More regulation can only be attained through the market place.
Despite criticism by some lawmakers that the Fed failed to anticipate the problems that led to the crisis, Mr. Bernanke has told associates that such critics fail to recognize the extraordinary actions taken by the central bank over the last year.
What the Fed has done over the last year was to get involved in corporate bailouts and an attempt to force lending. How are corporate bailouts a good thing? All they accomplish is to slow down and prolong the correction. What has the lending to banks accomplished? Are banks lending more now than 1 year ago? No, as a matter of fact credit is visibly imploding across the board. And in fact they shouldn’t be making any more loans. Bernanke still hasn’t been able to grasp the fact that lending can’t be forced. He has the wrong objective and on top of that he hasn’t attained it. How can one be any more out of touch with reality? The reality is: People are sick and tired of debt. What has Bernanke done to facilitate a swift liquidation of debt? Nothing.
Mr. Bernanke believes the Fed’s actions have played a major role in averting a possible second Great Depression, according to government officials who know his thinking. Those steps, the Fed chairman has told these people, demonstrate that the agency is up to the larger task assigned to it by the Obama administration.
Of course Bernanke is clueless about The Great Depression. The Fed has imitated virtually everything from the Great Depression playbook.
Mr. Bernanke has one important champion — President Obama. On Tuesday, the president reinforced his preference for an enlarged role for the Fed in a news conference at the White House.
The administration’s proposals for a regulatory overhaul are built around the idea “that there’s got to be somebody who is responsible not just for monitoring the health of individual institutions, but somebody who’s monitoring the systemic risks of the system as a whole,” Mr. Obama said. “And we believe that the Fed has the most technical expertise and the best track record in terms of doing that.”
And Mr. Obama: Would you mind telling us to whom the Fed is accountable? Congress is not allowed to audit their most fundamental operations. I am hoping you are aware of the fact that paragraph 714 of US Code 31 rules out any meaningful audit. I fear that you do not support Ron Paul’s Audit the Fed bill. Could you tell us if you are at least going to sign this transparency act before you give this secret institution any more powers? Who owns the Fed? Who is it accountable to? Right, the very banks it is supposed to oversee and who own member stock that pays 6 percent divident per year. You can read it up right here on the Fed’s own website. At the beginning of the same paragraph where this relationship is explained it says the Fed is not owned by anyone. Which one is it now? But then, is any one of those two options better than the other? If the Fed is not owned by anyone then it is accountable to nobody which is actually worse. If this kind of independence was so good, why don’t we make the military unaccountable to anyone as well. Heck, why don’t we abolish accountability of any government institution to anybody alltogether? What a misguided debate!
He said that while the Fed was not blameless, it was not fair to single it out for failing to avert the crisis.
“I think that the Fed probably performed better than most other regulators prior to the crisis taking place, but I think they’d be the first to acknowledge that in dealing with systemic risk and anticipating systemic risk, they didn’t do everything that needed to be done,” Mr. Obama said.
Unfortunately no, when you are instrumental to creating a crisis it is not permissible to claim that you “performed” in any way before it. In fact you didn’t perform at all if the objective of said performance was to avoid a crisis. As a matter of fact, you have done the exact opposite of “performing well”, you have “failed miserably”. That President Obama would utter such a baseless and false statement is simply deplorable.
The president and Mr. Bernanke do not, however, see eye-to-eye over whether to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, part of which would be carved out of the Fed’s existing jurisdiction over mortgages and credit cards.
Breaking ranks with the administration, Mr. Bernanke is expected to tell Congress that the Fed would prefer to keep the responsibility for consumer lending. He is also expected to promise a stronger emphasis on consumer debt issues in the future.
Mr. Bernanke’s surrogate in the debate has been the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, who in Congressional testimony, speeches and interviews has praised the Federal Reserve’s performance.
(Mr. Geithner’s views may also have reflected his pedigree. He joined the administration after serving five years as president of the New York Federal Reserve, where he worked closely with Mr. Bernanke.)
I don’t think there is a more clueless person in this administration than Tim Geithner. That he would support Bernanke is only to be expected. That he himself admitted that the Fed kept rates too low for too long is probably just another statement that he has forgotten about, did not quite think through, and/or has no particular context for in his limited and low level mindset on economic theory.
Mr. Bernanke has been reluctant to get involved in the political debate, but has argued to associates and lawmakers that the often-mentioned alternative of a council supervising the largest firms would not be nimble or accountable enough.
And Mr. Bernanke: Would you mind telling us to whom the Fed is … darn, I am beginning to repeat myself.
He also has said that the plan is not a radical departure from the Fed’s current role. The Fed is already the umbrella supervisor of virtually all of Wall Street’s largest institutions, and the Obama plan would add only a handful of new companies to the Fed’s oversight list. The Fed so far has not specified which companies it would add to its purview, but once it decides, it is expected to make the list public.
One simple question: How well has the Fed done in overseeing the nation’s banking system as a whole over the past 10 year? Who is to believe that adding to its purview is a decision that a creature with more than one brain cell can possibly support.
The biggest impact, government officials said, is not in the number of institutions the Fed regulates, but in how it regulates them. It will have to go beyond measuring the financial safety of institutions to examining their connections to other firms and markets, and the dangers those connections could pose.
By possibly requiring the largest institutions to hold more capital against losses or to reduce the amount of debt they carry, for example, the Fed could make firms less profitable and less competitive with their smaller rivals. That in turn could prompt some of the largest institutions to decide to shrink, either by borrowing and lending less, or selling off units.
… how about a fair and free market in banking? You know, that thing where the ones who serve the consumers best prevail, and those who don’t, go out of business. That thing where irresponsible lending is punished. That thing where any bank that does not hold close to 100% reserves against their checking deposits, goes out of business. You know, all the things that the history of money has taught us, things that these clowns in office are obviously completely oblivious to.
If we were so concerned about big institutions with monopoly positions then why did the government by law create the hugest behemoth of all of them and give them exclusive privilege to print fiat money. Why does the President praise this institution so much? Does insanity have any boundaries?
Fed officials said they expected that new capital requirements would be tailored to the risks and strengths of each bank.
They and top administration officials disagree that the Fed’s new authority amounts to overseeing “too big to fail” banks. Under the plan, the government would have explicit authority to seize any faltering institution that was judged an unacceptable risk to the overall financial system. As a result, the government would not have to guarantee creditors 100 cents on the dollar — and “too big to fail” would no longer be the default policy.
That breaks from the practice of last year, when creditors to the American International Group, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were repaid in full because Mr. Bernanke and Henry M. Paulson Jr., then the Treasury secretary, did not think the government had the legal authority to shut down nonbank institutions, or to choose which loans to repay in full and which to discount.
I have a very simple solution to this: How the government AND the Fed once and for all stop all corporate bailouts? They are harmful and slow down any potential recovery. They hurt the productive and reward the unproductive. Why not put an end to this circus?
Mr. Bernanke has also told people that he finds it illogical that some lawmakers are citing the Fed’s failure years ago to curtail deceptive or abusive subprime loans as the reason for their objections to the administration’s plan.
This is not the criticism of the Fed. It is the fact that it is a substantially flawed institution, that it has brought about the worst crises in economic history, that we simply don’t need a Fed. These are the issues that Bernanke has to answer to, not some superficial criticisms of its regulatory activities.
In recent months, a series of new regulations issued by the Fed on mortgages and credit card policies issued under Mr. Bernanke have generally been applauded by consumer groups and some lawmakers, although Congress recently passed a law, which President Obama signed, to add some features. The new law requires banks and card companies to give 45 days’ notice before a change in interest rates and prohibits them from raising rates on existing balances unless a card holder falls 60 days behind on minimum payments.
Some critics have raised other concerns — that the Fed is stretching itself too thin, or compromising the political independence that is essential for setting monetary policy.
“The plan does give more power to the Fed and just complicates its job and therefore raises questions about its ultimate mission,” said John B. Taylor, a professor of economics at Stanford and a Treasury under secretary in the Bush administration. His book, “The Road Ahead for the Fed,” (Hoover Institution Press) is being published this week. “If the Fed goes further off its course and doesn’t focus on what it did in the 1980s and 1990s, it will have less control over inflation. It will lose its independence. It will have to become more political.”
Vincent R. Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and former director of the Fed’s division of monetary affairs, said that policy makers needed to be concerned about mission creep.
“The main problem in becoming the systemic risk regulator is that it can be a very diffuse responsibility,” Mr. Reinhart said. “Should the Federal Reserve have been monitoring Enron and Long Term Capital Management and the Hunt brothers when they were involved in silver market manipulation?”
He added: “What is the ideal governor of the Fed supposed to be, someone who understands monetary policy, systemic risk, bank regulation, consumer affairs and Congressional relations? You are reaching the point where the agency is being spread pretty thin.”
Mr. Bernanke’s views, which have evolved as the financial crisis has unfolded, contrast markedly with those of his predecessor. Alan Greenspan, who said last year in his book “The Age of Turbulence” that the idea of the Fed as a systemwide regulator was “mission impossible.”
Of course it is impossible. And we will see it sooner or later. Who knows what problems a new and more powerful Fed will manage to create again down the road. But whatever it is, at some point we will be back to square one, debating how this could have happened, and debating how much more powers to grant to it in order to avert the problems that it itself has brought about.