Economics

The Independent Ben Bernanke

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One of the main arguments Ben Bernanke and his apologists have used against moves such as Ron Paul's "audit the Fed" bill is that getting Congress too close to influencing or effecting Fed policy will damage its much-vaunted political independence. Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University asks: What are you talking about, Benny?

I had to down an extra mug of coffee this morning to be certain that I read your op-ed in today's Washington Post correctly.  Sure enough, you claim to be worried about a recent House-committee vote to, as you say, "repeal a 1978 provision that was intended to protect monetary policy from short-term political influence."

Ummm….  What guided Fed "policy" over the past couple of years if not short-term political influence?

Working hand-in-glove with the political branches, you now have the Fed performing activities – such as direct lending to what, in an April 2009 speech, you called "ultimate borrowers and major investors" – that are utterly outside of the Fed's traditional role.

As my colleague and celebrated monetary historian Larry White wrote earlier this year, "The Fed's new activities deserve to be called a bailout program because they seek to channel credit selectively at below-market interest rates, or purchase assets at above-market prices, in hopes of rescuing, or enhancing profits for, favored sets of financial institutions.  The Fed's new lending facilities are not parts of a central bank's traditional 'lender of last resort' role."

Sorry, Mr. Bernanke, any independence that the Fed might have once had from "short-term political influence" has already been trampled to death – chiefly by you.

The Fed's clear role as handmaiden to administration policy in the crisis is also discussed in my November Reason magazine feature on the movement to curb (or end) the Fed.