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In response to Ben Bernanke’s claim of Fed independence

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech at the Bank of Japan on the importance of central bank independence and transparency…

Chairman Bernanke espoused a lot of platitudes… but the reality of the Fed’s actions is their deep entanglement with the administration, Congress and Wall Street…

I think we will be hearing more speeches attempting to justify the enormous powers of the Fed and the need to have minimal oversight as unemployment remains at exceptional levels and households continue to delever. The Fed will continue to develop and execute larger and larger efforts to prop up the economic system… they are sailing into the wind without a rudder…

For example Chairman Bernanke makes a stab at justifying the enormous expansion of their balance sheet to prop up the mortgage market and remove distressed assets from the banking system… by pointing to the income returned to the Treasury…

“…The issue of the fiscal-monetary distinction may also arise in the case of the nonconventional policy known as quantitative easing, in which the central bank provides additional support for the economy and the financial system by expanding the monetary base, for example, through the purchase of long-term securities.

Rarely employed outside of Japan before the crisis, central banks in a number of advanced economies have undertaken variants of quantitative easing in recent years as conventional policies have reached their limits. In the United States, the Federal Reserve has purchased both Treasury securities and securities guaranteed by government-sponsored enterprises.

Although quantitative easing, like conventional monetary policy, works by affecting broad financial conditions, it can have fiscal side effects: increased income, or seigniorage, for the government when longer-term securities are purchased, and possible capital gains or losses when securities are sold.

Nevertheless, I think there is a good case for granting the central bank independence in making quantitative easing decisions, just as with other monetary policies. Because the effects of quantitative easing on growth and inflation are qualitatively similar to those of more conventional monetary policies, the same concerns about the potentially adverse effects of short-term political influence on these decisions apply.

Indeed, the costs of undue government influence on the central bank’s quantitative easing decisions could be especially large, since such influence might be tantamount to giving the government the ability to demand the monetization of its debt, an outcome that should be avoided at all costs.”~~~

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The best rebuttal of the claim of independence of the Federal Reserve came from Senator Richard Shelby in the recent debate over the Sanders amendment to “audit the Fed”… here is how a longtime Washington insider describes the influence of the Federal Reserve…

~~~ “Mr. President, I rise today to support the Sanders Amendment to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve.

“This amendment is needed because the Federal Reserve has abused its independence.  It has repeatedly assumed and exercised vast fiscal powers under the guise of monetary policy.  It has sought to escape accountability for these actions by claiming that its independence places it beyond the scope of Congressional oversight.

“To allow any agency to exercise the immense powers now wielded by the Fed with so little accountability is simply incompatible with our Constitutional system of government.

“Mr. President, Congress granted the Federal Reserve independence with respect to monetary policy on grounds that monetary policy was a technical, non-political task that did not put taxpayers at risk.

“Unfortunately, the Fed has failed to stay within the limits envisioned by Congress.

“Over the past three years, the Fed’s balance sheet has exploded to more than $2.3 trillion with much of the increases related to actions that had little to do with monetary policy, and more to do with bailouts, fiscal policy, and politics.

“Although the Fed likes to pretend that it is independent and removed from politics, the reality is that the Board of Governors is one of the biggest political players in town.

“Ironically, while the Fed is fighting this amendment, the Fed remains silent about other measures that would compromise its independence. Why?  Politics.

“When it serves its politics, the Fed is happy to selectively sacrifice its independence.  For example, the Dodd bill compromises the Fed’s independence by having the Fed directly fund the Democrats new consumer bureaucracy.

“This establishes a dangerous precedent.  Anytime Congress needs a funding source it can now go outside the budget process and have the Fed print money.

“Yet, the Fed has remained remarkably quiet.  Why?  Politics.

“The Fed’s silence should come as no surprise given the close political ties between the Board of Governors and the Obama Administration.

“The Board of Governors has clearly decided to help the Obama Administration advance its legislative goals.

“Mr. President, the Fed cannot have its cake and eat it too.

“If the Fed wants to be independent, the Fed should defend its independence consistently, but otherwise should stay out of politics.

“On the other hand, if the Fed wants to be political, it should not expect Congress to treat it as ‘independent.’  Nor should the Fed expect that its non-monetary policy actions are exempt from Congressional oversight.

“These activities, even when conducted by the FOMC, are fiscal or regulatory actions that involve taxpayer dollars and policy judgments.

“They are no different than other policy decisions made by the Executive Branch. Accordingly, Congress has a Constitutional duty to oversee these activities.

“Unfortunately, the Fed often acts like Congress should be kept in the dark.  It uses its independence as a shield to hide its actions from Congressional oversight, including its bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns.

“No agency should have the fiscal and regulatory powers exercised by the Fed and not think that it has to be fully accountable to Congress.

“It is my hope this amendment will be the first step in moving the Fed back to its more limited and traditional role in our regulatory and Constitutional systems.

“Thank you Mr. President.”

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Remarks by Former Federal Reserve Governor Laurence H. Meyer At the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, October 24, 2000

The Politics of Monetary Policy: Balancing Independence and Accountability

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