10 March 2010

The Case Against the Fed from a US Senator

If you read through this letter from US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is also the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Economic Policy, you will get a grasp of how badly the Fed has mishandled its responsibilities over the past ten years at least.

I thought the Senator was far too kind and reserved in his criticism. Yes, the Fed did focus on inflation. Unfortunately the definition of inflation which they used was inappropriate, since it did not include the obvious asset bubbles which were created by the Fed's own monetary policies.

In addition, the Fed not only neglected its role in consumer protection, it took an activist opposition to the regulation of new financial instruments such as derivatives that has created a position that even today leaves the US in a financially precarious position.

This is particularly galling when one hears of the schemes being concocted by the bank friendly Senators, Dodd, Corker and Shelby, to move more of the weak banking reforms into the Fed, which is itself a private institution owned by these very banks that it will regulate.

This is not the appropriate level of financial reform that the American people deserve. And if you notice to whom Senator Sherrod is addressing his concerns, you will understand my lack of enthusiasm or any change or improvement in this sorry state of affairs.

March 10, 2010

The Honorable Timothy Geithner
Secretary, United States Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

The Honorable Lawrence Summers
Director, National Economic Council
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Secretary Geithner and Director Summers,

I write to you today to express my concern about the vacancies at the Federal Reserve, both on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and soon in the Vice Chairman's office. This is the financial equivalent of leaving open vacancies on the United States Supreme Court, and it is essential that we fill these positions.

As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Policy, with jurisdiction over the Federal Reserve System's monetary policy functions, I am acutely aware of the importance of monetary policy at the Fed.

Both the full Banking Committee and the Economic Policy Subcommittee have examined the causes of the financial crisis and the resulting effects on lending, access to credit, and employment. The evidence presented to the Committee about the role that Fed policy decisions played in the financial crisis and the economic downturn has led me to conclude that the Fed's monetary policy has focused almost entirely on controlling inflation rather than maximizing employment and that the Fed has too often put banks' soundness ahead of its other responsibilities.

In light of this experience, there are several other important qualifications that I would urge you to consider in selecting the new Vice Chairman and new members of the FOMC:

1. Recognition of the causes of the financial crisis before it occurred.

Many economic experts, including some at the Federal Reserve, failed to anticipate the impending economic crisis. However, there were exceptional people who sounded alarms about the rapidly inflating housing bubble, the proliferation of subprime lending, and the packaging, selling, and investing in toxic financial products by Wall Street. Unfortunately, regulators, including the Fed, ignored or attempted to discredit many of these courageous individuals, rather than heeding their warnings. We need economic policy makers who possess the foresight to identify harmful economic trends, the courage to speak out about the necessity of addressing these practices before they inflict lasting damage to our economy, and the wisdom to listen even if their views are challenged.

2. Demonstrated dedication to protecting consumers and maximizing employment.

For years, the Federal Reserve's monetary policy has maintained an almost single-minded focus on inflation. This has been detrimental to the Fed's other core missions, particularly maximizing employment and protecting consumers. The results of this fixation speak for themselves. The national unemployment rate is more than double the Fed's statutorily mandated 4 percent unemployment target. The Fed also failed to act on repeated warnings about predatory mortgage lending and credit card abuses. Consumer protection experience is particularly important if the new consumer protection entity were to be housed at the Fed. Our economy will benefit from renewed attention to all of the Fed's priorities.

3. Commitment to releasing e-mails related to the Fed's involvement in the AIG bailout.

A growing number of experts - including economists, academics, and former regulators - have called upon the Federal Reserve to release all e-mails, internal accounting documents, and financial models related to AIG's collapse. The American taxpayers now hold the majority of AIG shares, and they have a right to know how their money is being spent. Providing greater detail about the AIG bailout is particularly important because that episode continues to taint the Fed's reputation. Focusing on candidates committed to full transparency related to this particular economic event would help to restore the Fed's stature and credibility in the eyes of many Americans.

The American public has lost a great deal of confidence in the Federal Reserve. Selecting a Vice Chair and FOMC members with the above qualifications will send the message that the Federal Reserve has learned from the financial crisis, and that the Fed's weaknesses are being addressed with more than just cosmetic changes.

I would be happy to discuss specific candidates with you at your convenience. Thank you for considering my views, and I look forward to working with you to address these vacancies at the Fed.

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

h/t to the Huffington Post for the letter