Tag: federal reserve act

Wall Street’s Seat at the Federal Reserve?

Tomorrow the Senate Banking Committee will likely hold a vote on President Obama’s recent nominations to the Federal Reserve Board, Harvard professor Jeremy Stein and former investment banker and Treasury official Jerome Powell. I’ve written elsewhere on how these two fail to meet the statutory requirements for board membership, as it relates to geography. But there is another issue that continues to bother me about these nominations.  That is the unwritten assumption that Wall Street gets a seat on the Federal Reserve Board.

As Bloomberg reports Powell “would bring expertise on financial markets to the Fed’s board, filling a void left by Kevin Warsh, a former Morgan Stanley banker.” But this overlooks the fact that the New York Federal Reserve President, currently former Goldman Exec William Dudley, is a permanent member of the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). As an institutional matter, the Fed already has a line from Wall Street via the New York Fed, where’s the need for another?

The Federal Reserve Act requires the president, when making nominations to the Fed, to give “due regard to a fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests.” As far as I can tell there is zero representation on the Board for “agricultural, industrial and commercial interests” and already one former banker (Duke) on the Board. How is that “fair?”  While this “fairness” requirement is not as black and white as the geography issue, I do believe it is one fundamental to the functioning of the Fed. Is this a Fed that represents all sectors and interests in the economy, or is this a Fed that mainly represents Wall Street (and academia, which is never mentioned in the Federal Reserve Act)?

While I do not personally know Mr. Powell, and I have no reason to suspect he is anything other than an honorable and well-intended man, I think we all have reason to believe that the last thing the Fed needs is another New York investment banker.

Fed Can’t Serve Two Masters

Last week Congressman Pence and Senator Corker announced a bill to end the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of price stability and maximum employment.  Before getting into why this is a good start, what exactly is the dual mandate?  Section 2a of the Federal Reserve Act, which sets the Fed’s monetary policy objectives, directs the Fed to:

maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy’s long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

Building upon the notion of the Phillips curve, which suggests an historical relation between inflation and unemployment, some have read 2a as implying that the Fed should pick an inflation-unemployment trade-off that improves social welfare.  It is this perceived “trade-off” that dominates the current actions of the Federal Reserve. Quite simply, Fed leaders, such as Bernanke, believe with a little extra inflation we can get more employment.

The problem is that this isn’t so.  As soon as policymakers tried to exploit this trade-off, in the 1960s and 1970s, it disappeared.  From about 1961 to 1966, it did indeed appear that one could choose a mix of inflation and unemployment.  But from 1966 until 1980, when Volcker moved to bring down inflation, inflation and unemployment were positively correlated.  It appeared that all we got was more inflation and more unemployment.

Despite the painful experiences of the 1970s, Bernanke seems intent on repeating those mistakes.  Which gets to me to the point of removing the dual mandate.  It forces the Fed to focus on the only thing it really has any influence over: inflation.  It also removes the temptation to exploit an inflation-unemployment trade-off that never existed in the first place. 

Now given Bernanke’s views on price stability, eliminating the dual mandate can only be a first step.  We ultimately need to remove the discretion of the government to indulge in the Phillips curve fantasy.

Diamond Not Qualified for Fed Board

Tuesday the Senate Banking Committee meets for the second time to consider the nomination of Peter Diamond to a seat on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. Since Professor Diamond was first nominated, he has been awarded the Nobel prize in economics.

Putting aside his academic qualifications, and his misguided views on Social Security, Professor Diamond is not qualified to be a Fed governor for one very simple reason: he is from a Federal Reserve district that already has representation on the Fed.  Paragraph 10-1 of the Federal Reserve Act requires that:

In selecting the members of the Board, not more than one of whom shall be selected from any one Federal Reserve district, the President shall have due regard to a fair representation of the financial, agricultural, industrial, and commercial interests, and geographical divisions of the country.

Mr. Diamond’s Senate paperwork states he is from Massachusetts, which is also the case for sitting Fed governor Dan Tarullo.  In fairness this provision of the law has been ignored and violated in the past.  In fact, both current Fed Governors Duke and Raskin are both from the Richmond district.  As Duke was there first, it would seem clear from a reading of the law and Raskin’s bio that Raskin is serving in violation of the statute.  But then given the actions of the Fed over the last few years, the Fed has certainly shown that it doesn’t feel constrained by statutes.

Bloomberg reports that despite what Diamond’s paperwork says, the White House claims he’s from Chicago.  Not that he’s ever lived there, but because he once gave a lecture at Northwestern.  Next I suspect the White House will claim an extended lay-over at O’Hare is sufficient for residency.

For perhaps the first time in history, all the Federal Reserve governors are from coastal states.  Also every single Fed governor is from a state that Obama won.  Only one governor is from west of the Mississippi river.  How anyone can believe the current make-up of the Board is a “fair representation” is beyond me.  Perhaps this is one explanation for the currently low public opinion of the Fed; it has become more a Cambridge-Wall Street-Washington echo chamber than anything else.

Bachus Plan a Good Start toward Ending Bailouts

Today Congressman Spencer Bachus, along with several of the Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee, offered a plan for reforming our financial system and ending future government bailouts of the financial sector

At the heart of the financial crisis has been the Federal Reserve’s willingness to invoke its powers under Paragraph 13-3 of the Federal Reserve Act to bail out firms like Bear Stearns and AIG — all without a single vote from Congress or any form of public debate. Almost 10 months after the initial AIG bailout by the Fed, there is still no plan for resolving that firm, and no strategy for recovering the taxpayers investment.

While some might pretend that the Fed puts no taxpayer funds at risk under the use its 13-3 powers, it is the American taxpayer who ultimately stands behind any Federal Reserve actions. In focusing on 13-3, the Bachus proposal rightly targets the largest, and least accountable, source of the bailouts. The Bachus proposal would require the Treasury secretary to approve any 13-3 actions and allow Congress the ability to disapprove such actions. While a complete repeal of 13-3 would be preferred, the presented reforms are a step in the right direction.

Another feature of the Bachus plan is to require large, non-financial firms to be resolved under the bankruptcy code, and not under a regime of continuing bailouts or political manipulation. Despite whatever flaws it may have, the bankruptcy process is one that is separated from politics. As we have witnessed in the recent government restructuring of U.S. auto companies, allowing Washington to resolve firms is an invitation for violating contracts and rewarding political constituencies.

The Bachus plan also addresses the two institutions at the center of our mortgage crisis: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their model of private profits and public losses has become an expensive one, with little public benefit. Any reform proposal that does not deal with Fannie and Freddie does not merit being called reform. The Bachus plan would rightly begin phasing out the privileged status of Fannie and Freddie.