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Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Auditing the Fed"

Bruce Bartlett and Barry Ritholtz on Ron Paul's call for the Fed to be audited:

Auditing the Fed, by Bruce Bartlett: Ron Paul finally got his wish yesterday and the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on his legislation to audit the Federal Reserve. There were only two witnesses: the Fed's general counsel and Tom Woods, a historian from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The testimony is available here.
I urge those curious about this issue to read both statements. I think it is abundantly clear that this is a crackpot idea. The Fed is already thoroughly audited in every area except two: monetary policy and dealings with foreign central banks. The only purpose of having additional audits of the Fed is to undermine its independence precisely with regard to these two areas. If Woods presents the best argument for doing so, the argument is very shallow indeed.
Whatever one thinks of the Fed's policies in recent years--and there certainly are grounds for criticism--there is no reason whatsoever to believe that undermining its independence and putting the Congress in control of monetary policy--Ron Paul's goal--would improve matters at all. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that full congressional control of monetary policy would be a disaster. Instead of getting Switzerland-like stability, as Paul foolishly imagines, the more likely result would be Zimbabwe-like hyperinflation.
In the end, I agree with Barry Ritholz that whatever the Fed's failings, those of Congress are vastly worse.  As he put it in explaining why he didn't testify yesterday:
I was invited to testify this week to the House Financial Services Committee about reform and regulation.
I politely demurred.
While I have been critical of the Federal Reserve (especially the Greenspan years), my beef with them has been their judgment and decision-making process. Congress, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. Its not their judgment, but rather, the fact they are owned not by the American people, but by lobbyists, and corporate interests. They have become structurally deformed.
How weird is it for me, who spent so many pages blaming the Fed for a lot of the recent crisis, to find myself in a position of defending them from outside political pressure? The choice we face is the recent Fed regime of secrecy, nonfeasance, irresponsibility, and easy money — versus something possibly likely to be a whole lot worse. ...
If the Fed has been a major source of problems, Congress is much worse. They were the great enablers of the crisis, readily corruptible, bought and paid for by the banking industry. I find Congress to be the worse of two evils — lacking in objectivity, incapable of producing legitimate regulatory review. ...

As I've made clear in the past, I also think that auditing the Fed, or reducing its independence in other ways, is a bad idea. The strange marriage of the populists and libertarians on this issue has given it more momentum that I expected, but hopefully not enough to carry the day.

    Posted by on Saturday, September 26, 2009 at 11:11 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy, Politics | Permalink  Comments (90)


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