I have a new article on the past, present, and future of Federal Reserve Independence (it was written during the summer):
Federal Reserve Independence: The Never-Ending Story, by Mark Thoma: In December 1965, President Lyndon Johnson met with Federal Reserve Chairman William McChesney Martin at the president’s surprisingly modest ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Johnson was upset with Martin for tightening credit despite Johnson’s expressed preference for more accommodative policy. At one point, the president began pushing the Fed chairman around the room, haranguing him with one of his patented hard sells, “Martin, my boys are dying in Vietnam, and you won’t print the money I need.”
Martin resisted Johnson at the time, but eventually moved policy in the direction the White House demanded. Looking back years later, Martin, who was dubbed the “happy Puritan” by one journalist, lamented, “To my everlasting shame, I finally gave in to him.”
The idea that monetary policy should be made independent of political influence is widely (though hardly completely) accepted today. As former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (2006-14) noted, “Careful empirical studies support the view that more-independent central banks tend to deliver better inflation outcomes than less-independent central banks, without compromising economic growth.” But as the LBJ anecdote suggests, the Fed did not always enjoy the degree of independence it has today. Before the era that began with Paul Volcker (1979-87), political influence on monetary policy was the rule rather than the exception.
The independence of today’s Fed is supported by its unusual institutional framework. But the primary bulwark against interference is psychological, driven less by laws and regulations and more by the convictions of key players that the economy is better off with a central bank that can exercise broad discretion in monetary policy. Hence a president inclined to dismiss Bernanke’s “careful empirical studies” who is abetted by a Congress unwilling to resist meddling could reverse the four-decade precedent. ...[continue]...