Suddenly Everyone's Talking About How Our Money Works -- Is it Time to End the Fed?
“We probably know more about tribes in the Amazon jungle than we do about the real nature of power in the United States. Neither political science, nor history, nor economics do very well on this.” - Tom Ferguson
Something new is happening around the contours of monetary policy. It’s becoming part of our popular political landscape. We saw this a few weeks ago, when Sarah Palin injected into the 2012 presidential race the idea of fundamentally reorganizing the Federal Reserve’s mandate. Republican Mike Pence, Senator Richard Shelby, and a host of other Republicans have jumped on this concept, and there will soon be legislation introduced to make this happen.
Beyond Republican politicians, the public is beginning to rethink our monetary order. A YouTube video on quantitative easing has over 3 million views. The video slams the Fed for missing the dotcom bubble, the subprime crisis, for being fundamentally undemocratic and unaccountable, and for being engaged in collusive dealings with Goldman Sachs. Financial blogs and CNBC discuss the Fed, and its associated characters, with deep insight and passion. And Bernanke drew 30 no votes in his confirmation hearing in 2009, the most ever for such a position, just four years after drawing almost none. The market nearly crashed on the possibility that Bernanke’s nomination would fail before the White House stepped up aggressive lobbying efforts. On the left, the last few years saw a remarkable grassroots coalition of economists and activists to bring transparency to the central bank, joining a long-sought libertarian crusade. I was a staffer for Rep. Alan Grayson, who was working with that coalition to require an independent audit of the Federal Reserve. Tomorrow, because of provisions put into Dodd-Frank by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressmen Grayson and Ron Paul, the Federal Reserve will release details of its 2007-2010 emergency loans to the web.
This network of politicians, advocates, and bloggers will go to town on whatever revelations come out of that. (Although the Fed obnoxiously put its Maiden Lane disclosures in a non-copy or printable PDF format, so we’ll see how easy they make it to get this info.) The defenders of technocracy are out in force as well. Paul Krugman is defending the institution, if not every decision. The Democratic partisan class is going after right-wing Fed critics, while more liberal independents are pointing to the Fed in the 1940s and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation as a very different monetary model. Not since the populist movement of the 1890s has there been this much discussion of monetary structures among the public, and so much dissent about how money is created and circulated throughout the economy. It’s happening for a reason. The public is now paying attention to finance. We ran a focus group in Orlando last year, and one of the surprising conclusions was that nearly every independent voter knew who Ben Bernanke was. People don’t like the structure of our financial oligarchy, and they are talking about it. Even the deficit hysteria and the Fannie/Freddie GSE fights are a function of this monetary debate.
It is good that this debate is happening. It means that we will be able to examine the real power structure of the American order, rather than the minor food fights allowable in our current political system. This will bring deep disagreements, profound ones, but also remarkable possibility. Modern American industrial policy is to push capital into housing, move manufacturing abroad, build a massive defense establishment, and maintain an oligarchic financial sector. This system isn’t a structural inevitability. People built it, and people are unbuilding it. People with names, motivations, and reputations. People like us, and like Sarah Palin.