Quick Note On The Federal Reserve Board

More recently, the Fed, beginning under Janet Yellen and continuing under Jerome Powell, the current chair, has acknowledged the role of monetary policy in inequality and especially racial inequality. Chair Powell has committed to keeping interest rates low until we are seeing a full employment economy that is creating serious inflationary pressures

This change in approach stems at least in part from the Fed Up Campaign, organized by the Center for Popular Democracy. (Ady Barkan was lead organizer in getting this campaign going.) This group brought labor and community organizers together to press the Fed for more pro-worker policies. (I was one of the economists who worked with Fed Up.) Chair Yellen and other members of the Fed’s leadership took the effort seriously and listened to the arguments. This was a big victory.

As far as the Fed’s conduct in the pandemic recession, I would mostly be supportive. They lowered interest rates as much as possible and acted to stabilize markets. This did help businesses and the stock market, but it also led to a housing boom that created hundreds of thousands of jobs. In addition, lower interest rates allowed millions of middle class homeowners refinance, putting thousands of dollars in interest savings in their pocket every year going forward. I have a hard time seeing the world being in a better place if the Fed had sat on its hands.

By contrast, I was one of few economists to criticize the bailouts in the Great Recession. The banks and financial institutions were in a crisis of their own creation, they had made hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans due to their own greed and stupidity. Being a good capitalist, I thought it was important to let these companies enjoy the fruits of their labor. (We also would have gotten instant financial reform, as the financial sector would have been quickly downsized, eliminating an enormous source of economic waste.) 

The Fed was 100 percent complicit in covering the tracks of the industry, including pushing end of the world stories to force Congress to approve the TARP. By far the best argument for the TARP was that the commercial paper market was shutting down. This meant that even healthy non-financial companies, like Verizon (VZ) and Boeing (BA), could not get the money they needed to meet their payroll and other regular bills. This really would have been an economic catastrophe.

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