Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Fed’s Real Mandate

Posted by M. C. on October 8, 2022

The current “dual” between the two mandates is to reduce price inflation by increasing interest rates to increase unemployment and kill businesses to choke off aggregate demand.

Mark Thornton

The Federal Reserve has a legal dual mandate to minimize unemployment and price inflation. The current “dual” between the two mandates is to reduce price inflation by increasing interest rates to increase unemployment and kill businesses to choke off aggregate demand. This has been the most important economic and investment issue this year and this dual minimization procedure has dominated Fed policy for at least three-quarters of a century.

This is odd given that the Fed is in the business of creating money, the cause of price inflation, and it is responsible for all the largest surges in unemployment since its founding in 1913. Employing an army of monetary economists, macro theorists, and statisticians, the Fed appears to be pursuing its quixotic quest of the Phillips curve sweet spot of minimizing inflation and unemployment.

The real mandate of the Fed is serving its masters, the political elites, by financing government spending and debt, bailing out cronies, and supporting the political process, including the Fed’s own interests. Everything else, including the inflation and unemployment rates are derivative of the primary mandate. The so-called dual mandate is just subterfuge to protect the Fed’s “confidence game.”

The Quest of the False Mandate

In The Fed Explained: What the Central Bank Does, we learn how control of the Fed is “decentralized.” This might sound good to some supporters of the free market. However, any hint of decentralization, such as the importance of District Banks, is long gone and the remnant is merely a diversion or historical curiosity. Of the twelve votes on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) there are only four of twelve rotating District Bank presidents voting, plus the President of the New York Fed. The central Board of Governors in Washington DC has seven voting members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and has nearly twice the voting power over interest rate decisions. Plus, the Chairman (Powell) has the power of the bully pulpit and is the consensus builder on the FOMC.

We are also told of the balancing of public and private (banks’) interests controlling the Fed and some free-market supporters latch onto the influence of the private sector as an effective check on the Fed’s enormous economic power. Big banks do work directly with the Fed in “open market operations” and interact in the day-to-day business of banking regulation. Commercial banks have some voting power within the District Banks. However, this influence is contingent on political goals and even the big banks can be pawns in the Fed’s political chess game. Their shares are “nonnegotiable” and are nothing like shares in private corporations. Banking interests are clearly derivative, and the Fed has thrown such interests overboard when necessary, such as with the Savings and Loan Crisis or Lehman Bros. In any case, the union of public and private interests is the ultimate source of corruption and can be the greatest threat to human liberty. Such private interests are clearly not a bulwark of liberty.

It is true that the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was established and intended to be a cartel device for the banks and some banks are better protected than others. Marx and Engels (1848) called for the establishment of central banks and thereafter Americans were increasingly duped by socialist ideology. This socialist influence was an important force during the so-called Progressive Era (1890–1920). History textbooks make the Federal Reserve Act appear to be the result of a coalition of popular interests. However, the big banks and their academic technocrats controlled by political elites, created and controlled the legislative campaign with their “independent” National Monetary Commission.

A final and critical canard about the Fed is its “independence.” We are told that the Fed must be independent of political power to carry out its mandates and be effective. In this vein, if the Fed were to succumb to political pressures, then it would continually increase the money supply and suppress interest rates below market determined levels, especially before elections. This they tell us would destabilize the economy and might lead to hyperinflation the way it does under dictatorships where central banks do not have independence. I’m sure the Fed would love to be independent, but they are controlled by powerful office holders who are in turn controlled by the elites. As Ryan McMaken reminds us, “Fed independence is a fairy tale academic economists like to tell their students” and they are biased toward the inflationary mandate.

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