Casey Stengel, manager of the hapless 1962 New York Mets, once famously asked, after an especially dismal outing, "Can't anybody here play this game?" This week I ask, after months of worse than no progress, "Can't anybody here even spell financial reform, let alone get it done?" We are in danger of experiencing another credit crisis, but one that could be even worse, as the tools to fight it may be lacking when we need them. With attacks on the independence of the Fed, no regulation of derivatives, and allowing banks to be too big to fail, we risk a repeat of the credit crisis. The bank lobbyists are winning and it's time for those of us in the cheap seats to get outraged. (And while this letter focuses on the US and financial reform, the principles are the same in Europe and elsewhere, as I will note at the end. We are risking way too much in the name of allowing large private profits.) And with no "but first," let's jump right in.
Last Monday I had lunch with Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Mr. Fisher is a remarkably nice guy and is very clear about where he stands on the issues. My pressing question was whether the Fed would actually accommodate the federal government if it continued to run massive deficits and turn on the printing press. Fisher was clear that such a move would be a mistake, and he thought there would be little sentiment among the various branch presidents to become the enabler of a dysfunctional Congress.
But that brought up a topic that he was quite passionate about, and that is what he sees as an attack on the independence of the Fed. There are bills in Congress that would take away or threaten the current independence of the Fed.
I recognize that the Fed is not completely independent. Even Greenspan said so this past week: "There's a presumption that the Federal Reserve's an independent agency, and it is up to a point, but we are a creature of the Congress and if ... we had said we're running into a bubble and we need to retrench, the Congress would say 'We haven't a clue what you're talking about.'"
Long-time readers know I do not have much time for Senator Chris Dodd. He has threatened the viability of the Fed by holding up appointments, actually risking the ability of the Fed to get an emergency quorum if the need arose. His current proposal to give the President the ability to appoint the president of the New York Fed is likewise a wrong-headed political power grab. He has openly proposed to have the presidents of the local districts appointed by the board of governors. These presidents are the only real check on the board.