The Federal Reserve made a colossal gamble with its so-called “Quantitative Easing” or “QE,” which is simply a euphemism for its $4.4 trillion binge of buying long-term bonds and mortgages. Its big bid for long bonds, along with parallel programs undertaken by other members of the international fraternity of central banks, has artificially suppressed long-term interest rates, and has deliberately fostered asset-price inflations in bonds, stocks, and houses.
Will this gamble pan out?
The balance sheet of today’s Federal Reserve makes it the largest 1980s-model savings and loan in the world, with a giant portfolio of long-term, fixed rate mortgage securities combined with floating rate deposits. This would certainly have astonished the legislative fathers of the Federal Reserve Act like Congressman and then Senator Carter Glass, who strongly held that the Fed should primarily be about discounting short-term commercial notes.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the great philosopher of the authoritarian state, in a famous metaphor portrayed the government as a dominating giant or Leviathan, animated by absolute sovereignty, and passing out rewards and punishments as it saw fit. It alone could control the unruly passions of the people and create stability and safety.
Today’s “administrative state”—or government bureaucracy, acting simultaneously as sovereign legislator, executive, and judge—brings Hobbes’ image of the giant vividly to mind.
The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve is an informative and provocative history of the Fed and its remarkable evolution over a hundred years’ time: a complex institution, in a complex and changing environment.
Very importantly, author Peter Conti-Brown has included the Fed’s intellectual evolution, or the shifting of the ideas that shape its actions as these ideas go in and out of central banking fashion. This account makes readers wonder what new ideas and theories the leaders of the Fed will adopt, reinforce by groupthink with their fellow central bankers, and try out on us in future years.