Richard Fisher is the president of the Federal Reserve branch in Dallas and a voting member this year of the FOMC committee, with some strong and dissenting views about Fed policy. He recently gave a speech to the Manhattan Institute that should be required reading (link below) for all policy makers at all levels of government, and not just Fed types.
“The new Congress and the new staff in the White House have their work cut out for them. You cannot overstate the gravity of their duty on the economic front. Over the years, their predecessors — Republicans and Democrats together — have dug a fiscal sinkhole so deep and so wide that, left unrepaired, it will swallow up the economic future of our children, our grandchildren and their children. They must now engineer a way out of that frightful predicament without thwarting the nascent economic recovery.
“I have been outspoken about the limits of monetary policy as a salve for the nation’s fiscal pathology. The Fed has done much, in my words, to provide the bridge financing until the new Congress gets to work restructuring the tax and regulatory incentives American businesses need to confidently expand their payrolls and capital expenditures here at home.
“The Federal Reserve has held rates to nil. We have expanded our balance sheet to unprecedented levels. After much debate — which included strong concern expressed by one member with a formal vote and others, like me, who did not have voting rights in 2010 — the FOMC collectively decided in November to temporarily undertake a program to purchase U.S. Treasuries that, when added to previous policy initiatives, roughly means we are purchasing the equivalent of all newly issued Treasury debt through June.
“By this action, we have run the risk of being viewed as an accomplice to Congress’ fiscal nonfeasance. To avoid that perception, we must vigilantly protect the integrity of our delicate franchise. There are limits to what we can do on the monetary front to provide the bridge financing to fiscal sanity. Last Friday, speaking in Germany, [European Central Bank President] Jean-Claude Trichet said it best: ‘Monetary policy responsibility cannot substitute for government irresponsibility.’
“The entire FOMC knows the history and the ruinous fate that is meted out to countries whose central banks take to regularly monetizing government debt. Barring some unexpected shock to the economy or financial system, I think we have reached our limit. I would be wary of further expanding our balance sheet. But here is the essential fact I want to emphasize today: The Fed could not monetize the debt if the debt were not being created by Congress in the first place.
“Those lawmakers who advocate ‘Ending the Fed’ might better turn their considerable talents toward ending the fiscal debacle that has for too long run amuck within their own house. The Fed does not create government debt; fiscal authorities do. Deficits and the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Social Security are not created by the Federal Reserve; they are the legacy of those who control the purse strings — the Congress, working with the president. The Fed does not earmark taxpayer money for pet projects in local communities that taxpayers themselves would never countenance; only the Congress does that. The Congress and administration play the dominant role in creating the regulatory environment that incentivizes or discourages job creation.
“… A reader of Shakespeare will recall the dialogue between Glendower and Hotspur in Henry IV. Glendower claims, ‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep.’ And Hotspur replies, ‘Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?’
“We shall see if the new Congress will prove worthy of the power the American people have ‘loaned’ them, and, together with the president, actually draw the spirits of fiscal reform and sanity from the ‘vasty deep’ to at long last implement meaningful fiscal and regulatory policy that incentivizes private-sector job creation here at home while arresting the hemorrhaging of our Treasury. If they do, then more Americans will find work and be better off, better paid, and freer to make their own decisions about the economy.
“If they don’t, then woe to our children, their children, and the American Dream.”