With momentum swinging mightily towards Ron Paul’s Audit the Fed bill, the Fed is acting to stem the tide.

Please consider Fed Weighs Naming Borrowers

The Federal Reserve, under pressure from Congress to be more transparent, is “giving serious consideration” to releasing the names of firms that receive loans from the central bank, a top Fed official said Friday.

At a House hearing, Fed General Counsel Scott Alvarez struck a conciliatory tone when a top lawmaker indicated that he wanted more information revealed about the Fed’s loans.

Asked if the Fed would work with Congress on establishing provisions for disclosure, Mr. Alvarez said, “We’d be happy to work with you on it.”

The hearing addressed the implications of a bill from Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas) that would open more of the central bank’s operations to audits by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The Fed’s monetary-policy operations — such as interest-rate decisions and loans to banks through its discount window — are blocked by law from GAO review. The GAO audits most other central-bank operations, such as bank supervision and consumer regulation.

Top Fed officials strongly oppose repealing the GAO exclusions. They say audits directed by lawmakers would undermine markets’ belief in the Fed’s independence and raise concerns that monetary policy could be influenced by political considerations. “These concerns likely would increase inflation fears and market interest rates and, ultimately, damage economic stability and job creation,” Mr. Alvarez said.

Still, several lawmakers pushed back against the Fed’s suggestion that GAO reviews of monetary policy would hinder the Fed’s effectiveness. “How many audits does the GAO perform?” Mr. Paul asked. “In any agencies of government, in the State Department, in the [Defense Department], nobody’s ever charged the GAO for altering policy.”

Testimony on HR 1207

Inquiring minds are reading Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Testimony in Support of HR 1207, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009 before the House Financial Services Committee, September 25, 2009.

I am speaking this morning in support of HR 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act. As the Committee knows, this bill would require a full audit of the Federal Reserve by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

On November 10, 2008, Bloomberg News ran the following headline: “Fed Defies Transparency Aim in Refusal to Disclose.” The story pointed out that the Fed was refusing to identify the recipients of trillions of dollars in emergency loans or the dubious assets the central bank was accepting as collateral. When the initial $700 billion congressional bailout was being debated last September, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson couldn’t emphasize their commitment to transparency strongly enough. But “two months later, as the Fed [lent] far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn’t require approval by Congress, Americans [had] no idea where their money [was] going or what securities the banks [were] pledging in return.”

There is no good reason for Americans not to know the recipients of the Fed’s emergency lending facilities. There is no good reason for them to be kept in the dark about the Fed’s arrangements with foreign central banks. These things affect the quality of the money that our system obliges the American public to accept.

Perhaps the most frequent of the claims is that a genuine audit would jeopardize the alleged independence of the Fed. Congress could come to influence or even dictate monetary policy.

This is a red herring. The bill is not designed to empower politicians to increase the money supply, choose interest-rate targets, or adopt any of the rest of the Fed’s central planning apparatus, all of which is better left to the free market than to the Fed or Congress. It seeks nothing more than to open the Fed’s books to public scrutiny. Congress has a moral and legal obligation to oversee institutions it brings into existence. The convoluted scenarios by which merely opening the books will lead to an inflationary catastrophe at the hands of Congress are difficult to take seriously.

Moreover, try to imagine a Fed chairman doggedly seeking to maintain the value of the dollar even if it meant refusing to monetize a massive deficit to fight a war or “stimulate” a depressed economy. It is not possible.

If there is any truth to the idea of Fed independence, it lay in precisely this: the Fed may reward favored friends and constituencies with trillions of dollars in various kinds of assistance, while keeping the public completely in the dark. If that is the independence we’re talking about, no self-respecting American would hesitate for a moment to challenge it.

Opponents of HR 1207 have sometimes tried to claim that the Fed is already adequately audited. If this were true, why is the Fed in panic mode over this bill? It is the broad areas these audits exclude that the American public is increasingly interested in investigating, and these are the gaps that HR 1207 seeks to fill.

My point is simply this: if our monetary system were really as strong, robust, and beyond criticism as its cheerleaders claim, why does it need to rely so heavily on public ignorance? How can it be a sound banking system that depends on keeping the public in the dark about the condition of its financial institutions?

Let me also make clear that supporters of this legislation are strongly opposed to a watered-down version of the bill – which, incidentally, would only increase public suspicion that someone is hiding something.

If the Federal Reserve Transparency Act passes and the audit takes place, the American people will have achieved a great victory. If the legislation fails, more and more Americans will begin to wonder what the Fed could be so anxious to keep hidden, and the pressure for transparency will simply intensify. A recent poll finds 75 percent of Americans already in favor of auditing the Fed. The writing is on the wall.

At the same time, as we hear this objection repeated time and again, we might wonder just how independent the Fed really is, what with its chairman up for reappointment by the president every four years. Have these critics never heard of the political business cycle? Fed chairmen have been known to ingratiate themselves into the president’s favor close to election time by means of loose monetary policy and the false (and temporary) prosperity it brings about. Let us not insult Americans’ intelligence by pretending this phenomenon does not exist.

The Fed enjoys a government-granted monopoly on the creation of legal-tender money. It is not an unreasonable imposition for Americans to demand to know about the activities of such an institution. It is common sense.

The Fed’s willingness to talk suggests they finally realize momentum is strong enough that something will change. Nonetheless all the Fed is offering is talk, perhaps hoping that talk will make the problem go away.

It won’t. Talk is cheap. We don’t need idle chatter, we need passage of HR 1207, which calls for a complete audit of the Federal Reserve and removes many significant barriers towards transparency of our monetary system.

Speak Out – Audit the Fed, Then End It!

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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