Friday, September 25, 2009

Tom Woods Testimony Before Congress on 'Audit the Fed'

Prepared Testimony by Thomas Woods Jr. in Support of HR 1207, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009, 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.”

Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, put it simply: “Taxpayers – involuntary investors in this case – have a right to know who received loans, in what amounts, for which collateral, and why specific loans were made.”

This has been portrayed as a trivial matter being pursued by some cynical and uppity Americans who don’t know their place. But 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.

The Fed’s arguments against the bill are unlikely to persuade, and will undoubtedly strike the average American as little more than special pleading. 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.

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.

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.

A related argument warns that the legislation threatens to politicize lender-of-last-resort decisions. Again, this is untrue. But even if it were true, how would that represent a departure from current practice? I hope we are not asking Americans to believe that the decisions to bail out various financial institutions over the past two years, and in particular to allow them to become depository institutions overnight that they might qualify for assistance, were made on the basis of a pure devotion to the common good and were not political at all. Most Americans, not unreasonably, seem convinced of another thesis: that Goldman Sachs, for instance, might be just a little bit more politically well connected than the rest of us.

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.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the monetary system we have now is sound and beyond reproach, and certainly better than any system that preceded it. My purpose today is not to render judgment upon such views, however deeply misguided I happen to consider them, and however inaccurate their implicit view of nineteenth-century financial panics. 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.

The Federal Reserve may as well get used to the idea that the audit is coming. That would be a far more sensible approach than the counterproductive and condescending one it has adopted thus far, in which the peons who populate the country are urged to quit pestering their betters with all these impertinent questions. The Fed should take to heart the words of consolation the American people are given whenever a new government surveillance program is uncovered: if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

The superstitious reverence that Americans have been taught to have for the Federal Reserve is unworthy of the dignity of a free people. 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.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of nine books, including two New York Times bestsellers: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.


  1. Robert
    Ron Paul is being used by the democrats in general and Barney Frank in particular. BF is up to his elbows in monetary manipulation using the CRA on banks and supporting Fannie Mae and Freddie MAc in their subsidization of bad mortgages. When the financial crisis occured BF went into PR mode and has distanced himself from the crisis he helped to cause. NO GOOD WILL COME OF THIS SO-CALLED AUDIT WITH BF IN CONTROL

  2. Jorge says:

    I agree Barney Frank is a political hack of the first order and not to be trusted, but the Fed MUST be audited. Their tampering in the financial markets did far more damage than the CRA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac combined.

    Remember, when the money is corrupted, everything else that comes after it is corrupted as well. That's what the Fed does. It corrupts US currency and interest rates. This needs to stop. Audit the Fed and then, end it.

  3. Absolutely the Fed must be audited.
    To think otherwise is shear foolishness.After the stunts they have pulled. They should have been audited ever year since it's creation. Then again they should have never been allowed in the first place. Each country should have it's own Central bank not one owned and operated by the private sector.
    Now the Fed doesn't want to be audited too bad for them. They are just a bunch of crooks in my opinion.

  4. I agree the FED was the primary cause of the financial crisis but BF and his political cronies will not abolish the most powerful tool they have for benefiting their special interest groups. If completed the audit will be used to legitimize the FED as the new improved "FED." Ultimately the power behind the FED is the federal government and its monopoly on the use of force. This monopoly must be eliminated in order to restore commerce without coercion, voluntary transactions between consenting adults based on a medium of exchange that can be trusted by all.

  5. I don't want to be too far off of topic here, but I believe quite seriously that the only thing to do is disband the Fed. Audit? Sure, but that's only the beginning.

    I believe in freedom, not using force to make people do things.

    If you want to lend, or save (at whatever interest rate you can freely negotiate with the other party), you should be able to, unafraid of the fed or any other gun-toting institution's "policy."

    Without the fed, our government would have a much harder time stealing from us all (via inflation), or rewarding political allies, by printing money and allocating it as they wish.

    Alas! I fear it is not to be, but the hope is fond.

    In the interim, let's audit them. Mr. Woods has that right.