Thursday, November 19, 2009

Americans Deserve a Transparent Fed

By Ron Paul and Jim DeMint

For nearly a century the Federal Reserve has operated in the shadows, away from the prying eyes of Congress, journalists and the American people. Created in 1913, the Fed was given enormous responsibility to protect the value of our currency. Yet in the last 96 years the U.S. dollar has lost more than 95% of its purchasing power. The Fed's unprecedented actions over the past year in attempting to stabilize the financial system have now forced it into the spotlight, and caused millions of people around the country to question the opacity of the Fed's financial transactions.

While the Fed is more transparent now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, there is still a long way to go. If the Fed were fully transparent, organizations such as Bloomberg and Fox News wouldn't have to sue its board of governors to receive materials that should be available through Freedom of Information Act requests. These include information on which banks and companies received loans and for what amounts after the 2008 financial meltdown.

One puzzling assertion made by the Fed and its supporters is that the Federal Reserve has some sort of independence from the government and independence in undertaking monetary policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Federal Reserve is a government-created banking monopoly, and its top decision makers are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. If they do not perform satisfactorily in the eyes of politicians, they will not be renominated.

The Fed has also, for the past three decades, been required to engage in monetary policy with the goal of maintaining stable prices and full employment. Since the natural trend over time is for prices to decrease, a mandate to maintain stable prices is a mandate to pursue an expansionary monetary policy and inflate the money supply to counteract the lower prices we would expect from increased productivity.

The Fed chairman is required to appear twice a year before Congress to explain the Fed's actions, and how the Fed is complying with its mandates of stable prices and full employment. However, the idea that this constitutes any sort of oversight is laughable.

Each congressman who questions the chairman receives only a few minutes in which to ask questions and receive answers. Having been on the receiving end of Alan Greenspan's notoriously obtuse "Greenspan-Speak" answers and Ben Bernanke's similarly convoluted statements, we can assure you that the process is completely ineffective at getting any real answers.

No matter how direct the questions are, Fed chairmen answer with a vagueness common to bureaucrats. The whole process is window dressing for public consumption, not any sort of attempt to exercise oversight or gain any real insight into the Fed's actions.

What is needed is a full audit of the Fed, something that has never happened. We need to know who the Fed is giving money to, what types of securities are being purchased and what backs those securities, how much money is being paid for those securities, etc.

While Rep. Mel Watt's (D., N.C.) efforts to audit the new lending facilities authorized to bail out private firms such as AIG is a step in the right direction, it is still just a first step. These facilities have the same effect on the money supply as securities purchased through open market operations. Why should securities placed on one line of the Fed's balance sheet be subject to audit while the exact same securities placed elsewhere on the balance sheet are not subject to audit? The loopholes need to be closed.

In coming weeks we plan to offer companion amendments to legislation already before the House and Senate that will open the Fed up to a complete audit. The amendments set a six-month time lag on the publication of previously unreleased audit data to address the Fed's concerns that actions undertaken in support of monetary policy would immediately be politicized. The transcripts and minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee meetings would continue to be made public at the Fed's discretion, with unpublicized details of meetings not subject to any additional scrutiny. Finally, the amendments make clear that the purpose of the audits is not to interfere with or dictate monetary policy.

As strong opponents of government intervention into the economy, we do not want to see Congress directly dictate monetary policy. But while the Fed is involved so heavily in monetary policy and its actions so heavily influence the future of our economy, it is necessary that it be fully transparent. Interventions into the economy on the order of trillions of dollars cannot continue to escape public scrutiny. American taxpayers deserve better.

Ron Paul is a Republican congressman from Texas. Jim DeMint is a Republican senator from South Carolina.

The above originally appeared as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

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