Response to Tyler on the Fed

Tyler's Case for the Fed (see below) has solidified my judgment that the case for the Fed is surprisingly weak.  I will draw out some of Tyler's comments.

I view 1929-1932 as a better illustration of "a world without a Fed" than "a world with a Fed," even though of course we had a Fed then.

I have learnt that the best response to this kind of reasoning is to say "please pass the nam tok, Tyrone" and move on. Be forewarned.

The Fed made the recent crisis much better than it otherwise would have been.  Without a Fed, we would have experienced something more like the Great Depression, including a frozen payments system.

It's wrong to evaluate a big institution like the Fed by assuming a world in which everything else is exactly the same, except for the Fed's absence. Tyler does a lot of this in his post but I am not enamored of this style of reasoning. This is why we need pre and post-Fed history.  Pre and post-comparisons are one of the few methods we have for understanding how entirely different institutional structures perform in equilibrium (looking at countries without a central bank is another possibility). Pre and post-comparisons have all kinds of problems, since other things are changing, but the facts do at least put some constraints on imagination.

By the way, as the Miron paper I linked to shows, comparing just the 25 years before and after the Fed (even if you exclude GD) also suggests that the Fed reduced stability.

Tyler says the Fed has been getting better. Ok, but that also illustrates the weakness of Tyler's approach. After 100 years we would have expected alternative institutions to have also gotten better.

In the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s, I see the Fed as bringing improvements, of unknown magnitude.

Tyler gives us his informed opinion but it's long on opinion and short on information. Would it be possible to be more vague?  "Improvements"? Compared to what? Compared to the Fed in the 1970s?  Unknown magnitude? As I said, Tyler's case for the Fed leaves me more solidified in my judgment that the case is weak. I will let the Straussians ponder that more.

Historically central banks have been essential in helping nations fight major wars.  The world's preeminent military power simply will have a Fed, for the same reason that it has lots of nuclear weapons.

I agree with this entirely.  Governments want central banks because they help to fuel war. Historically, this is why central banks were created. 

More generally, both Fed and Treasury are usually, in relative terms, voices of economic reason within government, even if they're not everything you wish them to be.  It is arguably counterproductive to lower their status.  Currently, the relevant alternative is a totally politicized Fed, not no Fed at all;

Like the points Tyler makes in the beginning of his post about who does or does not support deposit insurance this is sociology, irrelevant to the fundamental question of evaluation.

Moreover, as I pointed out earlier the case for "independent" central banks is also weak; central banks are always politicized, only the interest groups change.


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