What a way to start the day. Another interview on CNBC this morning with Ron Paul: Fed to Blame for Everything
Let me come clean: I basically share the man’s distrust of heavy concentrations of power. And I think that secular stability in the general level of nominal prices is probably a good idea too. Thus, it appears that we share a number of beliefs. So why does the guy make my eyes roll whenever I hear him speak?
His problem, in a nutshell, is this: He ascribes too much power to the Fed. The power in the U.S. resides in Congress. It is Congress that spends, taxes, and issues treasury debt. Traditionally, the Fed simply determined the composition of government debt between its interest-bearing (debt) and non-interest-bearing (money) components. What sort of power is this? (Especially in relation to the power of Congress).
Ah yes, but the Fed has greater power than this. It can “lend to its friends” and “let its enemies fail.” I presume he is talking about the Fed’s emergency lending facilities, all of which have now wound down, with a healthy profit for the U.S. taxpayer.
But I am missing the point: The Fed has the ability to create money “out of thin air!” Whenever I hear this expression, I chuckle. We all have the power to create debt out of “thin air.” When Microsoft creates shares to finance an acquisition, it creates the shares “out of thin air.” If you bum a beer from a friend and promise to repay him next week, you create a debt obligation “out of thin air.” Ooooo…”out of thin air!”
Evidently, Paul has been forecasting the current problems of the world since 1971 (the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system). Yep, there were certainly no problems prior to this. No inflation to speak of. Well, maybe a bit during the Korean war. And maybe a bit more during the Vietnam war. Oh, and let’s not forget Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. Fiscal strain, fiscal strain, fiscal strain…all the fault of the Fed, no doubt. This fiscal strain apparently had nothing to do with the breakdown of Bretton Woods…no, let’s just blame the Fed for going off the gold standard. As if Arthur Burns had more power than Richard Nixon.
To be fair to Ron Paul, his position appears to be this. It is not ultimately the fault of the Fed. It is the fault of those in Congress who would like to use the Fed as their personal piggy bank to finance their pet “great society” spending initiatives. What Paul would like to see is an institution that prohibits Congress from making sneaky appropriations through the inflation tax.
If this is his view, then I have some sympathy for it. But I think that his energy here could be better spent elsewhere: there are bigger fish to fry in the realm of fiscal policy reforms.