FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Secrecy at the Fed

The recent release of documents showing that the Federal Reserve loaned tens and possibly hundreds of billions of dollars to foreign banks in 2008 and 2009 has raised more questions about Ben Bernanke’s Chairmanship of the Fed.

The lending may or may not have been the right thing to do at the time, given the financial crisis. But it was done in secret, and the only reason that we have the information now is because Bloomberg News and Fox Business News won a two-year court battle, using the Freedom of Information Act, to get the documents released.

The official excuse for such secrecy at the time of lending is that the borrowing institutions could suffer “bank runs” if their loans were made public. That is debatable, but there is no excuse for keeping the information secret for years after the crisis has passed.

This kind of secrecy is maintained to avoid political accountability, not for reasons of financial stability. Such practices are what we would expect from authoritarian governments, not the government of a democratic republic.

Accountability is really the main problem at the Fed ? if there were any significant accountability, Ben Bernanke would never have become Chair of the Fed in 2006, and certainly wouldn’t have kept his job after the economy collapsed.

Bernanke was a governor of the Federal Reserve in 2002, when the housing bubble was already identified by my colleague Dean Baker. Bernanke was oblivious to the bubble as it continued to expand to $8 trillion in 2006, before bursting and causing our worst recession since the Great Depression.

Bernanke should have been aware of Baker’s analysis, which looked at house prices over the post-World-War II era, and especially the record run-up of 70 percent ? after adjusting for inflation ? from 1996-2006. Before the bubble burst, Baker became the most cited source on the housing market for the New York Times. Economist Robert Schiller followed with an analysis of a century of house price data and came to the same conclusion ? that this was a bubble that would inevitably burst. He was also frequently cited in the major media.

Baker showed clearly that this price run-up could only be explained by an asset bubble ? that other explanations attributing it to demographics, building restrictions, or other changes in demand or supply were not consistent with the data. This was not rocket science for an economist of Bernanke’s skill level. He is well-versed in economic history, including that of the Great Depression.

Yet as late as July 2005, Bernanke was asked directly if there was a housing bubble, and he replied: “I don’t know whether prices are exactly where they should be, but I think it’s fair to say that much of what’s happened is supported by the strength of the economy.”

In May of 2007, just seven months before the Great Recession began, Bernanke stated: “.. .we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system. The vast majority of mortgages, including even subprime mortgages, continue to perform well.”

Bernanke therefore missed the biggest asset bubble in U.S. history, and then failed to anticipate the inevitable destruction that its bursting would cause in the overall economy. This is analogous to Japan’s nuclear regulators’ determination that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was safe from any tsunami.

The problem with rewarding incompetence and failure in high places is that even a well-regulated financial system ? which we are still very far from achieving ? cannot serve the public interest if the chief regulators don’t do their jobs. Secrecy, lack of accountability, and incompetence ? these are weapons of mass destruction for America’s economy.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: the Phony Crisis.

This column was originally published by The Sacramento Bee.

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail