The Buzz over Bernanke
Last week's buzz in Jackson Hole Wyoming and around Wall Street is whether or not Banana Ben Bernanke should be reappointed to the Fed Chair. CNBC also held a panel discussing this issue with Bob McTeer (former President of the Dallas Fed). The consensus was that it was ridiculous not to have Barack Obama indicate he would serve another term as soon as possible. The agreed upon reason being that no one could do a better job than he has done.
So please allow me to inject a little sanity into the discussion. While most people in our industry are quick to hoist Mr. Bernanke on a pedestal -- just as the former maestro Allan Greenspan was -- I think the entire institution should be canned.
First let me say that Gentle Ben, or any Fed Chairman for that matter, can only do a few things if his goal is to pull the economy out of a recession. He can print money, exchange Treasury holdings for a lesser quality asset, or lower bank reserve requirements. So, basically they can either dilute the value of our currency or decrease the quality of their asset holdings. That's it.
But when they do such things the result will be to cause the rate of inflation to accelerate. In the past few decades it seems the better the Chairman is at destroying the dollar, the more he is lauded. No Fed head in our history has increased the monetary base (the only part of money supply the central bank directly controls) more than Ben Bernanke. Therefore, he stands far above all his predecessors in his efforts to weaken the dollar in order to engender a recovery in markets and the economy.
However, the truth is that we don't need a central bank. The country functioned just fine prior to 1913. Can anyone really contend that the Fed has brought about stable prices and a strong dollar? Can anyone claim that having a central bank has saved us from the business cycle and has eliminated recessions and depressions? The fact is they caused them to occur. I know it's now considered heresy, but I believe interest rates should be a function of the supply of savings vs. the demand for borrowing, not by decree.
What we need is a money supply that grows and contracts with the change in the work force and productivity. If we just adhered to that simple formula there would never be any inflation and we would always have a stable currency. However, when a country is dominated by bankers and politicians the people always lose.
Inflation bails out those in debt like the government. So perhaps the White House will give Bernanke the Medal of Honor for making our scores of trillions in debt easier to pay off.
Also, having an elastic currency allows bankers to make more loans and hence more money. Giving financial institutions the knowledge that they have a quasi-governmental agency with an unlimited amount of money that can rescue them from their bad assets allows them to make loans with greater impunity.
But having said all that, I think maybe he should be reappointed anyway. After all, it is unrealistic to think we would ever shut down the Federal Reserve. And if he's replaced it will only be because Obama thinks he isn't destroying the dollar fast enough. Maybe Barack thinks Larry Summers will do a better job getting inflation going.
So forgive me if I opt out of his reappointment committee and count me out if you are looking for someone to sing the Fed's praises. But count me in as one of the few left who will still embrace markets.