On February 1, 2018, Janet Yellen’s term as The Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Fed Chair) ends, and a Trump appointee will succeed her. It matters a great deal who will be the next Fed Chair so this should make everyone very, very uneasy.
First, it is important to understand the dual mandate of the bank. It is tasked with maximizing employment and stabilizing prices (i.e. controlling inflation). Its other function is to regulate the banking system. This is important because the federal government backs bank deposits and therefore taxpayer dollars are on the hook if banks decide to engage in risky behavior. In order to achieve these goals, the Fed has the power to create specific regulations, as well as general power to make banking secure and responsible.
This is a huge responsibility, and one that requires a competent, steady hand – not exactly a quality one would associate with the majority of Trump’s high-level appointments..
The Fed Chair serves for four years. Given that no one oversees their monetary policy decisions, nor do they receive Congressionally appropriated funding, the Chair has immense power in the average citizen’s life, despite never being democratically elected. Trump understands this, and so does Kevin Warsh, who is openly vying for the appointment.
For many reasons, Mr. Warsh’s nomination seems like a foregone conclusion. He is, almost uncannily, the exact type of crony economist that the current administration seems to embrace to the detriment of the American people.
Kevin Warsh is the son-in-law to Ronald Lauder–heir to the Estee Lauder fortune and close personal friend of President Trump. If you were thinking that the Fed needed a fresh perspective from an extremely wealthy person who is used to using wealth to affect policy decisions, you’re in luck.
Mr. Warsh also has years of work experience. Before his appointment to the Fed during the Bush administration, he was an investment banker for Morgan Stanley. He can bring a sense of empathy for working investment bankers to the Fed.
More importantly, he has already shown himself incapable of remembering one of the key mandates of the system: maximizing employment. During the height of the recession, when unemployment was above 9% in 2010, Mr. Warsh argued against Quantitative Easing 2 (QE2). Ultimately, QE2 was well-received and greatly benefitted the country. His opposition to QE2 makes one question how he might act if something similar were needed in the event of another economic downturn.
Being a man of strong moral fiber, Mr. Warsh has stood by his decisions, both good and bad.Except for the time he urged colleagues not to vote for QE2, ultimately relented and voted in favor, then publicly denounced it. All in the same week. Mr. Marsh bemoans “groupthink” within economist circles, but fails to act according to his strongly held beliefs when given the opportunity.
And who can forget about that pesky thing called regulation? You know, those bothersome policy guidances that keep banks from making high risks bets, with the tax payers covering losses? Well, Mr. Warsh agrees with the current administration that de-regulation is the way to go. On August 24, 2016, he told the Wall Street Journal:
“With the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act, the Fed claims the mantle of reform. It now micromanages big banks and effectively caps their rate of return.”
If it wasn’t already clear that this administration somehow sees the best way to ensure banks don’t fail is to remove regulations and encourage banks to make higher profits, it should be if Mr. Warsh is Trump’s appointee.
Mr. Warsh also said that “Raising the inflation target is a bad idea… households would be understandably miffed to receive a new lecture on … the benefits of higher prices.” That is probably true for the wealthy households living off of their savings, but Mr. Warsh must have forgotten about the many whose main expenses are car payments or mortgage payments (which will not go up). In fact, these families will be helped a lot by an increase in their hourly wages, or the price of the crops they farm. Since the inflation target affects how interest rates are determined, raising the inflation target would allow bosses to raise wages and citizens to borrow responsibly, without crippling economic growth.
Like many decisions any president makes, this appointment determines who will be the winners and the who will be the losers. So far in this administration too many of these decisions have favored the ultra-wealthy. For once, the American people should come out on top.