The independence of the Federal Reserve is considered a cornerstone of its identity, crucial for keeping monetary policy decisions free of electoral politics. But do we really understand what is meant by "Federal Reserve independence"?
Using scores of examples from the Fed's rich history, The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve shows that much common wisdom about the nation's central bank is inaccurate. Legal scholar and financial historian Peter Conti-Brown provides an in-depth look at the Fed's place in government, its internal governance structure, and its relationships to such individuals and groups as the president, Congress, economists, and bankers.
Exploring how the Fed regulates the global economy and handles its own internal politics, and how the law does - and does not - define the Fed's power, Conti-Brown captures and clarifies the central bank's defining complexities. He examines the foundations of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which established a system of central banks, and the ways that subsequent generations have redefined the organization. Challenging the notion that the Fed Chair controls the organization as an all-powerful technocrat, he explains how institutions and individuals - within and outside of government - shape Fed policy. Conti-Brown demonstrates that the evolving mission of the Fed - including systemic risk regulation, wider bank supervision, and as a guardian against inflation and deflation - requires a reevaluation of the very way the nation's central bank is structured.
Investigating how the Fed influences and is influenced by ideologies, personalities, law, and history, The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve offers a clear picture of this uniquely important institution.
©2016 Princeton University Press (P)2016 Audible, Inc.
I'm not sure who the intended audience is. This book would not work well as a first introduction to the Fed -- one should already have a broad outline of the story and players and the historical backdrop. On the other hand, it does not work as a penetrating, advanced study or treatise into the Fed either: it lacks the discipline to be this. It does not establish a clear historical background or theses to pursue systematically. It jumps around a lot. It is more like a series of anecdotes which are of interest to general followers of the story and those interested in various permutations of the story, and not a little Fed-watcher trivia appearing willy-nilly along the way. So, in a sense, I might qualify as the intended audience: a person of intermediate, mostly popular-level understanding of the Fed, having read a few books on it, and not entirely uninterested in wandering with the author hither and thither, and picking up many of the popular phrases and anecdotes of the Fed's story. There are interesting vignettes and personality sketches all over the place.
Meanwhile, the author does have lapses, not least in crafting metaphors: the author's oft-repeated "Ulysses-Punchbowl model" of the Fed's basic job is a mangled grafting-together of metaphors borrowed from others, and remains murky and third-rate. Certainly good communicators such as FDR or the Fed's own William McChesney Martin would be spinning in their graves at such inelegance and awkwardness. The book has virtues, and is an enjoyable casual listening experience, but simply lacks any clear, consistent traction on any segment of its subject matter. It talks about a lot of things, and a lot of important things, and often well, and often entertainingly enough, but disjointedly.
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