This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the federal reserve. Conti-Brown expertly dispels false myth and lore about the federal reserve and clearly explains the origins and the functions of federal reserve independence. There is so much misunderstanding about how the fed functions--even many so-called fed experts misstate the structure of the federal reserve. This is because the federal reserve is unique among all government institutions and in order to understand it, you must know its origins, founding mission, and historic development. The federal reserve's "independence" is seen by some as dangerous and others as essential. But how exactly is the federal reserve independent and from whom? Conti-Brown has written a book chock full of expert analysis, fascinating stories, myth-busting examples, and hard-to-forget analogies all in a very readable narrative. This book should be required reading in every law school, business school, and college classroom where the federal reserve is discussed. And any policymaker who wants to "audit the fed," change it, or give it more power should also read this book.
This book provided exactly what I was looking for: a clearly articulated overview of the workings of the FOMC and the complex pressures that attempt to influence monetary policy. Mr Conti-Brown recounts the history of the structural changes that transpired since its founding (although this is not a history of the Fed). He uses several case histories to illustrate how it worked in real life crises. I should be clear that I’m not expert in this field, so can’t judge the objectivity of his analysis. But I feel that I have a better understanding of the dynamics, the limitations and the idiosyncrasies of this institution. And he reinforced my respect for the stewards of the multiple components of the system. The title of the book is the “Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve .“ That is, a running narrative is to point out the gaps between the reality of how it works and it’s legal foundation. This thread leads to a closing narrative about how it needs to be “fixed.” I am not qualified to opine on the need for changes, but my intuition, reinforced these last years, is that injecting Congressional oversight into this institution (however disguised) will impede its ability to respond rapidly and forcefully to the next crisis. Indeed, the author says this explicitly, yet espouses reform in the end. Hence my four star rating. But I feel much better informed for having read this. Given the opacity of the subject, that is a credit to the author.
The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve is a very topical book in the aftermath of the financial crisis as the mandate of the institution has shifted quite dramatically. This is quite a different book than most on the Fed as it focuses on the legal structure of the Fed and how it lies in a vague land of accountability and how this is questionable at the least and unconstitutional in many interpretations of the law. The message of the book is that the technocratic nature of the Fed is overstated and behind the economics lies potential ideology and thus the independence that often goes with the territory and how that independence is structured likely needs to be rethought.
The author describes the history of the Fed and how it evolved from its formation a century ago where it was a Federalist institution to the centralized power it is now. The author describes how those transitions took place and the main characters who aided that process. The author discusses the history of the Fed to highlight how it got to the powers it has and how today's structure is not how it was initially structured but a combination of circumstance and political mandate changes. The author discusses the uniqueness of the Fed's accountability to the United States president given it is a mixture of publicly inaugurated officials like the Fed Chair and the privately hired members like the various bank presidents. This is argued to be unconstitutional and the author gives the case history which has brought this up in the past. The author goes into the economic philosophies that have driven monetary economists over the years and how the real bills doctrine is an extremely distant memory from today's Fed. The author argues that the fed is much more similar to the Supreme court and should potentially be structured and organized as such rather than the quasi government private institution it is today. It is definitely an interesting overview of the legal cloud which the Fed operates under and for those interested in the legal structure of the Fed this book is a reminder of its existence outside the boundaries of democratic accountability.
I definitely sympathize with the author's direction of the book. The actions taken by the Fed have had political repercussions and as a consequence, the mandate of the Fed and the accountability of the institution has changed from their original intent. Consequently a rethinking of what the degrees of freedom of the Fed should be are in order. Unfortunately this is an extremely complex issue and more democratic accountability of an institution that requires a level of knowledge and expertise that is far removed from the voting body leads to close to an unsolvable balancing act. The basis of ideology in monetary policy exists, bankers at the ECB, the FED, BOJ all have different views on how to solve problems within their mandates. But to see this as similar to the Supreme Court is really something that a lawyer would say and would be unconvincing to pretty much anyone else. The general public can understand judges opinions on ethical issues which makes democratic participation a much more fruitful exercise because value are intrinsic and relatively easy to reflect on. Understanding what a federal reserve bank president thinks about the implications of asset purchases on balancing growth and income inequality, though interesting to .1% of the population, is not an issue that lends itself to democratic accountability nor general popular debate about the truth of that statement. Despite the greater paternalism required for the "election" of central banking expertise vs Supreme Court justices say, there is a democratic deficit in what has occurred during and post the financial crisis with the Fed. Value judgments were made and there is no accountability of those making them and we have to ask ourselves, does that need changing and if so how. To imagine that the value systems that drive central bankers should be under the spotlight as are those of our justices is a massive overestimation of the general public's ability to have a meaningful opinion on such topics.
A very worthwhile read that fills in much of the white space left by histories of the Fed as well as day to day news coverage of the institution. Well researched and very readable. The cornerstone idea - analyzing how "Independent" the Federal Reserve has been and is today, and how it got that way - is a clever hook on which to hang the story. No matter how you may feel about the Federal Reserve, this book will add to your understanding of the institution.
I used to have a Churchillian thought pop into my head whenever the topic of the Federal Reserve came up, "It was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." But then I found the key: The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve. This book is a must-read for people like me who have little to no background in law, banking, finance, or economics (outside the occasional article from the WSJ or the Economist) and who want to understand what the Fed actually is and what it actually does. Instead of amplifying the Fed's intimidating mystique, Peter Conti-Brown punctures it with straightforward metaphors, easy-to-read prose, and a handful of simple yet effective visual aids. As an avid nonfiction reader, my test for this type of book after reading it is whether it I feel I could explain its subject matter to fellow laypeople in terms they could understand. This book passes that test with ease.