I recently asked Federal Reserve Governor Jerome H. Powell what he would say to the critics of the Federal Reserve who say that the Fed is the cause of the boom and bust cycle. I figured that any answer would do. This was his response:
“The question was do we cause booms. I guess I would really look at that question this way: What would life be like without the Fed. In other words, I wouldn’t expect perfection from of any government organization, or of any organization of any kind.
So the fed will never get things perfect and the fed has made mistakes. Right? We allowed inflation to get out of control in the 70s. Policy improves over time, we hope. Exogenous events happen and they make fools of everybody and then they’ll make geniuses out of everybody. So don’t expect perfection. But over time it has made sense – I think the Fed has done a good and improving job in keeping inflation low now for more than 30 years, and essentially having pretty good results.
Now are you going to point – now you ought to be pointing at the financial crisis and say “how did that work out?” The financial crisis is not something that -- any government agency that had a responsibility for the economy can feel really good about. So mistakes get made.
But I guess the question I would ask back is what would life be life with no – if you look back pre-fed, there were very severe depressions—depressions that looked a lot more like the Great Depression.
In this depression (sic), output went down 4%. In the Great Depression, output went down 25%. That kind of thing happened a lot in the 19th century. You had these hard stops of credit. The banking system would fail. There would be a run on the banks. JP Morgan personally would come in and get his friends together and bail out the system.
But – so the judgment was finally made to create a central bank. There is no advanced economy in the world that doesn’t have a central bank that does pretty much the same thing the Fed does. No one has run an experiment in a very long time of not having a central bank. Don’t really think that’s a way to go.
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