Is the “apolitical” Fed determined to get of rid of President Trump by creating a recession in 2020?
As a long-time critic of the Federal Reserve and its policies, I have consistently resisted conspiracy theories. I have viewed Fed members as honorable people intent on doing their best to promote a stable monetary policy. I am no longer certain this is true.
Former Fed Vice-Chair William Dudley removed the veil of innocence with his recent comments urging Fed members to undermine Trump’s reelection. Dudley claims that “Trump’s reelection arguably presents a threat to the U.S. and global economy, to the Fed’s independence and its ability to achieve its employment and inflation objectives.”
He defends his message by claiming Trump’s tariffs are the major threat. Dudley is wrong. Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation have overwhelmed any damage from his tariffs. The real threat to the economy and Trump’s reelection is an errant Fed policy.
Can the Fed actually create a recession and destroy Trump’s reelection? Yes.
Here’s how. The economy needs money to function. If the economy fails to get enough money business activity slows or even declines. One of the most effective ways for the Fed to limit the amount money is to sell securities. Selling securities or “quantitative tightening” is the opposite of buying securities or “quantitative easing.” When the Fed buys securities, the Fed adds money to the economy, and when sells securities it subtracts money.
When the Fed sells securities it threatens the economy. It happened before. In 2008 the Fed mysteriously changed its policy and decided to sell securities prior to the upcoming Presidential election. Despite accurately warning about serious problems with the economy, the Fed nonetheless sold 39% of its entire portfolio of securities (at the time $300 billion) leading up to the worst financial collapse since the 1930s.
The Great Recession of 2008-09 made it virtually impossible for a Republican to be elected president. As a result, an unknown Senator Barrack Obama, with no track record, defeated John McCain, a well-known war hero with a track record.
Why did the Fed depart from orthodoxy in 2007-08? Could this departure have represented a deliberate attempt to cripple the economy and affect the 2008 fall election? Or was the change in operations simply a foolish, innocent, ill-timed experiment that contributed to the financial collapse and the defeat of a Republican Presidential candidate?
Prior to William Dudley’s recent statements I accepted the Fed’s explanation the policy change came at the behest of a Fed economist. Which economist might have been instrumental in urging a change in the Fed’s operating procedure at this particular time and why?
In 2007, the most powerful economist at the Fed was none other than William Dudley.
Dudley received his economic training at the University of California, Berkley. He was Chief Economist for Goldman Sachs when the Fed hired him in 2007 to oversee the department in charge of buying and selling government securities. Dudley was hired by Timothy Geithner, President of the New York Fed, who would soon be named Treasury Secretary under President Obama. As soon as Geithner became Treasury Secretary, Dudley replaced him as President of the New York Fed and Vice-Chairman of the Fed.
We may never know why the Fed abruptly changed its normal operating procedures prior to the financial crisis and the election of 2008. We do know that the economy was in the midst of a financial crisis in 2008, a crisis that no doubt played a role in the outcome of the election. We also know that in 2008 the Fed failed in the primary reason it was created—to maintain liquidity and avoid a financial collapse. And we know the election of President Obama played a major role in advancing the careers of both Geithner and Dudley.
We now also know that one of the chief architects of its policy change, William Dudley, believes the Fed should do everything it can to prevent a Republican from remaining in the White House.
Fast forward to 2019. The Fed has been aggressively selling securities for the past year and a half. They sold almost $400 billion in the year ending in the fourth quarter 2018. In December, when financial markets signaled the need to reduce interest rates, the Fed actually increased interest rates and reaffirmed plans for additional rate increases. Only after a collapse in stock prices did the Fed agree to halt its planned increases in interest rates. However, in spite of claiming its policy had turned neutral, the Fed sold over $300 billion in securities from the fourth quarter of last year until the end of July.
The Fed says it will no longer sell securities and indicates it will cut interest rates. These statements provide scant comfort for the economy. Traditionally, the Fed would buy securities to lower interest rates. Due to still another policy change the Fed can now lower interest rates without putting additional money into the economy. Hence, current Fed policy enables the Fed to “pretend” to ease monetary policy by lowering interest rates while failing to place more money into the economy.
William Dudley left the Fed last year. He no doubt personally had to approve most of those who now hold key positions at the Fed. Dudley’s claim that Trump’s reelection is “a threat to the US, and global economy, and to the Fed’s independence” shows the type of animosity towards the President that can lead policymakers to do everything in their power to prevent Trump’s reelection.
The Federal Reserve is the only government agency with the power to create a major downturn in the economy. The Fed did it before and can do it again.
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