Thursday, April 26, 2012

Has Obama Stacked the Fed? All The President's Central Bankers

Not as audacious as Roosevelt's plan to pack the Supreme Court but potentially just as powerful.
From the CFR's Foreign Policy Magazine:
How Obama Shored Up His Legacy at the Federal Reserve 
Regardless of who wins the 2012 U.S. presidential election, President Barack Obama will end his first term having decisively shaped U.S. monetary policy for at least the next two decades. Thanks to a stroke of lucky timing -- the Federal Reserve Board happened to have an unusually high number of vacancies during the president's first term -- Obama will have either appointed or reappointed every single one of the seven members of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, including its chairman, Ben Bernanke, by the end of 2012. With the governors each set to serve a 14-year term, they will ensure Obama's long-term impact on the U.S. economy.

Bernanke was originally appointed board chair by President George W. Bush in 2006. In 2010, Obama reappointed him until 2014. Even if Obama or his successor stripped him of that role, he will continue to sit on the board until 2020. Janet Yellen, the economist and vice chairman of the Fed board, whom Obama appointed in April 2010, is set to serve until 2024. Daniel Tarullo, a professor of law at Georgetown University whom Obama appointed to the Fed board in January 2009, is not scheduled to step down until 2022.

Two of the other governors, Elizabeth Duke and Sarah Bloom Raskin will serve until 2012 and 2016, respectively. That means Obama will certainly be able to reappoint or replace Duke and might be able to do the same with Raskin, locking in his picks until 2030. Finally, the two last seats on the board are currently vacant because Obama's nominations have been held up in the Senate. If those two are appointed this year, they will stay at the Fed until 2026.

The seven Federal Reserve Board governors wield enormous influence over U.S. economic policy. They hold a majority on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Fed body that guides monetary policy by determining the key short-term interest rates and deciding when to buy government debt, thereby influencing the long-term interest rate as well. The FOMC consists of 12 voting members: the seven Fed governors and a rotation of four of the 12 representatives of the regional Federal Reserve banks, plus a permanent vote for the representative of the New York Federal Reserve (the regional presidents are selected in part by the Fed governors themselves). This means that Bernanke and his colleagues have the final say on U.S. monetary policy as long as they vote together. And in general, they have done so: Dissenting votes on decisions about the key short-term rate have usually come from the ranks of regional presidents, whereas the Fed governors have acted as a bloc.

Obama's shaping of the Fed is all the more notable considering the United States' current dire economic circumstances. Very loosely, the job of a central bank is to try to balance between keeping inflation low and keeping unemployment low. In the past few decades, that was an easy task. In the 1980s, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker seemed to break inflation's boom and bust cycle, ushering in what was thought to be permanent low inflation. That decade and the one that followed happened to be coupled with very high growth. Making monetary policy was thus relatively straightforward....MORE
HT: Real Time Economics who write:

Has Obama Stacked the Fed? Not Really
....A closer examination suggests this is a bit of an exaggeration. The online article notes there are two people who have been appointed by Mr. Obama but not yet confirmed by the Senate. It says if they are confirmed this year they will serve until 2026. But that’s incorrect.

In fact, their terms would end much earlier. One appointee, Jerome Powell, has been nominated to finish the incomplete term of Frederic Mishkin, which ends in January 2014. To remain at the Fed he would need to be renominated by the next president and reconfirmed by the Senate. The other appointee, Jeremy Stein, has been nominated to finish the incomplete term of Kevin Warsh, which ends in 2018. To remain at the Fed he would also need to be renominated and reconfirmed by the Senate, a potential roadblock that the article glosses over....MORE