Things are not always as complicated as they seem. With respect to the Federal Reserve System, it is a deliberate mystery. It was deliberately designed in 1910 to deceive the public, who were opposed the idea of a central bank. The conspirators who met on Jekyll Island in November 1910 knew this. They did good work from their point of view. They concealed the beast.
The general public today knows little about the FED. Prior to Ron Paul’s Presidential run in 2007-8, far fewer people understood it.
I have been asked: “How could we get rid of the Federal Reserve? What will replace it?” The answer: either the free market or Congress.
People who think of themselves as free market people often are not. The tax-funded public schools and the state-regulated and accredited university faculties have taught that the modern system of intrusive civil government is necessary for an orderly society. People cannot imagine a market-based society.
There is an old saying, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” But the free market social order is not nothing. It is expanding around the world, which is why the world is getting richer.
At the Federal level, a free market social order in banking existed prior to 1914. That was back when the dollar was worth over 20 times what it is worth today. (On this point, see the inflation calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
We can go back to that system. We will go back to it. The question is: When? The other question is: At what price?
Ending the Fed By Law
Ron Paul could introduce a bill to end the Federal Reserve System. He could call it: “The Monetary Liberty Act.” It would get known as the “End the Fed Act.” Here is what the text might say:
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 is hereby repealed. So are all subsequent acts based on the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
All authority of the Federal Reserve System to act in the name of the United States government is hereby revoked.
The assets of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, which are already the property of the United States Government, are hereby transferred to the Department of the Treasury. This includes all of the assets listed on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve System.
The twelve (12) privately owned Federal Reserve Banks will return all assets held in trust for the United States government within thirty (30) calendar days of the signing of this bill into law.
The gold reserves of the United States government that are held in storage by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York will be transferred to the Government’s depository at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, within one calendar year after this bill becomes law. The Government Accountability Office will conduct an inventory of the gold held in storage by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before and after this transfer.
The Board of Governors will vacate the premises of the Federal Reserve building within thirty (30) calendar days of the signing of this bill into law.
Any pension fund assets of the employees of the various Federal Reserve Banks will remain under the control of those banks. All pension obligations under the authority of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System are hereby transferred to the Department of the Treasury, to be administered under the retirement program of the Department of the Treasury.
This is simple. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is a government agency. Its authority would be transferred to the U.S. Treasury.
The dozen Federal Reserve Banks are privately owned. All authority of these 12 banks that derives from their connection to the Board of Governors will cease. If they can make a profit, fine. If not, equally fine. The free market will determine which will survive and which will not.
Is this radical? Not at all. There are two historical precedents: the refusal of Congress to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States in 1811, and the refusal of Congress to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836. Both of them went bust.
The standard response is that there must be independence between the Federal Reserve System and the U.S. government. Let us apply this to other agencies:
- The Department of Defense
- The Department of the Treasury
- The Department of State
- The Department of Education
I could go on, one by one, to list all of the thousands of agencies that are funded by Federal taxes and which operate by means of the authority of the U.S. government. Only one government agency is defended by publicists, both on and off the payroll of the Federal Reserve System, as deserving to be independent of the government that has transferred authority to it: the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
The phrase, “the independence of the Federal Reserve System,” is a code phrase for “the independence of the four largest U.S. banks from the threat of losses.” A growing number of voters has figured this out since the fall of 2008. This is why the Federal Reserve System is facing public criticism for the first time since 1914. This criticism will grow.
All of this may seem Utopian. Ron Paul could not get Congress to audit the FED, which by law possesses this authority. The Congress has been in the hip pocket of the FED for almost a century. The Congress lets the FED run the nation’s economy.
But as criticism spreads, there will be more voters who figure out what the FED is and has always been: a government-created cartel of the banks. It operates for the benefit of the largest banks.
Will Ron Paul get such a law passed by Congress and signed into law? No. Does this mean that the FED is forever untouchable? No.
We need the following:
- A wave of price inflation caused by the FED
- A subsequent recession caused by the FED
- A depression caused by the FED
- A wave of outage in response to the FED
- An endless series of criticisms of the FED
This will result, ultimately, in the abolition of the FED. Whatever replaces it will decide the economic fate of Americans: Congress (hyperinflation) or the free market (economic stability).
But could the free market replace the FED without a catastrophe following? Yes. We are already seeing this in another sector of the economy.
“You’ve Got Almost No Mail!”
From the days of America’s most famous postmaster, Benjamin Franklin, two decades before the American Revolution, residents of North America have thought that the country could not do without a government-funded postal system. In the past 15 years, this faith has quietly died. The United States Postal Service now delivers mostly subsidized opportunity mail. (I hate the work “junk mail,” for I built my business on opportunity mail. But I have not used it for 15 years.) With email, UPS, FedEx, and text messaging, the first class letter is an anachronism. Historians will not be able to trace much after 1998 based on copies of letters.
With no fanfare, the postal system has become optional. The public does not go to the local Post Office often. If it were not for Netflix, a lot of people would not check their mailboxes daily.
All of this has happened without any new legislation. The once unbreakable monopoly of the Post Office is a rusted-out shell, staffed by union-protected workers who probably know their jobs are peripheral. Its volume declined by over 12% in 2010. This is expected to continue. That would cut volume by 50% by 2017. About 40,000 employees were fired in 2010. Saturday delivery will be dropped soon. There is another rate hike scheduled. Yet the outfit will lose $10 billion this year.
All this has happened without any enabling legislation. It has happened quietly. Market competition has reduced the USPS to an anachronism. It is a leftover shell of a bygone era.
In an essay about his youth, sociologist Robert Nisbet remarked that in the year he was born, 1913, the only contact that most Americans had with the Federal government was the Post Office. Later that year, the Federal Reserve Act was passed in a late session, just before Christmas break. Also in that year, the income tax came into effect. The expansion of the Federal government has been relentless ever since.
Nevertheless, the Post Office is slowly dying. No one planned this. The free market has replaced it, despite its official monopoly.
This offers hope. It means that free market solutions can come into existence before a government entity is shut down by law. The Post Office officially is a monopoly, yet its monopoly status has been eroded over the last four decades. It has been almost entirely replaced over the last two decades.
I think of a TV commercial that did not directly attack the Post Office. It was targeted at UPS. But UPS responded much faster than the Post Office could.
While critics of the postal monopoly had for decades tried to get Congress to revoke the Post Office’s monopoly, all attempts failed. They were associated with the fringe. Yet, year by year, the Post Office fell behind. It is irrelevant in American life today.
This was not planned by any political group. It was the result of new technologies. People made decisions, day by day, to bypass the Post Office.
An End Run Around the Fed
I do not expect Congress to revoke the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 in this decade. The powers that be who run this country do so by means of the Federal Reserve System more than by any other semi-private institution. It is at the center of control, because the monetary system is at the center of the economy.
But the central bank faces a problem. To maintain the boom, the FED must inflate. To cease inflating would allow the credit bubble to implode on a scale far more devastating than what happened in 2008. The FED has placed us all on the back of the tiger.
Yet if it does not reverse its policy, it must produce hyperinflation at some point. That will destroy the FED’s ability to guide the economy. Hyperinflation will lead to alternative currencies. Digital technology is now international. If buying and selling digital U.S. dollars is no longer profitable, because long-term contracts are not possible under hyperinflation, then the citizens of the United States will do what citizens of Zimbabwe did. They will use other currencies.
If the FED produces a Third World economy through hyperinflation, then people will do what Third World citizens do: find reliable currencies elsewhere. This can be done on-line nearly for free. The Internet has reduced the transaction costs of using rival currencies.
The FED economists know this. They know that transaction costs for using other currencies are low. If the FED’s policies undermine long-term contracts, the citizens are not helpless. They can switch.
It will not take legislation to end the FED. All it will take is the FED. If the FED continues to inflate, it will destroy its base: the monetary system based on the FED. But if it ceases to inflate, by ceasing to buy Treasury debt, it will create Great Depression 2.
Bernanke can get away with QE2 today only because commercial banks are not lending. If they start lending, M1 will rise, the M1 money multiplier will rise, and price inflation will return.
He has bought time with QE2, but he has not bought a way out of the credit bubble that Greenspan created and he created.
He can play hide and go seek with Ron Paul, refusing to show up at the hearings of the Monetary Policy Subcommittee. Congress cooperates. But he cannot play hide and go seek with the business cycle. Greenspan did, but he got out in 2006. He passed on the Old Maid to Bernanke.
The Federal Reserve System bases its power on its ability to control the monetary base. It swapped T-bills for toxic assets to save the big banks, but to replenish its supply of swappable liquid assets, it has to inflate, as it is now doing. QE2 is replenishing the supply of Treasury debt to swap with large banks.
The FED did not bail out any small banks in 2008. It never has. Its unofficial mandate is to bail out the largest commercial banks. This it has done.
I think Bernanke sees another banking crisis coming. This is why he has pushed QE2. Only Hoenig has voted against it. Bernanke has his way with the other members of the Board of Governors and the Federal Open Market Committee. He has not said why this massive increase in the monetary base is mandatory for the economy. To talk about this would create doubts. He does not want to rock the boat. So, he gets away with another $600 billion in monetary base creation.
This is working for now. But the results are unavoidable: either price inflation or continued high unemployment and stagnation, because commercial banks thwart the stimulation. He is on the tiger’s back. So are we.
The Post Office looked unbeatable for over 250 years. Technology has made it peripheral. The same will happen to the Federal Reserve System. It looks unbeatable. But the Internet can beat it. There are ways out of the FED’s trap.
A lot of people will pay a heavy price for Bernanke’s policies. That will be the price of persuading those people with the bulk of their assets in digital dollars to sell those assets and replace them with other digits.
This is why I do not think the FED will resort to hyperinflation. The economists know that the FED’s victims can escape. The FED will risk mass inflation, but at some point it must say: “We will buy no more Treasury debt.” That will be the moment of truth. That will be the day it climbs off the back of the tiger.
So will we all.
Whiskey & Gunpowder
March 9, 2011