Federal Reserve Bank Governance and Independence during Financial Crisis

This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the third in a series of reports examining the Federal Reserve Bank’s response to the global financial crisis, with particular emphasis on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency. In this year’s report, we focus on issues of central bank independence and governance, with particular attention paid to challenges raised during periods of crisis. We trace the principal changes in governance of the Fed over its history—changes that accelerate during times of economic stress. We pay special attention to the famous 1951 “Accord” and to the growing consensus in recent years for substantial independence of the central bank from the treasury. In some respects, we deviate from conventional wisdom, arguing that the concept of independence is not usually well defined. While the Fed is substantially independent of day-to-day politics, it is not operationally independent of the Treasury. We examine in some detail an alternative view of monetary and fiscal operations. We conclude that the inexorable expansion of the Fed’s power and influence raises important questions concerning democratic governance that need to be resolved. 

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