Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster
By Nomi Prins and cross-posted from Tom Dispatch
Warning: What you are about to read is not about Russia, the 2016 election, or the latest person to depart from the White House in a storm of tweets. It’s the Beltway story hiding in plain sight with trillions of dollars in play and an economy to commandeer.
While we’ve been bombarded with a litany of scandals from the Oval Office and the Trump family, there’s a crucial institution in Washington that few in the media seem to be paying attention to, even as President Trump quietly makes it his own. More obscure than the chambers of the Supreme Court, it’s a place where he has already made substantial changes. I’m talking about the Federal Reserve.
As the central bank of the United States, the “Fed” sets the financial tone for the global economy by manipulating interest rate levels. This impacts everyone, yet very few grasp the scope of its influence.
During times of relative economic calm, the Fed is regularly forgotten. But what history shows us is that having leaders who are primed to neglect Wall Street’s misdoings often sets the scene for economic dangers to come. That’s why nominees to the Fed are so crucial.
We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come — even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence.
The president’s latest two nominees to that institution’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.
Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed’s Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams — the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street — as part of the most powerful trio at that institution.
Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.
Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort. Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but.
As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will…