Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why Central Banking was Late to the Party in the United States

          It took over a hundred years for central banking to establish itself in the United States because the antifederalist strain ran through the country for a long time. It still does, and our constitution still reflects it. It was even worse at the start, what with black people who were owned as property only counting as 3/5ths of a person. That whole thing lasted almost 100 years, and had to wait until the major colonial powers got rid of the institution where people were held as capital. The United States was in expansion mode even after reconstruction, and did not fully emerge as a global power until the time of the Spanish-American War. It is probably not a coincidence that the emergence of America’s power is correlated with getting on the central bank wagon. The Banks of England and France were long in existence, and our nation would swing towards federalism in monetary policy and then towards and antifederalist. The Second Bank was not renewed under Andrew Jackson. If there were a Tea Party in the nineteenth century, Jackson would be the person wearing tea bags stapled to a tricorner hat.
            The other thing holding back central banking when the United States was young is the business cycle. Sure, things would get bad and the socialists would agitate and the police would frame some anarchists for bombing a crowd, but then things would go on the upswing and whatever impetus for change would be forgotten. This exists now.  The Dodd-Frank legislation was a watered-down bill in the first place, but it was all that could pass our congress at the time to make sure the events of 2008 never happened again. Of course, it is less than a decade since the top of the housing market, and politicians are trying to undo what protections were put in place. Add to that the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now saying they will buy mortgages that have down payments with as little as three percent down. The problem is that as a culture, the problems are too soon forgotten.
            Change happened in 1913 because the crashes were deep enough and close enough together that even the moneyed interests were worried about the future. Morgan backed the banks in the Panic of 1907, and even then that lead to a widespread recession and some bank failures. What would happen if the next crash was even worse and there was no James Pierpont Morgan to step in and grant liquidity to the banks? That did happen in 1929. The Federal Reserve may have failed, but they did not have the data or the knowledge that the Federal Reserve had in 2008. Thankfully, the Fed as established uses its power for good, and keeps the economy stable. It is just a shame that so much human suffering had to happen before it felt comfortable using its tools. Pray that those tools are never taken from them, because the main role of the Fed is to keep the economy stable, and it has proven that it can do that within limits.