The Federal Reserve Board has more direct control over the economy than any other institution in the country. When it decides to raise interest rates to slow the economy, it can ensure that millions of workers don't get jobs and prevent tens of millions more from getting the bargaining power they need to gain wage increases. For this reason, it is very important who is making the calls on interest rates and who they are listening to.
Robert Rubin, who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, weighed in today in the NYT to argue for the status quo. There are a few important background points on Rubin that are worth mentioning before getting into the substance.
First. Robert Rubin was a main architect of the high dollar policy that led to the explosion of the trade deficit in the last decade. This led to the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs and decimating communities across the Midwest. Second, Rubin was a major advocate of financial deregulation during his years in the Clinton administration. Finally, Rubin was a direct beneficiary of deregulation, since he left the administration to take a top job at Citigroup. He made over $100 million in this position before he resigned in the financial crisis when bad loans had essentially put Citigroup into bankruptcy. (It was saved by government bailouts.)
Rubin touts the current apolitical nature of the Fed. He warns about:
"Efforts to denigrate the integrity of the Fed’s work, and to inject groundless opinion, politics and ideology, must be rejected by the board — and that means governors and other members of the Federal Open Market Committee must be willing to withstand aggressive attacks."
It is important to recognize that the Fed is currently dominated by people with close ties to the financial industry. The Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) which determines interest rate policy has 19 members. While 7 are governors appointed by the president and approved by Congress (only 4 of the governor seats are currently filled), 12 are presidents of the district banks. These bank presidents are appointed through a process dominated by the banks in the district. (Only 5 of the 12 presidents have a vote at any one time, but all 12 participate in discussions.)
It seems bizarre to describe this process as apolitical or imply there is great integrity here. Rubin's claim is particularly ironic in light of the fact that one of the bank presidents was just forced to resign after admitting to leaking confidential information on interest rate policy to a financial analyst.
There is good reason for the public to be unhappy about the Fed's excessive concern over inflation over the last four decades and inadequate attention to unemployment. This arguably reflects the interests of the financial industry, which often stands to lose from higher inflation and have little interest in the level of employment. It is understandable that someone who has made his fortune in the financial industry would want to protect the status quo with the Fed, but there is little reason for the rest of us to take him seriously.