“Never Even a Whisper” at Fed’s Open Market Committee Meetings

Ben Bernanke, William Dudley and Donald L Kohn are on the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC).

They are also on the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – often called the “central banks’ central bank”. And Kohn is an alternate director for BIS.

Alan Greenspan, of course, was a BIS director for many years.

Dudley is also chairman of BIS’ Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems. (Tim Geithner – previously on the FOMC – previously held that post).

So there is clearly quite a bit of overlap between the two groups.

In addition, BIS’ chief economist – William White – and others within BIS – repeatedly warned the Federal Reserve and other central banks that they were setting the world economy up for a fall by blowing bubbles and then using “using gimmicks and palliatives” which “will only make things worse”.

As Spiegel wrote last July:


White and his team of experts observed the real estate bubble developing in the United States. They criticized the increasingly impenetrable securitization business, vehemently pointed out the perils of risky loans and provided evidence of the lack of credibility of the rating agencies. In their view, the reason for the lack of restraint in the financial markets was that there was simply too much cheap money available on the market…

As far back as 2003, White implored central bankers to rethink their strategies, noting that instability in the financial markets had triggered inflation, the “villain” in the global economy…

In the restrained world of central bankers, it would have been difficult for White to express himself more clearly…

It was probably the biggest failure of the world’s central bankers since the founding of the BIS in 1930. They knew everything and did nothing. Their gigantic machinery of analysis kept spitting out new scenarios of doom, but they might as well have been transmitted directly into space…

In their report, the BIS experts derisively described the techniques of rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s as “relatively crude” and noted that “some caution is in order in relation to the reliability of the results.”…

In January 2005, the BIS’s Committee on the Global Financial System sounded the alarm once again, noting that the risks associated with structured financial products were not being “fully appreciated by market participants.” Extreme market events, the experts argued, could “have unanticipated systemic consequences.”

They also cautioned against putting too much faith in the rating agencies, which suffered from a fatal flaw. Because the rating agencies were being paid by the companies they rated, the committee argued, there was a risk that they might rate some companies too highly and be reluctant to lower the ratings of others that should have been downgraded.

These comments show that the central bankers knew exactly what was going on, a full two-and-a-half years before the big bang. All the ingredients of the looming disaster had been neatly laid out on the table in front of them: defective rating agencies, loans repackaged to the point of being unrecognizable, dubious practices of American mortgage lenders, the risks of low-interest policies. But no action was taken. Meanwhile, the Fed continued to raise interest rates in nothing more than tiny increments…

The Fed chairman was not even impressed by a letter the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA), a trade association of US mortgage providers, sent to the Fed on Sept. 23, 2005. In the letter, MICA warned that it was “very concerned” about some of the risky lending practices being applied in the US real estate market. The experts even speculated that the Fed might be operating on the basis of incorrect data. Despite a sharp increase in mortgages being approved for low-income borrowers, most banks were reporting to the Fed that they had not lowered their lending standards. According to a study MICA cited entitled “This Powder Keg Is Going to Blow,” there was no secondary market for these “nuclear mortgages.”…

William White and his Basel team were dumbstruck. The central bankers were simply ignoring their warnings. Didn’t they understand what they were being told? Or was it that they simply didn’t want to understand?

Yet, White said in a short, must-see talk last week that former long-time St. Louis Fed president William Poole told him that there was never even a whisper of these basic concepts at a single FOMC meeting.

Indeed, White says that – even today - the Federal Reserve is doing the same old thing, reading off of the same playbook that caused the Latin American crisis, the Asian meltdown, the Long Term Capital meltdown, and all of the other financial crises of the last couple of decades. And see this.

White, of course, argues for more accurate models which take into account real-world factors such as debt stocks, and include a time-frame longer than 2-year inflation targets or 4-year election cycles.

But as Simon Johnson has repeatedly pointed out, economics used to acknowledge that politics had an important affect on economic policy, but now the economics profession – as a whole – tries to pretend that it is strictly a mathematical and technical art form.

And as I documented last October, economists are trained to ignore – and central bankers and regulators rewarded to the extent that they ignore – the real world.

And we cannot improve our models and understandings of how to prevent another crisis unless the truth of what caused this crisis is openly discussed (under subpoena power). If the government’s entire strategy remains to cover up the truth, then we won’t have the chance.


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