HuffPo's 11 Myths About the Fed, Refuted

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The other day the Huffington Post ran an article by a Bonnie Kavoussi called “11 Lies About the Federal Reserve.” And you’ll never guess: these aren’t lies or myths spread in the financial press by Fed apologists. These are “lies” being told by you and me, opponents of the Fed. Bonnie Kavoussi calls us “Fed-haters.” So she, a Fed-lover, is at pains to correct these alleged misconceptions. She must stop us stupid ingrates from poisoning our countrymen’s minds against this benevolent array of experts innocently pursuing economic stability.

Here are the 11 so-called lies (she calls them “myths” in the actual rendering), and our responses.

HuffPo’s Myth #1: “The Fed actually prints money.”

She leads off with this? As if this is some big discovery that will refute the end-the-Fed people? When we talk about Fed money-printing, we are speaking in shorthand. We’re pretty certain someone like Ron Paul knows the Fed doesn’t actually print money. But he, along with pretty much the whole financial world, speaks of the Fed as printing money. You know why? Because it’s a teensy bit more convenient than saying, “We need the Fed to credit some banks’ accounts with increased balances, which it does by means of a computer, though if these balances are lent out and the borrowers prefer to use some of this lent money as cash, the Treasury will go ahead and print the cash.”

HuffPo’s Myth #2: “The Federal Reserve is spending money wastefully.”

You may think the Federal Reserve is throwing around money like crazy, just like the federal government. But you’re wrong! As Kavoussi explains, the Fed doesn’t spend money like the federal government does; it creates money! That’s just totally different! And so we read, “Both CNN anchor Erin Burnett and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan have compared the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing to government spending. But the Federal Reserve actually has created new money by expanding its balance sheet.”

She then points out that hey, the Fed earned a profit of $77.4 billion last year. We are supposed to be impressed. But if you can create money out of thin air and buy bonds with it, and then earn interest on those bonds, wouldn’t it be pretty hard to lose money? (But they just might, if interest rates should spike.)

HuffPo’s Myth #3: “The Fed is causing hyperinflation.”

Is it just us, or does Bonnie Kavoussi word things awkwardly? Do you know of anyone who says the Fed is causing — as in present progressive tense — hyperinflation?

Kavoussi then goes on to tell us that the CPI is showing low price inflation — again, as if she’s reporting some extraordinary revelation that will put all Fed critics to shame. There is no hyperinflation because the banks are holding the newly created money as excess reserves with the Fed. If the banks begin lending and the money multiplier is enacted, an inflationary spiral could easily occur — trillions of dollars of high-powered money would expand via the fractional-reserve banking system into tens of trillions of dollars. The only way for the government to stay ahead of the curve would be for the Fed to keep creating boatloads of new money — which is how hyperinflation happens, after all. If that were to happen, we rather doubt Kavoussi would want to come tell us how the CPI is doing.

HuffPo’s Myth #4: “The amount of cash available has grown tremendously.”

“Some Federal Reserve critics claim that the Fed has devalued the U.S. dollar through a massive expansion of the amount of currency in circulation,” says Kavoussi. “But not only is inflation low; currency growth also has not really changed since the Fed started its stimulus measures, as noted by Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal.”

This looks like another silly gotcha with definitions, like the u201Cprinting moneyu201D canard. The graph below shows that the currency component of M1 hasn't shot up like a rocket, it's true; but M1 itself (which consists of not just physical paper but also checking account deposits) has indeed risen sharply, notwithstanding the insights of Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal.

HuffPo’s Myth #5: “The gold standard would make prices more stable.”

Kavoussi writes, “Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has claimed that bringing back the gold standard would make prices more stable. But prices actually were much less stable under the gold standard than they are today, as The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brien and Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal have noted.”

Does our critic even read the things she links to? Her two authors’ blog posts depict a very brief period in the twentieth century, after the classical gold standard had already given way to the gold exchange standard. What is that supposed to prove?

So against Bonnie Kavoussi’s two blog posts that examine the gold exchange standard and only for a period of about 15 years at that, all we have in reply is only the most meticulous study of gold and its purchasing power ever written, Roy Jastram’s The Golden Constant: The English and American Experience 1560-2007, which finds gold to be extraordinarily stable over four and a half centuries.

Even John Kenneth Galbraith, not exactly gold’s biggest fan, conceded that once someone had gold, there was little uncertainty about what he would be able to get with it. “In the last [19th] century in the industrial countries there was much uncertainty as to whether a man could get money but very little as to what it would do for him once he had it. In this [20th] century the problem of getting money, though it remains considerable, has diminished. In its place has come a new uncertainty as to what money, however acquired and accumulated, will be worth. Once, to have an income reliably denominated in money was thought…to be very comfortable. Of late, to have a fixed income is to be thought liable to impoverishment that may not be slow. What has happened to money?”

Of course, gold standard advocates, at least in the Austrian tradition, are not fixated on price stability in the first place.

HuffPo’s Myth #6: “The Fed is causing food and gas prices to rise.”

This can’t be, Kavoussi says, since some sources deny it. Bob Murphy testified before Congress on this very issue. He thinks the Fed does play a role. Where is the flaw in his reasoning?

HuffPo’s Myth #7: “Quantitative easing has not helped job growth.”

How could we think such a thing? Why, we should be satisfied to know, as Bonnie Kavoussi assures us, that “the Fed’s quantitative easing measures actually have saved or created more than 2 million jobs, according to the Fed’s economists.” Gee, the Fed’s economists think the Fed contributes to job growth? How about that! On the same grounds, we might say there was no housing bubble in 2005 and that the fundamentals of real estate were sound — after all, we could find a whole bunch of “Fed economists” who were saying just that.

In fact, these models build in the very assumptions about purchases helping the economy that they then spit out, just like with the ex post “analysis” of the Obama stimulus package. No matter what numbers one fed into such models, it would be impossible for them to say that QE (or the Obama stimulus) hindered economic growth; the worst they would show is a build-up of price inflation once u201Cfull employmentu201D had been achieved.

HuffPo’s Myth #8: “Tying the U.S. dollar to commodities would solve everything.”

Whenever you hear a mocking writer like Bonnie Kavoussi say something like, “My opponents think X would solve everything,” you can be sure her opponents have said no such thing. Why, as a matter of simple courtesy, could she not simply have described this alleged myth as, “Tying the U.S. dollar to commodities would improve the American monetary system”? Because that might sound reasonable, and it’s Bonnie Kavoussi’s job to make her opponents sound like troglodytes.

That’s all we have to say about this myth, though, since we are not interested in tying the dollar to a basket of commodities. Here is our preferred monetary reform.

Read the rest of the article

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail; visit his website], a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, is the creator of Tom Woods's Liberty Classroom, a libertarian educational resource. He is the author of eleven books, including the New York Times bestsellers Meltdown (on the financial crisis; read Ron Paul's foreword) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, and most recently Nullification and Rollback.

Bob Murphy [send him mail], adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, The Human Action Study Guide, and The Man, Economy, and State Study Guide. His latest book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal.

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