Trumps Fed Picks Are All Wrong, But His Reasoning Behind Them Isn’t

Nathan Harman

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President Trump has nominated two very controversial people to the Fed in the past month: former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain and former campaign advisor Stephen Moore. Both men have been highly critical of the Fed’s recent policy of raising rates since December 2015 and both are staunch Trump supporters, which has rightfully raised eyebrows both on Capitol Hill and at central banks all over the world.

Injecting politics into an institution such as the Fed could have dire consequences, especially when it comes to monetary policy, which has a far-reaching impact on all aspects of the economy. Both men are also highly ill-suited for the job, as neither of them have a formal education or experience studying economics. 

But, Trump isn’t wrong in saying that he has the authority to pick such political puppets for the job.

One of the key characteristics of the Federal Reserve from its inception is that it has remained apolitical for most of its history. This has allowed it to remain impervious to the political climate  and maintain a logic- and evidence-driven approach to monetary policy. But the Fed has also not traditionally had much regulatory power over financial institutions. 

This all changed during the financial crisis in 2008 when then-president Barack Obama granted the Fed sweeping new powers to regulate and, in some cases, outright control of financial institutions, essentially changing the Federal Reserve from primarily a policy-making department to a regulatory one.

Regulation has always fallen under the oversight of the executive branch because it is the executive’s responsibility to carry out the laws passed by Congress. Since the Fed is now a regulatory authority, it is now to say that its actions should be more closely controlled by the president and, by extension, Congress. It would be a huge mistake to let a regulatory authority with such immense power run around virtually unchecked from any sort of elected body or official. 

This being said, it does not instantly qualify Mr. Trump’s picks as being appropriate. Congressional leaders and central bank presidents have good reason to be fearful; these men’s appointments could set a dangerous precedent of presidents selecting politically charged nominees without sufficiently reining in the American central bank. 

If leaders in Congress want a justifiable way to prevent the president from exerting greater control over Fed policy, they should strip the Fed of its grossly over-endowed powers and return it to its proper position that it occupied before the financial crisis. 

The Fed was never intended to be a major regulatory authority. Its only goal was to keep a handle on monetary policy to curb the severity and frequency of financial panics.

Congress is right to feel skeptical of these picks. If Messrs. Cain and Moore receive Senate confirmations, they are essentially two puppets of the president in an institution that is beyond the oversight of the legislature. 

Fortunately, Senate approval is highly unlikely. Republicans should uphold their promises of a sound economy based on sound economic principles and reject these nominations. Hopefully along the way they will see what kind of overzealous monster the Fed has become, and maybe set in motion some way to curb this pooling of unchecked authority, because what good is the U.S. government if it can’t even maintain its own system of checks and balances?