Courtesy of Institutional Investor:
Happy 100th Birthday, Federal Reserve – Now, Please Go Away
Nearly 100 years ago, on December 23, 1913, the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law, giving the U.S. exactly what it didn’t need: a central bank. Many people simply assume that modern nations must have a central bank, just as they must have international airports and high-speed Internet. Yet Americans had gone without one since the 1836 expiration of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, which Andrew Jackson famously refused to renew. Not to be a party pooper, but as this dubious anniversary is observed, we should ask ourselves, Has the Fed been friend or foe to growth and prosperity?
According to the standard historical narrative, America learned a painful lesson in the Panic of 1907, that a “lender of last resort” was necessary, lest the financial sector be in thrall to the mercies of private capitalists like J.P. Morgan. A central bank — the Federal Reserve — was supposed to provide an elastic currency that would expand and contract with the needs of trade and that could rescue solvent but illiquid firms by providing liquidity when other institutions couldn’t or wouldn’t. If that’s the case, then the Fed has obviously failed in its mission of preventing crippling financial panics. The early years of the Great Depression — commencing with a stock market crash that arrived 15 years after the Fed opened its doors — saw far more turmoil than anything in the pre-Fed days, with some 4,000 commercial banks failing in 1933 alone.