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The Federal Reserve and the Global Fracture

CounterPunch – By Michael Hudson – Feb 17, 2016

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This interview with Michael Hudson was conducted by Finnish journalist Antti J. Ronkainen.

Antti J. Ronkainen: The Federal Reserve is the most significant central bank in the world. How does it contribute to the domestic policy of the United States?

Michael Hudson: The Federal Reserve supports the status quo. It would not want to create a crisis before the election. Today it is part of the Democratic Party’s re-election campaign, and its job is to serve Hillary Clinton’s campaign contributors on Wall Street. It is trying to spur recovery by resuming its Bubble Economy subsidy for Wall Street, not by supporting the industrial economy. What the economy needs is a debt writedown, not more debt leveraging such as Quantitative Easing has aimed to promote. But the Fed is in a state of denial that the U.S. and European economies are plagued by debt deflation.

The Fed uses only one policy: influencing interest rates by creating bank reserves at low give-away charges. It enables banks too make easy gains simply by borrowing from it and leaving the money on deposit to earn interest (which has been paid since the 2008 crisis to help subsidize the banks, mainly the largest ones). The effect is to fund the asset markets – bonds, stocks and real estate – not the economy at large. Banks also are heavy arbitrage players in foreign exchange markets. But this doesn’t help the economy recover, any more than the ZIRP (Zero Interest-Rate Policy) since 2001 has done for Japan. Financial markets are the liabilities side of the economy’s balance sheet, not the asset side.

The last thing either U.S. party wants is for the election to focus on this policy failure. The Fed, Treasury and Justice Department will be just as pro-Wall Street under Hillary. There would be no prosecutions of bank fraud, there would be another bank-friendly Attorney General, and a willingness to subsidize banks now that the Dodd-Frank bank reform has been diluted from what it originally promised to be.

fed-structure
Federal Reserve System Structure

AJR: So let’s go back to beginning. When the Great Financial Crisis escalated in 2008 the Fed’s response was to lower its main interest rate to nearly zero. Why?

MH: The aim of lowering interest rates was to provide banks with cheap credit. The pretense was that banks might lend to help the economy get going again. But the Fed’s idea was simply to re-inflate the Bubble Economy. It aimed at restoring the value of the mortgages that banks had in their loan portfolios. The hope was that easy credit would spur new mortgage lending to bid housing prices back up – as if this would help the economy rather than simply raising the price of home ownership.

But banks weren’t going to make mortgage loans to a housing market that already was over-lent. Instead, homeowners had to start paying down the mortgages they had taken out. Banks also reduced their credit-card exposure by a few hundred billion dollars. So instead of receiving new credit, the economy was saddled with having to repay debts.

Banks did make money, but not by lending into the “real” production and consumption economy. They mainly engaged in arbitrage and speculation, and lending to hedge funds and companies to buy their own stocks yielding higher dividend returns than the low interest rates that were available.

AJR: In addition to the near zero interest rates, the Fed bought US Treasury bonds and mortgage backed securities (MBS) with almost $4 trillion during three rounds of Quantitative Easing stimulus. How have these measures affected the real economy and financial markets?

MH: In 2008 the Federal Reserve had a choice: It could save the economy, or it could save the banks. It might have used a fraction of what became the vast QE credit – for example $1 trillion – to pay off the bad mortgages and write them down. That would have helped save the economy from debt deflation. Instead, the Fed simply wanted to re-inflate the bubble, to save banks from having to suffer losses on their junk mortgages and other bad loans.

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Map of the Federal Reserve Districts

Keeping these debts on the books, in full, let banks foreclose on defaulting homeowners. This intensified the debt-deflation, pushing the economy into its present post-2008 depression. The debt overhead is keeping it depressed.

One therefore can speak of a financial war waged by Wall Street against the economy. The Fed is a major weapon in this war. Its constituency is Wall Street. Like the Justice and Treasury Departments, it has been captured and taken hostage.

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen’s husband, George Akerlof, has written a good article about looting and fraud as ways to make money. But instead of saying that looting and fraud are bad, the Fed has refused to regulate or move against such activities. It evidently recognizes that and fraud are what Wall Street is all about – or at least that the financial system would come crashing down if an attempt were made to clean it up!

So neither the Fed nor the Justice Department or other U.S. Government agencies has sanctioned or arrested a single banker for the trillions of dollars of financial fraud. Just the opposite: The big banks where the fraud was concentrated have been made even larger and more dominant. The effect has been to drive out of business the smaller banks not so involved in derivative bets and other speculation.

The bottom line is that banks made much more by getting Alan Greenspan and the Clinton-Bush Treasury officials to deregulate fraud than they could have made by traditional safe lending. But their gains have increased the economy’s overhead.

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Posted by Teri Perticone for No Lies Radio News

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