Next week, the Federal Reserve System will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Resulting from secret negotiations between bankers and politicians at Jekyll Island, the Fed’s creation established a banking cartel and a board of government overseers that has grown ever stronger through the years. One would think this anniversary would elicit some sort of public recognition of the Fed’s growth from a quasi-agent of the Treasury Department intended to provide an elastic currency, to a de facto independent institution that has taken complete control of the economy through its central monetary planning. But just like the Fed’s creation, its 100th anniversary may come and go with only a few passing mentions.
Like many other horrible and unconstitutional pieces of legislation, the bill which created the Fed, the Federal Reserve Act, was passed under great pressure on December 23, 1913, in the waning moments before Congress recessed for Christmas with many Members already absent from those final votes. This underhanded method of pressuring Congress with such a deadline to pass the Federal Reserve Act would provide a foreshadowing of the Fed’s insidious effects on the US economy—with actions performed without transparency.
Ostensibly formed with the goal of preventing financial crises such as the Panic of 1907, the Fed has become increasingly powerful over the years. Rather than preventing financial crises, however, the Fed has constantly caused new ones. Barely a few years after its inception, the Fed’s inflationary monetary policy to help fund World War I led to the Depression of 1920. After the economy bounced back from that episode, a further injection of easy money and credit by the Fed led to the Roaring Twenties and to the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in American history.
But even though the Fed continued to make the same mistakes over and over again, no one in Washington ever questioned the wisdom of having a central bank. Instead, after each episode the Fed was given more and more power over the economy. Even though the Fed had brought about the stagflation of the 1970s, Congress decided to formally task the Federal Reserve, in 1978, with maintaining full employment and stable prices, combined with constantly adding horrendously harmful regulations. Talk about putting the inmates in charge of the asylum!
Now we are reaping the noxious effects of a century of loose monetary policy, as our economy remains mired in mediocrity and utterly dependent on a stream of easy money from the central bank. A century ago, politicians failed to understand that the financial panics of the 19th century were caused by collusion between government and the banking sector. The government’s growing monopoly on money creation, high barriers to entry into banking to protect politically favored incumbents, and favored treatment for government debt combined to create a rickety, panic-prone banking system. Had legislators known then what we know now, we could hope that they never would have established the Federal Reserve System.
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