33. The Federal Reserve Bank:
The fundamental promise of a central bank like the Federal Reserve is economic stability. The theory is that manipulating the value of the currency allows financial booms to go higher, and crashes to be more mild. If growth becomes speculative and unsustainable, the central bank can make the price of money go up and force some deleveraging of risky investments – again, promising to make the crashes more mild.
The period leading up to the American revolution was characterized by increasingly authoritarian legislation from England. Acts passed in 1764 had a particularly harsh effect on the previously robust colonial economy. The Sugar Act was in effect a tax cut on easily smuggled molasses, and a new tax on commodities that England more directly controlled trade over. The navy would be used in increased capacity to enforce trade laws and collect duties. Perhaps even more significant than the militarization and expansion of taxes was the Currency Act passed later in the year 1764.
“The colonies suffered a constant shortage of currency with which to conduct trade. There were no gold or silver mines and currency could only be obtained through trade as regulated by Great Britain. Many of the colonies felt no alternative to printing their own paper money in the form of Bills of Credit.”
The result was a true free market of currency – each bank competed, exchange rates fluctuated wildly, and merchants were hesitant to accept these notes as payment. Of course, they didn’t have 24-hour digital Forex markets, but I’ll hold off opinions on the viability of unregulated currency for another time. England’s response was to seize control of the colonial money supply – forbidding banks, cities, and colony governments from printing their own.
This law, passed so soon after the Sugar Act, started to really bring revolutionary tension inside the colonies to a higher level. American bankers had learned early on that debasing a currency through inflation is a helpful way to pay off perpetual trade deficits – but Britain proved that the buyer of the currency would only take the deal for so long… Following the (first) American Revolution, the “First Bank of the United States” was chartered to pay off collective war debts, and effectively distribute the cost of the revolution proportionately throughout all of the states. Although the bank had vocal and harsh skeptics, it only controlled about 20% of the nation’s money supply.
Compared to today’s central bank, it was nothing. Thomas Jefferson argued vocally against the institution of the bank, mostly citing constitutional concerns and the limitations of government found in the 10th amendment. There was one additional quote that hints at the deeper structural flaw of a central bank in a supposedly free capitalist economy. “the existing banks will, without a doubt, enter into arrangements for lending their agency, and the more favorable, as there will be a competition among them for it; whereas the bill delivers us up bound to the national bank, who are free to refuse all arrangement, but on their own terms, and the public not free, on such refusal, to employ any other bank” –Thomas Jefferson. Basically, the existing banks will fight over gaining favor with the central bank – rather than improving their performance relative to a free market. The profit margins associated with collusion would obviously outweigh the potential profits gained from legitimate business. The Second Bank of the United States was passed five years after the first bank’s charter expired. An early enemy of central banking, President James Madison, was looking for a way to stabilize the currency in 1816. This bank was also quite temporary – it would only stay in operation until 1833 when President Andrew Jackson would end federal deposits at the institution.
The charter expired in 1836 and the private corporation was bankrupt and liquidated by 1841. While the South had been the major opponent of central banking systems, the end of the Civil War allowed for (and also made necessary) the system of national banks that would dominate the next fifty years. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) says that this post-war period of a unified national currency and system of national banks “worked well.”  Taxes on state banks were imposed to encourage people to use the national banks – but liquidity problems persisted as the money supply did not match the economic cycles. Overall, the American economy continued to grow faster than Europe, but the period did not bring economic stability by any stretch of the imagination. Several panics and runs on the bank – and it became a fact of life under this system of competing nationalized banks. In 1873, 1893, 1901, and 1907 significant panics caused a series of bank failures.
The new system wasn’t stable at all, in fact, many suspected it was wraught with fraud and manipulation. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is not shy about attributing the causes of the Panic of 1907 to financial manipulation from the existing banking establishment. “If Knickerbocker Trust would falter, then Congress and the public would lose faith in all trust companies and banks would stand to gain, the bankers reasoned.”
In timing with natural economic cycles, major banks including J.P. Morgan and Chase launched an all-out assault on Heinze’s Knickerbocker Trust. Financial institutions on the inside started silently selling off assets in the competitor, and headlines about a few bad loans started making top spots in the newspapers. The run on Knickerbocker turned into a general panic – and the Federal Government would come to the rescue of its privately owned “National Banks.”
During the Panic of 1907, “Depositors ‘run’ on the Knickerbocker Bank. J.P. Morgan and James Stillman of First National City Bank (Citibank) act as a “central bank,” providing liquidity … [to stop the bank run] President Theodore Roosevelt provides Morgan with $25 million in government funds … to control the panic. Morgan, acting as a one-man central bank, decides which firms will fail and which firms will survive.” How did JP Morgan get so powerful that the government would provide them with funding to increase their power? They had key influence with positions inside the Administrations.
They had senators, congressmen, lobbyists, media moguls all working for them. In 1886, a group of millionaires purchased Jekyll Island and converted it into a winter retreat and hunting ground, the USA’s most exclusive club. By 1900, the club’s roster represented 1/6th of the world’s wealth. Names like Astor, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Pulitzer and Gould filled the club’s register.
Non- members, regardless of stature, were not allowed. Dignitaries like Winston Churchill and President McKinley were refused admission. In 1908, the year after a national money panic purportedly created by J. P. Morgan, Congress established, in 1908, a National Monetary Authority. In 1910 another, more secretive, group was formed consisting of the chiefs of major corporations and banks in this country. The group left secretly by rail from Hoboken, New Jersey, and traveled anonymously to the hunting lodge on Jekyll Island. In fact, the Clubhouse/hotel on the island has two conference rooms named for the “Federal Reserve.” The meeting was so secret that none referred to the other by his last name. Why the need for secrecy?
Frank Vanderlip wrote later in the Saturday Evening Post, “…it would have been fatal to Senator Aldrich’s plan to have it known that he was calling on anybody from Wall Street to help him in preparing his bill…I do not feel it is any exaggeration to speak of our secret expedition to Jekyll Island as the occasion of the actual conception of what eventually became the Federal Reserve System.” At Jekyll Island, the true draftsman for the Federal Reserve was Paul Warburg. The plan was simple.
The new central bank could not be called a central bank because America did not want one, so it had to be given a deceptive name. Ostensibly, the bank was to be controlled by Congress, but a majority of its members were to be selected by the private banks that would own its stock. To keep the public from thinking that the Federal Reserve would be controlled from New York, a system of twelve regional banks was designed. Given the concentration of money and credit in New York, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York controlled the system, making the regional concept initially nothing but a ruse.
The board and chairman were to be selected by the President, but in the words of Colonel Edward House, the board would serve such a term as to “put them out of the power of the President.” The power over the creation of money was to be taken from the people and placed in the hands of private bankers who could expand or contract credit as they felt best suited their needs.
Why the opposition to a central bank? Americans at the time knew of the destruction to the economy the European central banks had caused to their respective countries and to countries who became their debtors. They saw the large- scale government deficit spending and debt creation that occurred in Europe. But European financial moguls didn’t rest until the New World was within their orbit. In 1902, Paul Warburg, a friend and associate of the Rothschilds and an expert on European central banking, came to this country as a partner in Kuhn, Loeb and Company.
He married the daughter of Solomon Loeb, one of the founders of the firm. The head of Kuhn, Loeb was Jacob Schiff, whose gift of $20 million in gold to the struggling Russian communists in 1917 no doubt saved their revolution. The Fed controls the banking system in the USA, not the Congress nor the people indirectly (as the Constitution dictates). The U.S. central bank strategy is a product of European banking interests. Government interventionists got their wish in 1913 with the Federal Reserve (and income tax amendment).
Just in time, too, because the nation needed a new source of unlimited cash to finance both sides of WW1 and eventually our own entry to the war. After the war, with both sides owing us debt through the federal reserve backed banks, the center of finance moved from London to New York. But did the Federal Reserve reign in the money trusts and interlocking directorates? Not by a long shot. If anything, the Federal Reserve granted new powers to the National Banks by permitting overseas branches and new types of banking services. The greatest gift to the bankers, was a virtually unlimited supply of loans when they experience liquidity problems.
From the early 1920s to 1929, the monetary supply expanded at a rapid pace and the nation experienced wild economic growth. Curiously, however, the number of banks started to decline for the first time in American history. Toward the end of the period, speculation and loose money had propelled asset and equity prices to unreal levels.
The stock market crashed, and as the banks struggled with liquidity problems, the Federal Reserve actually cut the money supply. Without a doubt, this is the greatest financial panic and economic collapse in American history – and it never could have happened on this scale without the Fed’s intervention. The number of banks crashed and a few of the old robber barons’ banks managed to swoop in and grab up thousands of competitors for pennies on the dollar.
The 12 Federal Reserve Banks form a major part of the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system of the United States. The 12 federal reserve banks together divide the nation into 12 Federal Reserve Districts, the 12 banking districts created by theFederal Reserve Act of 1913.
The twelve Federal Reserve Banks are jointly responsible for implementing the monetary policy set by theFederal Open Market Committee. Each federal reserve bank is also responsible for the regulation of the commercial banks within its own particular district.
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Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of Treasury, started a movement advocating the creation of a central bank. The Bank Bill created by Alexander Hamilton was a proposal to institute a National Bank, in order to improve the economic stability of the nation after its independence from Britain. Although the national bank was to be used as a tool for the government, it was to be privately owned. Hamilton wrote several articles providing information regarding his national bank idea. The articles expressed the validity and "would be" success of the national bank based upon: incentives for the rich to invest, ownerships of bonds and shares, rooted in fiscal management, and stable monetary system.
In response to this, the First Bank of the United States was established in 1791, its charter signed by George Washington. The First Bank of the United States was headquartered in Philadelphia, but had branches in other major cities. The Bank performed the basic banking functions of accepting deposits, issuing bank notes, making loans and purchasing securities.
When its charter expired 20 years later, the US was without a central bank for a few years, during which it suffered an unusual inflation. In 1816, James Madison signed the Second Bank of the United States into existence. When that bank's charter expired, the United States went without a central bank for 40 years.
Then, in 1873, Congress nationalized money for the first time, imposing what was effectively a gold standard, in the place of thebimetallic standard set in place by the Founders. A financial crisis known as the Panic of 1907 was headed off by a private conglomerate, who set themselves up as "lenders of last resort" to banks in trouble. This effort succeeded in stopping the panic, and led to calls for a Federal agency to do the same thing.
In response to this, the Federal Reserve System was created by the Federal Reserve Act of December 23, 1913, establishing a new central bank intended to serve as a formal "lender of last resort" to banks in times of liquidity crisis—panics where depositors tried to withdraw their money faster than a bank could pay it out.
The legislation provided for a system that included a number of regional Federal Reserve Banks and a seven-member governing board. All national banks were required to join the system and other banks could join. The Federal Reserve Banks opened for business in November 1914. Congress created Federal Reserve notes to provide the nation with a flexible supply of currency. The notes were to be issued to Federal Reserve Banks for subsequent transmittal to banking institutions in accordance with the needs of the public.
The twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks were established as the operating arms of the nation's central banking system. They are organized much like private corporations—possibly leading to some confusion about ownership.
The Federal Reserve Banks have an intermediate legal status, with some features of private corporations and some features of public federal agencies. The United States has an interest in the Federal Reserve Banks as tax-exempt federally created instrumentalities whose profits belong to the federal government, but this interest is not proprietary.In Lewis v. United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated that: "The Reserve Banks are not federal instrumentalities for purposes of the FTCA [theFederal Tort Claims Act], but are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations." The opinion went on to say, however, that: "The Reserve Banks have properly been held to be federal instrumentalities for some purposes." Another relevant decision is Scott v. Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, in which the distinction is made between Federal Reserve Banks, which are federally created instrumentalities, and the Board of Governors, which is a federal agency.
Regarding the structural relationship between the twelve Federal Reserve banks and the various commercial (member) banks, political science professor Michael D. Reagan has written that:
... the "ownership" of the Reserve Banks by the commercial banks is symbolic; they do not exercise the proprietary control associated with the concept of ownership nor share, beyond the statutory dividend, in Reserve Bank "profits." ... Bank ownership and election at the base are therefore devoid of substantive significance, despite the superficial appearance of private bank control that the formal arrangement creates.
The Federal Reserve System provides the government with a ready source of loans and serves as the safe depository for federal monies. The Federal Reserve is also a low-cost mechanism for transferring funds and is an inexpensive agent for meeting payments on the national debt and government salaries. The Federal Reserve Banks were created as instrumentalities to carry out the policies of the Federal Reserve System.
The Federal Reserve Banks issue shares of stock to member banks. However, owning Federal Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company. The Federal Reserve Banks are not operated for profit, and ownership of a certain amount of stock is, by law, a condition of membership in the system. The stock may not be sold or traded or pledged as security for a loan; dividends are, by law, limited to 6% per year.
The dividends paid to member banks are considered partial compensation for the lack of interest paid on member banks' required reserves held at the Federal Reserve. By law, banks in the United States must maintain fractional reserves, most of which are kept on account at the Federal Reserve. Historically, the Federal Reserve did not pay interest on these funds. The Federal Reserve now has authority, granted by Congress in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) of 2008, to pay interest on these funds.
A major responsibility of The Federal Reserve is to oversee their banking and financial systems. Overseeing the banking and financial systems of a bank is crucial in a society.
Confidence in the soundness of the banking and financial systems is what mobilizes a society's savings, allows the savings to be channeled into productive investments, and encourages economic growth.
Each Federal Reserve Bank funds its own operations, primarily from interest on its loans and on the securities it holds. Expenses and dividends paid are typically a small fraction of a Federal Reserve Bank's revenue each year. By law the remainder must be transferred to the Board of Governors, which then deposits the full amount to the Treasury as interest on outstanding Federal Reserve Notes.
The Federal Reserve Banks conduct ongoing internal audits of their operations to ensure that their accounts are accurate and comply with the Federal Reserve System's accounting principles. The banks are also subject to two types of external auditing. Since 1978 theGovernment Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted regular audits of the banks' operations. The GAO audits are reported to the public, but they may not review a bank's monetary policy decisions or disclose them to the public.
Since 1999 each bank has also been required to submit to an annual audit by an external accounting firm,
which produces a confidential report to the bank and a summary statement for the bank's annual report. Some members of Congress continue to advocate a more public and intrusive GAO audit of the Federal Reserve System, but Federal Reserve representatives support the existing restrictions to prevent political influence over long-range economic decisions.
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