“Some people think that the Federal Reserve Banks are United States Government institutions. They are private monopolies which prey upon the people of these United States for the benefit of themselves and their foreign customers; foreign and domestic speculators and swindlers; and rich and predatory money lenders.”
– The Honorable Louis McFadden, Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee in the 1930s
The Federal Reserve (or Fed) has assumed sweeping new powers in the last year. In an unprecedented move in March 2008, the New York Fed advanced the funds for JPMorgan Chase Bank to buy investment bank Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar. The deal was particularly controversial because Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, sits on the board of the New York Fed and participated in the secret weekend negotiations.1In September 2008, the Federal Reserve did something even more unprecedented, when it bought the world’s largest insurance company. The Fed announced on September 16 that it was giving an $85 billion loan to American International Group (AIG) for a nearly 80% stake in the mega-insurer. The Associated Press called it a “government takeover,” but this was no ordinary nationalization. Unlike the U.S. Treasury, which took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the week before, the Fed is not a government-owned agency. Also unprecedented was the way the deal was funded. The Associated Press reported:
“The Treasury Department, for the first time in its history, said it would begin selling bonds for the Federal Reserve in an effort to help the central bank deal with its unprecedented borrowing needs.”2
This is extraordinary. Why is the Treasury issuing U.S. government bonds (or debt) to fund the Fed, which is itself supposedly “the lender of last resort” created to fund the banks and the federal government? Yahoo Finance reported on September 17:
“The Treasury is setting up a temporary financing program at the Fed’s request. The program will auction Treasury bills to raise cash for the Fed’s use. The initiative aims to help the Fed manage its balance sheet following its efforts to enhance its liquidity facilities over the previous few quarters.”
Normally, the Fed swaps green pieces of paper called Federal Reserve Notes for pink pieces of paper called U.S. bonds (the federal government’s I.O.U.s), in order to provide Congress with the dollars it cannot raise through taxes. Now, it seems, the government is issuing bonds, not for its own use, but for the use of the Fed! Perhaps the plan is to swap them with the banks’ dodgy derivatives collateral directly, without actually putting them up for sale to outside buyers. According to Wikipedia (which translates Fedspeak into somewhat clearer terms than the Fed’s own website):
“The Term Securities Lending Facility is a 28-day facility that will offer Treasury general collateral to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s primary dealers in exchange for other program-eligible collateral. It is intended to promote liquidity in the financing markets for Treasury and other collateral and thus to foster the functioning of financial markets more generally. . . . The resource allows dealers to switch debt that is less liquid for U.S. government securities that are easily tradable.”
“To switch debt that is less liquid for U.S. government securities that are easily tradable” means that the government gets the banks’ toxic derivative debt, and the banks get the government’s triple-A securities. Unlike the risky derivative debt, federal securities are considered “risk-free” for purposes of determining capital requirements, allowing the banks to improve their capital position so they can make new loans. (See E. Brown, “Bailout Bedlam,” webofdebt.com/articles, October 2, 2008.)
In its latest power play, on October 3, 2008, the Fed acquired the ability to pay interest to its member banks on the reserves the banks maintain at the Fed. Reuters reported on October 3:
“The U.S. Federal Reserve gained a key tactical tool from the $700 billion financial rescue package signed into law on Friday that will help it channel funds into parched credit markets. Tucked into the 451-page bill is a provision that lets the Fed pay interest on the reserves banks are required to hold at the central bank.”3
If the Fed’s money comes ultimately from the taxpayers, that means we the taxpayers are paying interest to the banks on the banks’ own reserves – reserves maintained for their own private profit. These increasingly controversial encroachments on the public purse warrant a closer look at the central banking scheme itself. Who owns the Federal Reserve, who actually controls it, where does it get its money, and whose interests is it serving?
Not Private and Not for Profit?
The Fed’s website insists that it is not a private corporation, is not operated for profit, and is not funded by Congress. But is that true? The Federal Reserve was set up in 1913 as a “lender of last resort” to backstop bank runs, following a particularly bad bank panic in 1907. The Fed’s mandate was then and continues to be to keep the private banking system intact; and that means keeping intact the system’s most valuable asset, a monopoly on creating the national money supply. Except for coins, every dollar in circulation is now created privately as a debt to the Federal Reserve or the banking system it heads. The Fed’s website attempts to gloss over its role as chief defender and protector of this private banking club, but let’s take a closer look. The website states:
* “The twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks, which were established by Congress as the operating arms of the nation’s central banking system, are organized much like private corporations – possibly leading to some confusion about “ownership.” For example, the Reserve Banks issue shares of stock to member banks. However, owning Reserve Bank stock is quite different from owning stock in a private company. The 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, traded, or pledged as security for a loan; dividends are, by law, 6 percent per year.”
* “[The Federal Reserve] is considered an independent central bank because its decisions do not have to be ratified by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branch of government, it does not receive funding appropriated by Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms.”