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Fed's Powell stresses importance of an independent central bank

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/25/2018 CHRISTOPHER RUGABER

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the Fed's independence from political pressure is key in enabling the central bank to fight inflation, stabilize the economy, and regulate the financial system.

His remarks Friday come after Kevin Warsh, a former Fed official who President Donald Trump interviewed for the chairman post, said in an interview earlier this month with Politico that Trump did not appear to view the Fed as an independent body. He said Trump was direct about how he thought interest rates should be managed.

Powell warned against taking that independence for granted given its recent success in keeping inflation low.

"We must not forget the lessons of the past, when a lack of central bank independence led to episodes of runaway inflation and subsequent economic contractions," Powell warned.

Following Warsh's comments regarding Trump, members of the Senate Banking Committee quizzed two of Trump's nominees for the Federal Reserve Board, Richard Clarida and Michelle Bowman, about the importance of Fed independence.

Both said yes when asked by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, whether they thought it was important for the Fed to remain free from White House influence. Clarida said that neither Trump nor any other member of his administration had said anything during his interviews that would be compromising to the Fed's independence.

"I had a number of meetings over several months with a number of officials, including the president, and in no meeting, at no time, did I ever have any reason to question the independence of the Federal Reserve," Clarida said then.

The double-digit inflation of the late 1970s is often blamed, in part, on then-Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns, who was reluctant to raise short-term interest rates high enough to choke off inflation for fear of causing massive unemployment.

Burns and other Fed officials were pressured by President Richard Nixon, who was leery of any political blowback from rising unemployment.

Inflation remained high into the early 1980s until Paul Volcker, appointed Fed Chair by President Jimmy Carter, pushed short-term interest rates to nearly 20 percent. That sparked a sharp recession, but it also reined in inflation.

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