The big news of the day is President Biden’s announcement of the reappointment of Jay Powell as chairman of the Federal Reserve and the promotion of Lael Brainard to vice chairman from governor.
“Jay,” the President basically said, “you're my guy because in our conversations you have promised to maximize employment and to make climate change a top priority and, in your speech a month ago, you said how hard the Fed would work to solve entrenched inequities.”
Mr. Biden also mentioned standing up to President Trump. and I’ll say more about that in a moment. Here, though is what Mr. Biden failed to say: “Inflation is the number one economic problem in the country today, rising inflation can only be curbed by pressing down on the monetary brake by the Fed. And the sooner you move to stop inflation, the better off we’ll all be.”
That’s not what the President said. He did mention inflation — more in the context of how his $5 trillion big government socialist plan will curb inflation. That is a point of view with which basically no one outside the White House agrees.
What the Fed should do right now is end quantitative easing. No more asset purchases. Stop stuffing the economy with excess money that it doesn't want or need. Then get ready to raise its short-term target rate in January. That’s what they should do.
That is not what Mr. Biden suggested they do. He said to keep your eye on employment, climate change, and inequity. Guess what? Plenty of easy money is coming. The appointment of Ms. Brainard is a sop to the “woke” progressive left.
Ms. Brainard will push hard for climate change policies, heavier regulations on financial companies, various inequities in the labor force and perhaps elsewhere, and new diversity at the Fed. Not what you'd call a hard money gal.
By the way, in congressional testimony, Ms. Brainard has repeatedly refused to answer a direct question as to whether she believes in capitalism or socialism. How hard can it be for a former treasury official and long-time Fed official to come out in favor of American capitalism. Well, I guess in her case, it’s difficult.
Now, after the dust clears with Mr. Powell and Ms. Brainard — and I assume they will both be confirmed by the senate — there will still be four unfilled seats on the Federal Reserve board. one of them is vice chair for regulation and then there will be three others.
You can bet that the White House figures leave Republican Powell in there, but in addition to Ms. Brainard, we can load up the truck with a bunch of people devoted to the “woke” climate change, diversity, inequality, focus-on-employment-not-inflation crowd.
By the way, the stock market, that loves easy money, that loves easy free money, and lots of it, rallied today with the S&P hitting a record. I fear, easier money, they're going to get it. We’ll all pay the piper for rising inflation. But not just yet.
Which brings me to this business of Jay Powell standing up to President Trump. Now as I’ve said, I know Jay. I like him. I had many, many lunches and meetings with him while in office and with a choice between himself and Ms. Brainard, I have said publicly that I favored him.
In policy terms, though, Jay Powell raised the fed target interest rate four times in 2018. This despite the fact that there was no palpable inflation. The average inflation rate in 2018 and 2019 following the Trump tax cuts of 2017 was around 1.5%. Mr. Powell raised rates four times.
Today, with inflation above 6%, he won't raise rates at all. There's an inconsistency here, is there not? The economy was booming after the Trump tax cuts. With a four quarter change running upward of 4% growth without inflation. Record low unemployment.
For a fella who has said he’s worried about maximizing employment and ending inequity, it's passing strange that during President Trump's term, minority unemployment hit 50 year lows. Blacks, hispanics, women, Asians — the poverty rate fell. Average blue-collar family incomes soared. Inequality declined.
With no inflation!
President Trump, who was an experienced investor and businessman and one who followed markets carefully, was furious. He had a right to be furious at this unreasonable and mistaken Fed policy. Finally, after inducing a big slowdown in the economy, with their rate hikes the Fed had a 180-degree turn and started cutting rates, three times in July, September and October of 2019.
Low and behold, the tax cut deregulated economy started to roar back — until the pandemic came crashing down. In early March, worried about Covid, the Fed cut its rates slightly. Then a week later, the Fed unexpectedly moved its target rate to near zero.
That news was delivered to President Trump while he was speaking in the White House press room. I was sitting there along the wall in the room. I can’t remember who whispered it to him, but it happened actually while he was talking.
When President Trump got the news, he looked up with a smile and said something to the effect of, “wow, the Fed just went to zero. I now designate Jay Powell with the most improved player of the year award.” So Mr. trump was even-handed. He criticized the Fed and then praised the Fed.
That's what presidents do — because they're president. So let me conclude, save America. Kill the bill — and conquer inflation, Mr. Powell.