Daily Video

July 31, 2009

How Transparent Should the Fed Be?

In the the wake of the Wall Street financial crisis in which many banks collapsed or received bailout money, some Americans have criticized America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, for its decision-making power over monetary policy behind closed doors without the approval or oversight of Congress.

Fed critic Ron Paul has sponsored a House bill which would give the Government Accountability Office the right to audit Fed interest rate decisions.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told members of Congress that the Fed needs the independence to make decisions separately from Congress.

“We have to be extraordinarily careful that the markets and the public don’t think that Congress is trying to influence monetary policy decisions,” Bernanke said.

In this part of his series on Making Sen$e of financial matters, NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman examines the Federal Reserve’s attempts to balance the need for public disclosure and secrecy.


[The Federal Reserve has] been less and less secretive over the years. This started back in the Greenspan years. There was a time when the Fed didn’t tell anybody anything about what they were doing, even on monetary policy. They didn’t say what they had done. They allowed the markets to guess.” – Alice Rivlin, Former White House Budget Director

“We bring information to bear from the private sector, from foreign governments and foreign central banks that they tell us in confidence about what’s going on in their businesses. So it would inhibit the discussion, and it would be less — the policy coming out would be less good. We do make transcripts, and we release them after five years.” – Donald Kohn, Fed Vice Chairman

“But it’s very important, if the Fed is going to do some of, quote, “nasty,” unquote, work that it sometimes has to do to fight inflation, that the Fed have a lot of independence. Americans wouldn’t think you should have politicians making the decisions for the Food and Drug Administration, right? You know, because that drug company might just be in that guy’s district, and we’d rather have scientists and technicians making those decisions.” – Alan Blinder, Former Fed Vice Chairman

Warm Up Questions

1. What is the Federal Reserve?

2. Who is Ben Bernanke? Alan Greenspan?

Discussion Questions

1. In your opinion, how important is transparency to governing? Explain. What is the role of transparency?

2. Name some other examples in which government needs to balance the need for secrecy and the public’s desire for transparency.

3. Name the 3 branches of government. How should the Fed be included in these?

4. What are the pros and cons of an independent Federal Reserve?

Additional Resources

Making Sen$e: Your Guide to the Economy

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