Blaming the Fed

Critics of the Federal Reserve are having a field day with embarrassing revelations of its risk assessments on the eve of the financial crisis. But, while it is legitimate to criticize individual policymakers, their poor judgment does not impugn the entire institution.

FRANKFURT – Critics of the US Federal Reserve are having a field day with embarrassing revelations of its risk assessments on the eve of the financial crisis. By law, the Fed is required to publish the transcripts of its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings with a five-year lag.

While the full-blown crisis did not erupt until the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, it was clear by the summer of 2007 that something was very wrong in credit markets, which were starting to behave in all sorts of strange ways. Yet many Fed officials clearly failed to recognize the significance of what was unfolding. One governor opined that the Fed should regard it as a good thing that markets were starting to worry about subprime mortgages. Another argued that the summertime market stress would most likely be a hiccup.

Various critics are seizing on such statements as evidence that the Fed is incompetent, and that its independence should be curtailed, or worse. This is nonsense. Yes, things could and should have been done better; but to single out Fed governors for missing the coming catastrophe is ludicrous.

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