John Hussman: The Case Against the Fed

by: John Hussman

Excerpt from the Hussman Funds' Weekly Market Comment (11/22/10):

Ever since the Bear Stearns bailout, I've been insistent that the Federal Reserve is increasingly operating outside of its statutory boundaries. As I noted in the March 31, 2008 weekly comment (What Congress and Investors Should Understand about the Bear Stearns Deal):

"The clear historical role of the Federal Reserve has been to manage the composition of Federal liabilities (by varying the mix of Treasury securities and monetary base - currency and bank reserves - held by the public). The recent transaction is a dangerous break from that role, in which unelected bureaucrats are committing public funds to facilitate private business transactions and selectively defend the holders of corporate securities. Only Congress has the Constitutional right, by the representative will of the people, to commit public funds. The Bear Stearns deal is a dangerous precedent and a dilution of Congressional prerogative."

My concerns here have nothing to do with the direction of the stock market. Ensuring the legality of Fed actions is not a Democratic issue, a Republican issue or a Tea Party issue. Rather, it is about whether we want America to function as a representative democracy. We hear a lot about the risk of "politicizing" the Fed, as if it should somehow operate outside of Constitutional checks and balances. This idea is insane. Reserving the appropriation of public funds to Congress, and by extension to the will of the American people, is central to the meaning of democracy. There is clearly a mindless carnival of circus clowns on financial television that is perfectly willing to look the other way as long as the Fed encourages risk and bails out reckless behavior. We should recognize what we stand to lose.


It should be obvious that the Maiden Lane arrangements didn't represent "discount" transactions under any reasonable interpretation of the Federal Reserve Act. Instead, the Fed created shell companies to stash long-term securities of questionable credit quality, bought them outright, and still holds them more than two years later. This is simply illegal.

These arguments are not about whether various financial institutions should or should not be bailed out. They are about whether we have any interest in preserving a representative democracy that operates under the rule of law; or whether we instead want a fourth branch of government that operates independently of Constitutional checks and balances, where unelected bureaucrats can arbitrarily commit a greater amount of public funds in a day than the National Institute of Health spends on public research for cancer, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, autism and other disorders in a year. Count me out.