Saturday, December 04, 2010

Why Do We Have a Central Bank?

O'Driscoll poses this very important question in a recent WSJ article. Here's the take away:
The Federal Reserve System was created by an act of Congress only in 1913. It then presided over a great wartime inflation followed by a major depression in 1920-21. The 1920s were an era of prosperity, due as much to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's wise fiscal policies as anything the Fed did. The Fed's performance in the Great Depression was disastrous, a judgment shared by its current chairman, Ben Bernanke.

The Canadian banking system weathered the Great Depression without a central bank. Instead of the thousands of small, undiversified banks that the United States had, Canada had a small number of banks (with many branches across the country) that were able withstand localized downturns. Even in the Great Depression, banking failures in the U.S. were concentrated in specific regions. Canada's central bank, the Bank of Canada, was created in 1935 in part because of pressure from the rest of the world. Canada had survived without it quite well.

In short, central banking has been neither necessary nor sufficient for the development of a modern economy and financial system. A number of reform proposals for the Fed are being crafted, but there is no agreement on why the institution exists.

No comments: