Event: Congress’ Joint Economic Committee
Ron Paul: Welcome, Chairman Bernanke. I have a couple of questions, but first I want to mention that I find it awfully frustrating at times when we always talk about inflation and we only talk about the prices and say, “We have prices under control, there is no inflation”. We have to realize that the monetary base, the liquidity was doubled in a few short months. To me there is a lot of inflation out there. It’s already inflated, we’re in the midst of inflation. Because the prices haven’t gone up doesn’t mean we don’t have the distortion. And it was that system that gave us the financial bubble. Artificially low interest rates, the mal-investment, all the mistakes made. And now we’re trying to correct all that by doing the very, very same thing.
So, I think someday we’re going to have to address this somewhat differently because I’m not very optimistic that we can solve our problems with more spending and more borrowing and more inflation in order to solve those problems. But you’ve answered this question several times, I want to bring it up again and this question has to do with when will some of this liquidity be drained? And I don’t think the answer you’ve given is very specific and I don’t expect to get a more specific answer, but I’m going to try.
What if we have a situation where prices, which is not the best measure of inflation, but let’s say the consumer price index (CPI) is going up 8% to 10% and there is no economic growth. Where are you then, because that’s not impossible, it’s happened. It’s happened in our history, it happens throughout the world, it’s a common thing, it puts you between a rock and a hard place. If you drain, interest rates go up and the economy further crashes. If you don’t, you have the explosion.
Can you give me an idea what you precisely would do if you face the situation where prices were going up 10% with no economic growth?
Ben Bernanke: Well, I think that’s an unlikely scenario but we certainly would have to take steps to ensure price stability, because if inflation gets out of control we know it has very adverse effects on the economy, both in the medium and long term and so we would obviously have to address that.
Ron Paul: Which means you would have to raise interest rates?
Ben Bernanke: This is exactly the same problem which is always faced by monetary policy, which is in a recovery when the economy is starting to grow but has not yet gotten very far, perhaps, and unemployment is still above where we would like it to be. You know, you have to take away the punch bowl, as someone once said, in order avoid the inflation risk.
Ron Paul: I see this as the real problem because we practice economic planning through manipulation of money and credit. Socialism always fails because they don’t have a pricing structure. Interventionism and inflationism fail because we don’t have a free market pricing system of money; the interest rates. Therefore it fails, it comes to conclusion and inevitably it leads to a more socialized economy. Just witness what we’re talking about. Taking over companies, taking over insurance companies, taking over banks. This has been the prediction of the free market economists and yet we continue down this path of socializing our entire economy.
I do want to address one other subject and it has to do with transparency. You said you have made a commitment to transparency and openness, which is very good and there is a lot of us that want that. And I have dealt with that and have a legislation, HR 1207, dealing with that. But in a real sense, I know what you’re doing here, but the code really protects you from telling us some of the things we’d like to know. For instance, in 1978 when the GAO was given the authority to audit the Fed, it put the exclusion in there that you can’t ask these questions. Precisely, if I wanted to know about all your agreements and discussions with foreign central banks, with foreign governments, with international financial organizations, you have no obligation and you haven’t volunteered to do this. So is there a way that you would, since you’re moving in this direction, move and consider supporting a position where Congress has a right to know these very, very crucial, vital issues dealing with their money?
I mean, everything you do deals with their money. Would you ever be open to repeal some of these provisions?
Ben Bernanke: Yes I would. Now, if you let me be specific. We have many programs where we lend money, we take collateral, and obviously we are repaid. I want to assure you, first of all, that we have very substantial oversight and controls, we have precise internal divisions which monitor these things, we have an independent IG and we have an external auditing company, a private company which provides audits every year and has given us a clean bill of health on all our financial controls, all levels of Sarbanes-Oxley requirements. That being said, if Congress needs more information about the operations that we’re doing, exactly how we manage our collateral and how we manage our lending and those sorts of things, I think we can talk to you about providing more information about that and if necessary working with the GAO.
Where I’ll be very careful, where I’d like to be just very clear, there’s been some discussion of the GAO “auditing monetary policy”. I don’t know what that means, but I certainly would resist any attempt to dictate the Federal Reserve how to make monetary policy. It’s the independence of monetary policy which is crucial to the maintenance of price stability and economic growth in this country. And that would not be acceptable but if it’s an issue of making sure that we’re appropriately managing our systems and doing what we’re saying we’re doing in terms of our lending, we want to be open, we want you to understand that we’re taking every precaution to protect the taxpayer.
Ron Paul: Of course, the policy is the only thing that really counts.