A Modest Proposal: Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy
In my initial installment of this series, I proposed, “Ten Steps to a Democratic Economy.” With this column, I would like to explain and defend my third proposal. I invite commentary and analysis.
3. Reform the Money System ““ The money supply system is directly under the control of the Federal Reserve. This agency has 14-year terms. They need to be placed under congressional control, not Presidential control. I recommend that their terms be limited to 4 years and they should be checked by Congressional fiscal policy. High interest rates currently only benefit banks and financial institutions.
The Federal Reserve, usually called, ”The Fed,” is the central banking system of the United States. The Federal Reserve System is composed of a central Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., and twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks located in major cities throughout the nation, and a number of member banks. The Federal Reserve Act created the Federal Reserve System in 1913. The board and its chairman are appointed by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate.
The money supply available at any given time in our economy is a product of the interest rates that are set by the Federal Reserve. As it raises or lowers the interest rate it charges to member banks, it increases or decreases the amount of money available to the economy. Higher interest rates slow the economy and lower interest rates speed it up. This means that the economy is producing goods and services and thereby creating jobs in a “slow” manner or in a “faster” manner.
I am not an expert in economics, but I know that high interest rates hurt low-income people and benefit wealthy people. Low interest rates help low-income people, but do not hurt wealthy people. The wealthy have a surplus and they profit from whatever the amount of the interest that it earns. Their complaint would be that they are not being rewarded “enough” for their thrift and/or miserly behavior. People who have surplus money can, of course, give it away, but most wealthy people prefer to “rent” it out. The money you pay in interest on a loan is in effect the rent for that loan. The wealthy are the creditors and the poor are the debtors. Those who lend are the creditors and those who borrow are the debtors. (One problem with this scenario is that truly destitute, impoverished people are hardly ever loaned money. They are considered poor risks.)
When a bank grants someone a loan, most people feel happy. This is understandable but they should not feel happier than the bank. The bank is now getting a 6% return on its money, when earlier it was only getting 2%. This is how banks make money for themselves. They take it in at one window and loan it out (part of it) at the other window.
Low interest rates stimulate purchasing of goods and services. With low interest rates it is easier to borrow money to buy a car, a refrigerator or a house. This means that more people will exercise that purchase option and the economy will move along. This tends to create a bit of inflation.
Wealthy people do not like inflation. It means that their wealth does not buy as much as it used to buy. Large financial institutions feel the same way. They like to have the Federal Reserve under the control of people who are not elected by the citizens, or at least at a distance from the people. The President appoints Federal Reserve Board members. Their terms in office are for 14 years and the Senate confirms them. The House plays no role. The Senate is the more conservative of the two legislative branches. Senators have 6-year terms. There are two per state regardless of population.
Recently, after Hurricane Katrina, hit the Gulf Coast, a number of people felt that the Federal Reserve should have lowered interest rates to make goods and services available to those afflicted. It did not do so. It was focused on the anti-inflationary policy that it had been following. This is an example of monetary policy interfering with fiscal policy. Tax cuts meant that the government would have to borrow to cover the costs of the hurricane and aftermath.
Fiscal policy refers to the ability to raise revenue by way of taxes and to spend money on needed projects. In a phrase, fiscal policy refers to revenue and expenditure policy. With a democratic fiscal policy, we could collect more money from the affluent and provide more services to the poor. Tax the rich and help the poor.
It is for this reason that conservatives fear and loathe democracy. Conservatives fear that a majority would probably want to spend more money on schools, health care and environmental protection, instead of prisons, police and the military. Since the wealthy people would see an increase in their federal income taxes, if this happened, they generally oppose giving Congress strong fiscal tools, and instead rely on monetary policy to adjust the economy.
A more democratic society would give us better economic policies. Better economic policies would put people before profits.
A better world is possible.
Economic Report of the People. Boston: South End Press, 1986.
(Center for Popular Economics, Amherst, Massachusetts)