The Federal Reserve (also known as The Fed) is a central banking system that controls the monetary system of the United States. It was established by the Federal Reserve Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. "... the Board is a federal government agency consisting of seven members appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate." The Federal Reserve is a system of private banks, twelve of which are designated as Federal Reserve Banks and have some features of public federal agencies. The Federal Reserve is headed by a Board of Governors and a Chairman. The current Chairman is Ben Bernanke, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush; his predecessor was Alan Greenspan, a Republican appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
One of the main jobs of the Federal Reserve is to control inflation by adjusting the supply of money in the economy, while at the same time maintain the stability of the financial system and promote economic growth. This is done by buying and selling government bonds in order to influence banks' cash supply (called "open market operations"), setting the amount of money that banks must keep in reserve, and setting the interest rates for money it lends to banks (the Fed's lending facility is called the "discount window"). These three major operations are the basis of monetary policy, and are performed by the Fed to target a specific Federal Funds Rate that it believes will be low enough to ensure available credit and stimulate the economy, but high enough to prevent inflation. The Fed also has the responsibility of supervising and regulating banking institutions.
In 2008 the Fed became a major player in many new ways, taking over several major banks (ostensibly to prevent total economic collapse) and making trillions of dollars in guarantees. See Financial Crisis of 2008.
Libertarians, such as Ron Paul, and many conservatives want to abolish the Federal Reserve. For 30 years Ron Paul has called for the secretive Federal Reserve bank to be audited. Ron Paul's website declares "Since the Fed’s creation in 1913 the dollar has lost more than 96% of its value, and by recklessly inflating the money supply the Fed continues to distort interest rates and intentionally erodes the value of the dollar."
Effects of the Fed's Monetary Policy
The Fed made the Great Depression much, much worse by utterly failing in its primary responsibility. It simply did nothing, as hundreds and thousands of banks failed (see bank run). What it was supposed to do was lend them enough money to keep going!
Friedman and Schwartz argued that all this was due to the Fed’s failure to carry out its assigned role as the lender of last resort. Rather than providing liquidity through loans, the Fed just watched as banks dropped like flies, seemingly oblivious to the effect this would have on the money supply. The Great Depression According to Milton Friedman
- Epstein, Lita & Martin, Preston (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Federal Reserve. ISBN 0-02-864323-2. excerpt and text search
- Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (2007), memoirs covering his chairmanship 1987-2006 excerpt and text search
- Greider, William, Secrets of the Temple. (1987). ISBN 0-671-67556-7; nontechnical book explaining the structures, functions, and history of the Federal Reserve, focusing specifically on the tenure of Paul Volcker
- Hafer, R. W. The Federal Reserve System: An Encyclopedia. (2005). 451 pp, 280 entries; ISBN 4-313-32839-0.
- Meyer, Lawrence H. A Term at the Fed: An Insider's View. (2004) ISBN 0-06-054270-5; focuses on the period from 1996 to 2002, emphasizing Alan Greenspan's chairmanship during the Asian financial crisis, the stock market boom and the 9-11 Attacks
- Treaster, Joseph B. Paul Volcker: The Making of a Financial Legend (2004), chairman 1979-87 online edition
- Tuccille, Jerome. Alan Shrugged: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, the World's Most Powerful Banker (2002) online edition
- Wells, Donald R. The Federal Reserve System: A History (2004)
- Woodward, Bob. Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom (2000) study of Greenspan in 1990s.
- Broz, J. Lawrence. The International Origins of the Federal Reserve System (1997). online edition
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- Chandler, Lester V. American Monetary Policy, 1928-41. (1971).
- Epstein, Gerald and Thomas Ferguson. "Monetary Policy, Loan Liquidation and Industrial Conflict: Federal Reserve System Open Market Operations in 1932." Journal of Economic History 44 (December 1984): 957-84. in JSTOR
- Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (1963)
- Hetzel, Robert L. The Monetary Policy of the Federal Reserve: A History (2008) from 1913 to 2007; excerpt and text search
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- Link, Arthur. Wilson: The New Freedom (1956) pp 199–240.
- Livingston, James. Origins of the Federal Reserve System: Money, Class, and Corporate Capitalism, 1890-1913 (1986), Marxist approach to 1913 policy
- Mayhew, Anne. "Ideology and the Great Depression: Monetary History Rewritten." Journal of Economic Issues 17 (June 1983): 353-60.
- Meltzer, Allan H. A History of the Federal Reserve, Volume 1: 1913-1951 (2004) the standard scholarly history excerpt and text search
- Roberts, Priscilla. "'Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?' The Federal Reserve System's Founding Fathers and Allied Finances in the First World War", Business History Review (1998) 72: 585-603
- Romer, Christina D. and David H. Romer. Choosing the Federal Reserve Chair: Lessons from History. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 18, No. 1. (2004), pp. 129–162. (jstor)
- Schull, Bernard. "The Fourth Branch: The Federal Reserve's Unlikely Rise to Power and Influence" (2005) ISBN 1-56720-624-7 online edition
- Steindl, Frank G. Monetary Interpretations of the Great Depression. (1995).
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- Wicker, Elmus. Federal Reserve Monetary Policy, 1917-33. (1966).
- Wells, Donald R. The Federal Reserve System: A History (2004)
- Wicker, Elmus. The Great Debate on Banking Reform: Nelson Aldrich and the Origins of the Fed (2005).
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- Wueschner; Silvano A. Charting Twentieth-Century Monetary Policy: Herbert Hoover and Benjamin Strong, 1917-1927 (1999)