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The Federal Reserve Board’s Plan to Kill Jobs

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Image: Dean BakerThere is an enormous amount of political debate over various pieces of legislation that are supposed to be massive job killers. For example, Republicans lambasted President Obama’s increase in taxes on the wealthy back in 2013 as a job killer. They endlessly have condemned the Affordable Care Act as a job killer. The same is true for proposals to raise the minimum wage.

While there is great concern in Washington over these and other imaginary job killers, the Federal Reserve Board is openly mapping out an actual job-killing strategy and drawing almost no attention at all for it. The Fed’s job-killing strategy centers on its plan to start raising interest rates, which is generally expected to begin at some point this year.

The Fed’s plans to raise interest rates are rarely spoken of as hurting employment, but job-killing is really at the center of the story. The rationale for raising interest rates is that inflation could begin to pick up and start to exceed the Fed’s current 2.0 percent target if the Fed doesn’t slow the economy with higher interest rates.

Higher interest rates slow the economy by discouraging people from borrowing to buy homes or cars. They will also have some effect in discouraging businesses from investing. With reduced demand from these sectors, businesses will hire fewer workers. This will weaken the labor market, which means workers have less bargaining power. If workers have less bargaining power, they will be less well-situated to get pay increases. And if wages are not rising there will be less inflationary pressure in the economy.

The potential impact of Fed rate hikes on jobs is large. Suppose the Fed raises interest rates enough to shave 0.2 percentage points off the growth rate, say pushing growth for the year down from 2.4 percent to 2.2 percent. If we assume employment growth drops roughly in proportion to GDP growth, this would imply a reduction in the rate of job growth of almost 10 percent. If the economy would have otherwise created 2.4 million jobs over the course of the year, the Fed’s rate hikes would have cost the economy more than 200,000 jobs in this scenario.

For comparison purposes, we are having a big fight over the Keystone pipeline. The proponents of the pipeline point to the jobs created by building a pipeline as an important justification, even if the oil being pumped through the pipeline may cause enormous damage to the environment. According to the State Department’s analysis, building the pipeline would create 21,000 jobs for two years. This pipeline related jobs gain has been widely touted in the media and is supposed to make it difficult for many members of Congress to go along with President Obama in opposing Keystone.

Yet, the Fed can easily destroy ten times as many jobs with a set of interest rate hikes this year with its actions passing largely unnoticed. In fact, the impact of Fed interest rate hikes on jobs can easily be far larger than this 200,000 number. If the Fed decides that the unemployment rate should not fall below a certain level (5.4 percent is a number is often used), then it could be costing the economy millions of jobs if the economy could actually sustain a considerably lower level of unemployment as it did in the late 1990s.

To be clear, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC), the committee that determines interest rates, are not evil people sitting around figuring out how to ruin the lives of American workers. The Fed has a legal mandate to control inflation, in addition to its mandate to sustain high levels of unemployment. If they raise interest rates it will be because they fear inflationary pressures will build if they let the economy continue to grow and unemployment to fall.

But this is inevitably a judgment call. The call is based on both their assessment of the risk of inflation and also the relative harm from higher rates of inflation as opposed to higher rates of unemployment. It is likely that the members of the FOMC, who largely come from the financial industry, are much more concerned about inflation than the population as a whole. They are also likely to be less concerned about unemployment. These are people who tend to read about unemployment in the data, not to see it themselves or among their friends and family members.

This is why it is important that the public be paying attention to the Fed’s interest rate policies and let them know how they feel about raising interest rates to kill jobs. The Center for Popular Democracy has organized an impressive grassroots campaign around the Fed’s interest rate policies. Those who don’t want to see the government deliberately trying to kill jobs might want to join in.

This article originally appeared on CEPR.Net and on ourfuture.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dean Baker is an American economist whose books have been published by the University of Chicago Press, MIT Press, and Cambridge University Press.


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Did I Hear the Words “Full Employment”?

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jonathan-tasiniAmong the many reasons the country would be better off if Bernie Sanders was president is that the man just refuses to deal in silliness. He wants the country to have a serious debate — and whether the next head of the Federal Reserve Board is a man or a woman, or the current president is more “comfortable” with one person or another running the Fed, is entirely irrelevant to Sanders. And, so, Sanders goes really wild — he invokes the two words that most people will not speak in this debate even though those two words are part of the Federal Reserve Board’s mission:  FULL EMPLOYMENT.

Last week, I tried to suggest that the critical questions are not being asked in the discussion about who should run the Fed. Sanders can actually communicate with the guy in the White House, as he does in this letter. The entire letter is worth reading but this is the paragraph that almost made me cry (I’m desperate here, politically speaking):

The top priority of the Federal Reserve Board must be to fulfill its full employment mandate. When Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the Federal Reserve acted boldly, aggressively, and with a fierce sense of urgency to save the financial system. We need a new Fed chair who will act with the same sense of urgency to combat the unemployment crisis in America today that has left 22 million Americans without a full time job. [the underline and bold is in the original]

There is a lot to learn from this short letter.

First, how many people know, as Sanders points out, that it is the Fed’s responsibility to bring about full employment?

Wait a second: who even talks about full employment anymore? Not the Congress (except for a handful of people…or maybe it’s only Sanders). Not the president. Not either of the two parties.

It’s seen as, well, quaint. We’ve now adjusted our attitude, thanks to the constant chatter of the transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”), so that we now think of under 7 percent unemployment as somehow “okay” and 6 percent unemployment as if everything is going great guns…with the millions of people out of work that those numbers represent.

Obscene.

But, reaching full employment is the Fed’s job. And Sanders, wacky guy that he is, actually wants someone in the position who understands that. Uh, good luck with that, Bernie.

Correctly, Sanders targets the Big Three. No, not the auto companies. The Big Three who were key architects in the financial crisis: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers. Those guys had a mission: destroy regulation, let Wall Street run wild and make themselves and/or their friends rich along the way.  To the president, who is out now talking about the divide between rich and poor, Bernie says: keep those turds away from the Fed (yes, he uses far more Senatorial language)

I got to have one quibble with Sanders, otherwise it will seem like hero worship (close). And that’s that he doesn’t call out in his letter the puppet master who laid the groundwork for this mess in the 1990s: Bill Clinton. Because it was the Big Dog himself who led the charge of the Big Three against Glass Steagall — which was the law that did not allow investment banking and commercial banking to mix.

But, if the world was right, and we had a serious political debate, Sanders’ letter would be driving policy the decision about who will be looking out for the interests of the people.

This article originally posted on Working Life on July 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.


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CHART: The Federal Reserve Is Failing Its Obligation To Fight Unemployment

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spross_jeffThe Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to maintain low inflation and high employment — a job description that requires a balancing act, as these two goals can be in tension. The Fed has put its inflation target at 2 percent, while 5 percent is generally viewed as the normal unemployment rate when the economy is operating at full strength.

But as economist Chad Stone shows in U.S. News & World Report this morning, the Fed has usually hit its inflation target ever since the Great Recession while utterly failing to meet its obligation to bring down unemployment:

So the Fed has spent the last three years treating 2 percent inflation as a ceiling rather than a happy median, refusing to allow it higher even to bring down America’s sky-high unemployment rate of 8 percent. But the good news is that in late June, the Federal Reserve finally decided to extend what monetary easing it has engaged in by another $267 billion, and the institution’s hesitation to do more to help the economy could be dissapating. Whether it will be sufficient to help the economy at this point remains to be seen.

This post originally appeared in Think Progress on July 13, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Spross is video editor and blogger for ThinkProgress.org. Jeff was raised in Texas and received his B.S. in film from the University of Texas, after which he worked for several years as an assistant editor in Austin and Los Angeles. During that time Jeff co-founded, wrote and produced The Regimen, a blog and podcast dealing with politics and culture. More recently, he has interned at The American Prospect and worked as a video producer for The Guardian.


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Showdown in Chicago: Thousands Protest Bankers

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Image: Seth MichalsMore than 5,000 people are packing the streets of downtown Chicago this morning, chanting, marching and rallying against Big Bankers and financial institutions that have taken taxpayer money and are using it to give big bonuses to CEOs and to lobby against financial reforms that would ensure they don’t go back on the public dole.

The crowd is marching to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, site of the American Bankers Association meeting, to protest the banking industry’s greed and irresponsibility that crippled our economy, leaving millions of workers behind.

Photo by SEIU
Photo by SEIU

After the house of cards they built collapsed, bankers and the financial industry took $700 billion in taxpayer funds for a bailout. But rather than reform their failed practices, they want to go back to business as usual—with the chance of again precipitating another financial collapse and need for taxpayer bailout in coming years.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who is joining union members and allies at today’s events, has a clear message to bankers: You work for us.

Business as usual is over. We are shutting it down. You work for us—not the other way around. Your job is to be stewards of our savings, to put and keep working families in homes, to lend the money companies need to create jobs. And you have failed. You’ve turned the American economy into your own private casino, gambling away our financial future with our money, and driving us to the brink of a second Great Depression—then sticking out your hand for taxpayers to bail you out.

Praising Barack Obama’s administration for trying to stop the out-of-control bonuses paid to executives at bailed-out banks, Trumka says we need to go further by setting tough new rules so that the financial industry can’t run our economy into the ground again.

Trumka calls for four key principles to be part of any financial reform:

  • A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to monitor banks and credit card companies and prevent abuses.
  • Reform the Federal Reserve Board or create an agency capable of stopping systemic risk.
  • More transparency so that hedge funds, derivatives and private equity markets can have real oversight.
  • Reform of corporate governance and executive compensation to make the finance industry work on behalf of the real economy, not vice versa.

This shouldn’t be a moment, Trumka says, where we pretend we can go back to the old broken economy that benefited only a few at the expense of everyone else.

Our economy has been all but destroyed. We have to build a whole new one, based on good jobs, not on bad debt; with America investing in and exporting technology and world-class products, not financial crisis; where hard work is rewarded, not colossal failure; where workers have a real voice because they have the freedom to have a union if they want one; and where all of us have the health care we need.

Appearing on the local Fox affiliate this morning, Trumka said it’s an outrage the financial industry took billions in taxpayer dollars, yet uses its resources to lobby against regulations to prevent a crisis like this from happening again:

The bankers who took all the risk and now are doing everything that they can to block reform so that it doesn’t happen again. Now that’s the problem. They want to do the same things over and over again, and they want us to pay the price again.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 27, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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