The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- Misinformation about the
abounds these days. That misinformation cuts both ways -- for every conspiracy theorist who labels the central bank and its chairman
as the root of all economic evils, there is a brainwashed Fed defender who asks for just a little more time or understanding.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
I don't pretend to be impartial when it comes to the Federal Reserve -- I have my list of personal gripes with Fed policies. But there's one question at the core of most Federal Reserve criticism that spawns nearly all others: Is the Fed evil?
It's important to note that whether or not the Fed makes mistakes isn't the core issue here. The central bank has the potential to harm the economy with its policies, and sometimes it does. But that is not an indictment of the institution itself but rather the human beings at the helm.
To paraphrase the NRA, "the Fed doesn't hurt the economy, people at the Federal Reserve make decisions that hurt the economy."
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The mistakes of the Fed are easy to point out. Many well respected economists lay much of the blame for the Great Depression at the feet of the Fed. Put simply by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, "We had repeated recessions over hundreds of years, but what converted
the 1929 recession into a major depression was bad monetary policy."
Unlike previous bubbles where the Fed gets only partial blame or can reasonably defend its actions, it is accepted by many that the Fed royally screwed up almost a century ago. All that said, however, it is the height of hyperbole to claim the policy mistakes or inaction of the Fed is "evil." In fact, most monetary experts say it was inaction of the Fed that caused the Depression -- not active malice.
Incompetent officials who fail to properly perform their roles managing the money supply may be rightly despised for their lack of foresight or outright stupidity, but their gaffes are not a sign of ill will.
The reason so many people are fired up about the Federal Reserve is that it is a very powerful entity with very real clout. True, good intentions do not minimize the impact of bad moves and incompetence at the Federal Reserve. But it's telling that Friedman also said of the Fed's actions in the Great Depression, "There's no other example I can think of, of a government measure which produced so clearly the opposite of the results that were intended."
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As for the question of whether the Fed can harm the economy, the answer is "yes, sometimes it does." But as for whether those mistakes and miscalculations are "evil," it is unfair to make a concrete link between bad results and bad intentions.
That said, all the Fed's good intentions were cold comfort for the legions of American unemployed in the 1930s -- and it will hardly be a defense if Federal Reserve policies are found to be more harm than help in the current economic downturn.
For more on the Fed, read
Jeff Reeves is editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he owned a long position in Bank of America stock. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.