On September 26, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board decided to leave America's lowest interest rate in forty years - 1.75% - unchanged. Unusually, the decision was not unanimous. Ten of the board's twelve members, including Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, voted in favor while two cried nay.
Even slightly disputed decisions are rare, but not unheard of at the Fed. The most recent one was in 1998. What was unusual this time was that one of the two disagreeing with Greenspan's opinion was a bank governor.
The Fed board is made up of governors and chairmen of the regional reserve banks - and governors don't usually vote against the Fed chairman.
The vote demonstrated that members of the Fed board, like economists in general, are divided on how to handle the cracks in the U.S. economy. The two nay-sayers see room to lower lending rates. The issue will be back at the next meeting in early November.
We are not raising it here to make a comparison with our local economy - even supporters of a rate cut in Israel agree that conditions are completely different on the other side of the Atlantic. The object is to illustrate how there can be professional differences of opinion at a central bank. Decisions can be made by a vote of independent authority figures and differences of opinion can be publicized in an open fashion. This is called 'transparency.'
Israel's central bank has no monetary council. One man alone makes decisions. All the other participants in the discussion are subordinate. For eight years, efforts have been made to establish a monetary council in Israel, but have been foiled year after year - mainly by the opposition of the two Bank of Israel governors of the period, Jacob Frenkel and David Klein.
Several private members' bills have been presented in the Knesset and all have been killed or frozen. So has a government-sponsored bill.
The cabinet is afraid to push the proposal for fear the central bank would activate its considerable connections and propaganda machinery abroad and launch a campaign under the (baseless) slogan: "Government attempts to hog-tie central bank's independence". Probably the last thing the government needs right now is to open a battlefront with the Bank of Israel.
Setting up a monetary council is critical not only for making balanced monetary decisions. The central bank governor at present owes no one any explanation for his declarations or actions. Irresponsible comments made abroad recently at this sensitive time - that economic leadership is "lacking" - didn't exactly help the government handle the crisis with the international ratings agencies.
If the central bank had an independent statutory board, maybe one of its members could have given the governor a deserved rap on the knuckles.