Fed Bank President: Don’t Knock on Fed’s Door to Solve Fiscal Problems

Thomas Hoenig, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, had strong words today for lawmakers who want the Fed to bail them out of the fiscal mess they created: don’t come knocking at our door.

Speaking to a Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform conference on “Avoiding a Government Debt Crisis” (prepared remarks here and video of conference here) Hoenig said that the current fiscal outlook presents a threat to the Federal Reserve’s independence because of rising political pressure to monetize the debt, which he argued would lead to an inflation-induced financial crisis.

In his remarks, titled “Knocking on the Central Bank’s Door,” Hoenig echoed the sentiments of other speakers at the forum that U.S. fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course. He said it is an ‘inescapable conclusion … that U.S. fiscal policy must focus on reducing the debt build up and avoid the consequences of not doing so.”

Hoenig laid out three options for dealing with rising debt:

1.) “knock on the central bank’s door” and “request or demand that it ‘print’ money to buy the swelling amounts of government debt”

2.) do nothing “so long as domestic and foreign markets are willing to fund our borrowing needs at inevitably higher interest rates”

3.) “act now to implement programs that reduce spending and increase revenues to a more sustainable level,” which is the least palatable option.

While the first two options would be much easier politically and involve less short term pain, he argued they would “inevitably lead to financial crisis and greater long-run losses in national income and wealth.” The third option, would require “hard choices and short-term pain,” but “is the responsible path to sustainable economic growth with price stability.”

Hoenig cited historical examples of governments pressuring central banks to help close fiscal gaps, contending that such intervention eventually leads to severe inflation that can cripple an economy. Instead, he called on policymakers to develop “a credible long-term plan to reestablish fiscal balance. The plan must be clear, have the force of law and its progress measureable so as to reassure markets and the public that the country has the will and ability to repay its debts in a stable currency.”

He concluded with stark words:

As I mentioned in the beginning, the fiscal projections for the United States are so stunning that, one way or another, reform will occur. Fiscal policy is on an unsustainable course. The U.S. government must make adjustments in its spending and tax programs. It is that simple. If pre-emptive corrective action is not taken regarding the fiscal outlook, then the United States risks precipitating its own next crisis.

Hoenig’s address affirms the message of the Peterson-Pew Commission’s Red Ink Rising report, which calls for the U.S. to adopt a fiscal goal now to stabilize the debt at a sustainable level in order to prevent a fiscal crisis down the road.