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Response to Tansy_Gold (Original post)

Mon Aug 13, 2012, 01:02 PM

35. The Fed, Ben Bernanke, and the Rotten Libor By Dean Baker

http://www.nationofchange.org/fed-ben-bernanke-and-rotten-libor-1344779096

SOUNDS LIKE A SHERLOCK HOLMES STORY...

The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behavior of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.

Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in England were rigging the Libor in the fall of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do. The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages, and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks. Bernanke certainly had an obligation as Fed chair to expose and stop this rigging, which was interfering with the proper working of U.S. and world financial markets. But hey, Mervyn King didn’t want to take any action, what could Bernanke possibly do? It is truly incredible that Bernanke would make such a statement to Congress and the public. There was nothing he could do about the rigging?

Suppose that he told the head of the Bank of England that he had no choice but to stop the rigging. Bernanke could have said that if King doesn’t immediately take the necessary steps to end the rigging then he would hold a press conference in which he would publicly display the evidence of the rigging and report King’s failure to take action. Is it conceivable that this threat would have left King unmoved? Would King continue to tolerate the rigging even if could cost him his job and leave him open to public humiliation for failing to carry through his responsibilities to the people of the United Kingdom? That seems unlikely.

Of course such a threat would have been rude. It would have required Bernanke to tell a fellow central bank head that he was failing in his job and that Bernanke was prepared to ruin his career in order to force him to act responsibly. Apparently Bernanke never even considered this course of action. This should make everyone very angry. Whatever personal relationship Bernanke has with Mervyn King and other central bank heads should be subordinate to his responsibility to ensure the integrity of U.S. financial markets. If the latter requires that he be rude to the head of the Bank of England, then there is no question that his job requires that he be rude to Mervyn King. But that is not the way things get done in the central bankers’ club.

It is not just the Libor scandal that shows the bad effects of central banker clubbiness...

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LineReply The Fed, Ben Bernanke, and the Rotten Libor By Dean Baker
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