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The Myth of Independence:
How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve
Sarah Binder & Mark Spindel

Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691163192
296 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 2 halftones. 36 line illus. 11 tables. 1 map.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400888566 |
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Born out of crisis a century ago, the Federal Reserve has become the most powerful macroeconomic policymaker and financial regulator in the world. The Myth of Independence traces the Fed’s transformation from a weak, secretive, and decentralized institution in 1913 to a remarkably transparent central bank a century later. Offering a unique account of Congress’s role in steering this evolution, Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel explore the Fed’s past, present, and future and challenge the myth of its independence.

Binder and Spindel argue that recurring cycles of crisis, blame, and reform propelled lawmakers to create and revamp the powers and governance of the Fed at critical junctures, including the Panic of 1907, the Great Depression, the postwar Treasury-Fed Accord, the inflationary episode of the 1970s, and the recent financial crisis. Marshaling archival sources, interviews, and statistical analyses, the authors pinpoint political and economic dynamics that shaped interactions between the legislature and the Fed, and that have generated a far stronger central bank than anticipated at its founding. The Fed today retains its unique federal style, diluting the ability of lawmakers and the president to completely centralize control of monetary policy.

In the long wake of the financial crisis, with economic prospects decidedly subpar, partisan rivals in Congress seem poised to continue battling over the Fed’s statutory mandates and the powers given to achieve them. Examining the interdependent relationship between America’s Congress and its central bank, The Myth of Independence presents critical insights about the future of monetary and fiscal policies that drive the nation’s economy.

Sarah Binder is professor of political science at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her books include Advice and Dissent and Stalemate. Mark Spindel has spent his entire career in investment management at such organizations as Salomon Brothers, the World Bank, and Potomac River Capital, a Washington D.C.--based hedge fund he started in 2007.


"Binder and Spindel have written an extremely thorough study of the Federal Reserve that shows how the institution, while in theory insulated from politics, is in reality anything but. Binder and Spindel persuasively argue that Congress and the Federal Reserve are interdependent entities. . . . Throughout, fascinating graphics depict the interrelationship between the Fed and congressional politics: one chart links the number of bills introduced to govern Fed policy with the unemployment rate. Binder and Spindel convincingly dispel the ‘myth’ of the Fed’s independence as one of the Capitol’s urban legends."--Publishers Weekly


"A fascinating account of the way political forces in Congress have shaped the Federal Reserve at critical junctures in its history. Highly original and timely, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the political pressures that the Fed will face in coming years."--Liaquat Ahamed, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lords of Finance

"The unique blend of historical and political analysis in The Myth of Independence makes this an important book. No matter how much you already know about the Federal Reserve, you’ll learn more in these pages."--Alan Blinder, author of After the Music Stopped

"The Federal Reserve makes economic policy subject to political constraints. This observation may be commonplace, but thoughtful and systematic analysis of it is rare. In this elegant and accessible book, Binder and Spindel shed new light on this tension between economics and politics. Their conclusion, that the Fed’s independence is at best fragile and at worst illusory, amounts to a fundamental challenge to conventional thinking about monetary policy in the United States."--Barry Eichengreen, University of California, Berkeley

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
List of Tables xi
Acknowledgments xiii
1 Monetary Politics 1
2 The Blame Game 26
3 Creating the Federal Reserve 52
4 Opening the Act in the Wake of the Depression 82
5 Midcentury Modern Central Banking 124
6 The Great Inflation and the Limits of Independence 165
7 The Only Game in Town 201
8 The Myth of Independence 232
Notes 241
References 259
Index 275

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