Monetary Policy Isn't Helping 'The Simpsons'

Here's a little message to the 1% from Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas:

"I'm going to make one other point which may upset some people in the room," he delicately announced. "But one of the things that I'm worried about is that we might be making the rich richer."

He said this last week in Aspen, a ski town long known for its billionaires running out the local millionaires. He said it at the Aspen Ideas Festival, a tony forum for well-heeled folks with high-minded ideas about how the world should work -- for them.

"We're not helping, as I put it, the Homers and the Marges," Mr. Fisher continued. "We're helping the Mr. Burnses."

Mr. Burns, recall, is the money-grubbing owner of the nuclear power plant where Homer Simpson works shifts in between doughnuts in this long-running, satirical cartoon.

Now, mind you, Mr. Fisher was not delivering this metaphor at Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming or the Colorado State Fair & Rodeo in Pueblo. He was not speaking at some Tilt-a-Whirl, traveling carnival where the Simpsons of this economically fractured nation go for kicks if they can still afford to put gas in their tanks.

He said it in a town whose residents and visitors have the most to gain from the Fed's zero-interest monetary policy.

The Fed's super-low interest rates punish average American savers, Mr. Fisher explained. They also encourage retirees to take more risks with their nest eggs, to find higher returns, at the exact point in their lives when they really shouldn't be putting their savings at risk at all. Meantime, the people with access to this amazingly cheap capital don't seem to be taking the kind of risks with it needed to create jobs and help the economy grow.

No one in the room seemed visibly upset by these ideas. It was as if Mr. Fisher had walked into a seedy, workingman's bar and said, "One of these days, we ought to quit drinking." And everyone thought, yes, we all know that, but please, Mr. Fisher, how about another round for the house?

Mr. Fisher, a former investment manager, has long dissented with his colleagues on the Fed. He put out a report earlier this year titled "Why We Must End Too-Big-To-Fail--Now." In it, he called our nation's largest banks, "a clear and present danger to the U.S. economy" and "a hindrance to the very ideal of American capitalism."

This week, Mr. Fisher put out what he called a "summer reading list" of articles exploring the debate over too-big-to-fail banks. (Find it at here.) It includes a piece headlined "No More Welfare For Banks" by Thomas Hoenig, former president of the Kansas City Fed and now a director at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Another is titled, "Breaking Up Chase: Good For Shareholders and Taxpayers" by former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair.

I just love running through this summer reading list while lounging on my patio beneath the smoke-filled skies of Colorado. It's always more fun getting these ideas from people in power than some homeless guy protesting in the street, who despite having no degree in business, finance or economics, somehow maintains a deft command of the same material.

After the discussion, Fisher took questions from a handful of reporters. I milked him for more on his Simpsons metaphor.

See, I keep hearing from some folks that the Fed is a private banking cabal, enslaving the nation with debt for the benefit of the few who run it. Oh, and that it needs to be abolished. I also keep hearing that the Fed will do anything to keep Wall Street humming, offering the prospect of further monetary easing whenever inevitable consequences threaten to fall back on it. In fact, I think I can hear Wall Street crying for more Fed easing right now.

"Our job is to work for the American people," Mr. Fisher told me. "Not to satisfy speculators. Not to make people who are nanosecond traders on the Street happy.

"The central bank of the United States has a responsibility mandated by law to keep price stability, and to create the monetary conditions for maximum sustainable employment... That means all the people of our country.

"I get quite concerned when I hear people who are in the business of being a money-changer insisting that to make their lives easier, we continue to ease," he said. "We don't live for those people. We live for the American people. That's the point I'm trying to make."

At least there are still a few people left in power who are willing to stick it to Mr. Burns.