Let’s open up the books at the Reserve Bank

Henry Ford, the American automobile manufacturer, once said that “It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning”.

Indeed, if there’s one thing central bankers have been successful at, it’s using obfuscation and jargon so the public finds it difficult to understand what exactly it is they do.

Even when experts try and figure out what central bankers do, a range of legal barriers prevent a complete accounting of their activities. When former Congressman Ron Paul tried to audit the US Federal Reserve System a few years ago, for example, he faced opposition from a range of economists and politicians intent on preserving the Fed’s secrecy.

In Australia, the opaqueness of the Reserve Bank’s discretion doesn’t seem to trouble many people. But it should, because the RBA wields a significant power that influences the level of prices in the economy and consequently affects our hip pocket. The inflation it creates hurts the poor – and if more people knew the RBA was the culprit behind rising prices, and that much of the erosion in purchasing power we have seen over the past 100 years was unnecessary, there is little doubt that there would be protests on the streets.

The RBA’s aversion to scrutiny can be seen in the way that it shies away from the media spotlight, preferring instead to stage-manage the appearances of its officials in carefully scripted testimonies before parliamentary committees. The agency also enjoys significant exemptions from freedom of information legislation, and furthermore, doesn’t provide reasons for its decisions in a way that allows the public hold individual board members accountable for their views (one can contrast this to the Bank of Japan where individual board members’ votes are recorded). Continue reading

Audit the RBA

The rise of the vast administrative apparatus of state has resulted in numerous unelected agencies wielding power over the lives of ordinary citizens. There is no pretence that these organisations are independent from the executive branch: they exist to carry out the will of elected representatives, albeit with an eye to the “public interest”.

Central banks are a different story altogether. They are considered ‘independent from politics’. Although not quite as independent as national constitutional courts, they sit apart from ordinary government bureaucracies. The Treasurer, no matter how much he may disagree, is bound either by law or practice not to interfere with the monetary policy decisions of the bank.

This has insulated them from accountability. Parliament does not control the Reserve Bank’s budget, as it does for the independent court system. Full disclosures of monetary policy dealings domestically and internationally are not accessible. The RBA’s exemption from Freedom of Information laws prevents the public from finding out the extent of its relationships with external actors. Like the Fed, no parliamentary committee truly oversees every aspect of its decision-making, meaning it is probably more secretive than the Australian Security Intelligence Service.

Comprehensive audits can reveal useful information about how a central bank is employing its discretionary powers. These audits have been said to impinge on independence, but many fail to consider the protections can be put in place to minimise this risk. Not all documents discovered during an audit need to be made public. Some can be viewed privately by the inspector-general in charge of accountability. Appropriate safeguards, such as time lags between the time of a monetary policy decision and an audit of the decision, can be put in place.

Politicians already have many ways to interfere in monetary policy – using the bully pulpit of parliamentary committees is one of them – and it is unlikely that expanding the scope of audits would significantly affect central bank independence.

Do we need a reserve bank?

SUKRIT SABHLOK on scandals concerning Australia’s primary financial institution.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has been in the news recently, thanks to a corruption scandal splashed across the front pages of newspapers throughout the country. According to reports, two currency firms overseen by the Reserve Bank funnelled bribes to government officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, to win banknote deals. Securency and Note Printing Australia are partly and wholly owned (respectively) by the RBA, and many prominent political figures sat on the boards of the two companies.

This scandal, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Other aspects of the RBA are equally shady, but are rarely exposed to public scrutiny. A new book by investor Chris Leithner, The Evil Princes of Martin Place: The Reserve Bank of Australia, the Global Financial Crisis and the Threat to Australians’ Liberty and Prosperity, documents in detail the nefarious schemes of Australia’s central bank.

Leithner is an adherent of the Austrian School of Economics, which argues that central banks are behind the boom-bust cycle that characterises modern economies. They are, in other words, the culprit responsible for recessions and depressions. By controlling the overnight cash rate (the rate at which banks borrow from the central bank), the Reserve Bank is able to control the money supply and thereby influence interest rates. This sets in motion a process that influences the rate of interest on housing loans, deposits and business loans.

Continue reading

Interview with Dr. Chris Leithner

If you don’t know who Dr. Chris Leithner is, listen to this interview. Chris will be speaking at the Mises Seminar on the following topic: “The Evil Princes of Martin Place: The Panic of 2008 and Why We Should End the RBA”.

Next speaker I’m interviewing is Dr. Andrew Dahdal, who is speaking about why fiat paper money is unconstitutional. Did you know the founders of Australia were against government paper money? That’s why they inserted section 115 into our Constitution: ‘A State shall not coin money, nor make anything but gold and silver coin a legal tender in payment of debts’. Stay tuned for the interview, and feel free to suggest questions I should ask Dahdal.