National News

William Dudley on interest rates and regulatory scrutiny

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-06 02:00

As Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising, sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century. And that means an examination of our old friend inflation.

William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, thinks a lot about inflation. He joined Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to talk about when to raise interest rates to thwart inflation, and why he thinks it's good to let the economy run "a little hot" before taking action.

Among the topics discussed, Dudley also addresses concerns that the New York Fed has become too deferential to the financial institutions it watches over. This question moved to the foreground after the public radio program This American Life—along with news organization ProPublica—obtained audio recordings made secretly inside the New York Fed. The recordings were made by a former New York Fed employee who later sued for wrongful dismissal. 

Click on the media player above to hear William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

DB: From APM in NY, I’m David Brancaccio. It’s the job of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to regulate powerful Wall Street banks. It’s not the only regulator, of course, yet it’s a crucial one. But has the NY Fed become too deferential to the financial institutions it watches over? Too cozy?

This question moved to the foreground after the public radio program This American Life with news organization ProPublica obtained audio recordings made secretly inside the New York Fed. The recordings were made by a then NY Fed employee who would later sue for wrongful dismissal. Marketplace talked to the president and CEO of the NY Fed about this. William Dudley, thanks for joining us.

WD: Happy to be here.

DB: We all heard some tapes on the radio that make it sound like your team went soft on at least one big Wall Street firm that you’re supposed to be regulating. Is that not what you hear on the tapes?

WD: I completely stand behind the work and integrity of our staff. They’re operating completely in the public interest. That’s the first point I’d make. The second, improving supervision has been and remains a priority for me. When I became president of the bank in 2009, soon after that I commissioned Professor David Beim of Columbia to come in and do an evaluation of supervision.

DB: He did that big internal report that you got a look at that came out in some filings.

WD: That’s correct. And I basically told him, "Go anywhere you want, ask any questions you want, and tell me what you think about the state of play in supervision of the bank." And I think the record will show that we were actually quite responsive to the recommendations in the Beim report. We’ve had a significant reorganization within our supervision groups in terms of how we do supervision. We do a lot more horizontal and quantitative reviews. Examiner independence is completely paramount to how we run supervision. We try to ensure that independence by rotations, so people don’t stay within the same institution indefinitely. We rotate them every couple of years, but the real key is to look at what we’ve done. Is the banking system safer and sounder today than it was five years ago? And I think when you look at that you’ll see a whole bunch of things that the Federal Reserve system has done to make the banking system much safer and sounder. Higher cap rate requirements, higher liquidity requirements, capital surcharges for systemically important financial institutions…

DB: Here’s the thing though, we study it in poli-sci class, the tendency of government regulators to adopt the values of those they regulate. The watchdogs can become, what were we taught, captured. Now avoiding capture, it seems to me that it’s something that you don’t achieve once and for all. Isn’t it something that you have to continually fight against?

WD: In terms of the bank culture, this is something that you’re always… you never arrive at the destination of the culture you’re trying to strive for. We continue to work to have the best culture in the bank that we can possibly have. When I became president of the bank in January of 2009, I came back to the bank after an FOC meeting. We had a town hall. And I made it very clear then, in fact, the primary mantra of that address was “best idea wins.” And we continue to strive to make sure that is embedded in the culture of the bank.

DB: You saw what Senator Elizabeth Warren said in this statement, “When regulators care more about protecting big banks from accountability than they do about protecting American people from risky and illegal behavior on Wall Street it threatens our whole economy.” She and Senator Sherrod Brown have called for a congressional investigation. What do you think of the idea of an investigation given the stakes are quite high in this area?

WD: It’s the Congress' prerogative to investigate. If they want to investigate, we’re going to completely cooperate because we think the facts are very much on our side.

DB: Mr. Dudley is a regulator, but he’s also one of the guardians of America’s interest rates as a member of the Federal Reserve’s open market committee. In that regard, Dudley told me there is room to be patient before he would recommend raising interest rates to thwart inflation.

WD: We’re going to be assessing the progress towards our dual mandate objectives, maximum sustainable employment in the context of price stability. Right now we’re missing on both of our objectives. The unemployment rate is high and inflation is low relative to a target of 2 percent. It calls for a very accommodative monetary policy. Now, if the economy evolves as most people are hoping over the next year, hopefully we’ll get to a point where we actually can raise interest rates in 2015, and I would be delighted if that could be the case.

DB: You would be delighted to raise interest rates if that’s the case? Why?

WD: In other words, if the economy is strong enough and we’re closer to our objectives, raising interest rates would be a sign of success. So it would actually be good news.

DB: I saw you said that you would be willing to let the economy run a little hot, those were your words, in the interest of the economy being healthy. What did you mean by that?

WD: A lot of people that are currently long-term unemployed, they’ve been out of work for a very long time. This is obviously very bad for them, but it’s also very bad for the economy as a whole. Allowing the economy to run a little hot would make it more likely that inflation would actually move up towards the 2 percent objective. And two, it would pull some of these long-term unemployed back into the workforce. Getting these people employed is critical to the long-term health of the economy, because if they’re not employed over the next year or two, they’re going to lose their job skills and become unemployable.

DB: Does this make you a dove, sir? On the question of inflation.

WD: I don’t think so. I’m reacting completely to the Fed's mandate objectives. We’re trying obviously to hit 2 percent, but we’re not going to hit it precisely. We should be spending some time a little below it and a little above it. It’s not a ceiling.

DB: Inflation is an odd thing though. It’s often in the eye of the beholder. The consumer price index is telling us there’s hardly a dram of inflation, but if you have medical bills or you’re sending a kid to college, prices might be going up and your household budget might be under pressure even now.

WD: That’s absolutely correct. I think people experience inflation in different ways depending on their particular circumstances and what people are experiencing. Inflation is also relevant to what’s happening on the income side of the ledger. If your income is rising at a decent clip, then 1.5 percent inflation is very manageable, but if your incomes are stagnant or declining then 1.5 percent inflation is a problem for individuals.

DB: William Dudley, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, thank you very much for the time.

WD: Thank you.

Charitable giving not keeping up with highest incomes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-10-06 02:00

Are the rich getting less generous? A new report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that while overall giving is up, the wealthiest Americans are giving a smaller share of their wealth to charity. Meanwhile, the less well-off are giving away more of what they earn.

The Chronicle looked at tax returns for those who itemized deductions in 2012. Those earning more than $200,000 a year gave 4.6 percent less of their income to charity than they gave in 2006, before the recession. Americans making less than $100,000 gave 4.5 percent more.

As the rich have grown richer—partly from stock market gains—their giving hasn’t kept pace, says Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer. Meanwhile, those closer to poverty have been more willing to dig deeper.

“People realize that they themselves are just one step away from possibly being homeless or jobless,” she says. “The more affluent people just aren’t as close to those folks.”

The biggest decline was in North Dakota, where residents gave away 16 percent less of their income in 2012.

That’s largely because incomes have grown so dramatically from the state’s oil boom, says Kevin Dvorak, president of the North Dakota Community Foundation.

For the newly wealthy, he says, it takes time “to kind of wrap your mind around, 'Yes, all of my needs are going to be met and beyond, and now I have the ability to give as I never did before.’”

Overall, though, he says most charities in the state will tell you they’re faring much better.

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