Every so often, Americans should stop everything they're doing for a moment, and reflect upon the nature of their country. Specifically, upon what has traditionally been this country's defining characteristic. Was it our capitalist economy? No, there are many capitalistic countries around the world and capitalism was not first formulated by Americans. What about our emphasis on personal freedom? Well, once again, many countries preach the virtues of freedom and many groups of people have fought for freedom well before America was formed. Surely it has been our diverse populace and our tolerance of all races, genders, sexual preferences... yeah, right. Personally, I would answer that it was our written Constitution and the democratic values embodied within it.
No other country had ever codified the structures and processes of their governing institutions to such an extent in one single document. Many people focus on the Bill of Rights when speaking about the Constitution, but the first four Articles are just as important. They synthesized political ideas that were developed over hundreds of years by some of the most insightful thinkers, such as separation of federal powers, checks and balances, vertical division of powers (federalism), an independent judiciary and, of course, representative democracy. The latter emphasizes the notion that any policies enacted by the federal government must be authorized by the people, through their elected representatives who are held accountable to constituents every few years.
So what's the state of our Constitutional democracy today? Simple, it doesn't exist. International corruption surveys typically rank the U.S. higher (less corrupt) than most other countries, but this simply proves how bad these surveys are at capturing the essence of real, hardcore corruption. We could write stacks of books on the prevalence of money in politics and the swarms of lobbyists who descend on Washington every single week, and many people have, but it's simpler to just focus on the most egregious example of corruption. The most powerful, influential economic policy-making institution in the country, the Federal Reserve ("Fed"), is an unelected body that is completely unaccountable to the people. Well, let's back up and start with the fact that this institution's very existence is most likely unconstitutional. Here's why:
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that Congress has the power to "coin money" and "regulate the value thereof". The Supreme Court has long held that Congress can delegate its legislative powers to Executive agencies as long as it provides an "intelligible principle" to guide the agencies' action. We don't even have to reach the question of whether the Federal Reserve Act sets out an "intelligible principle", however, because existing precedent states that Congress cannot delegate its powers to private institutions. Schecter Poultry (held "a delegation of its legislative authority to trade or industrial associations...would be utterly inconsistent with the constitutional prerogatives and duties of Congress). In that case, the Supreme Court struck down parts of FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act which authorized these private organizations to draft "codes of fair competition" and submit them to the President for approval.
The Fed, by it's own admission, is an independent entity within the government "having both public purposes, and private aspects". By "private aspects", they mean the entire operation is wholly-owned by private member banks, who are paid dividends of 6% each year on their stock. Furthermore, the Fed's decisions "do not have to be ratified by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branch of government" and the Fed "does not receive funding appropriated by Congress". In 1982, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed this view when it held that "federal reserve banks are not federal instrumentalities... but are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations". [The Legality of the Federal Reserve System, 5]. Yet, the Fed has exclusive control over the government's ability to create money and regulate its value through the targeting of interest rates and open market operations (when the Fed buys an asset, it typically prints the purchase money out of thin air). How Congress can delegate its Consitutional powers to this independent, privately owned and unaccountable institution is beyond me.
Still, the Constitutional issue is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this twisted institution's embodiment of all things undemocratic. When Congress (and the people it represents) makes a valid delegation of its powers to an executive agency, it almost always retains a level of control through its powers of appropriations, impeachment and oversight. For some not-so-strange reason, the Fed isn't appropriated any funds by Congress, and so it cannot be financially "starved" like any other agency. The members of the Fed's Board of Governors also cannot be impeached by Congress, which is especially twisted, since the President of the United States can be impeached for "high crimes and misdameanors". [The Legality of the Federal Reserve System, 8]. What about oversight? Well, a Congressional committee holds "hearings" every once in awhile to ask the Chairman a few irrelevant questions, but if this process is what passes for "oversight", then we have truly gone off the deep end.
Speaking of committees and oversight, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke testified under oath to Congress in July, he said in no uncertain words, "the Federal Reserve will not monetize the [federal] debt". . Fast forward to the day after mid-term elections, in which the American people clearly voted for LESS spending/printing, and the Fed announces its plan to monetize $900 billion in treasury bonds. . The Chairman has proven his previous testimony before Congress to be a blatant lie, but instead of condemning the Fed's recent actions, the federal government has welcomed it with open arms. That's quite some oversight we have there. Perhaps the best way to oversee the Fed's actions would be to actually figure out what in Lloyd Blankfein's name it's been doing.
In this country, that's easier said than done. The Government Accountability Office is not allowed to audit the Fed's transactions for or with foreign governments, central banks, nonprivate international organizations or those made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Committee ("FOMC"). It just so happens that these are the types of transactions which are most influential on global and domestic financial markets, especially the open market operations. These operations are conducted by the FOMC, who is comprised of the Board of Governors (7 members appointed by President and confirmed by Senate) and five representatives from the regional Fed Banks. Although the President appoints the Board of Governors, he must choose from a list of candidates provided by private institutions, and the other five representatives are also typically nominated by private member banks. Talk about an organization with conflicts of interest, lack of transparency and lack of accountability all tightly woven into its very fabric!
In the last two years, the almighty Fed has printed trillions of dollars in our name to buy worthless mortgage assets from "too big to fail" banks. It has lent these banks our hard-earned money at about 0% interest, so they could lend our own money back to us at 3%+. These banks also used our free money to ramp equity and commodity markets, which mostly benefitted the top 1% of our population who owns 43% of financial wealth , and conveniently, also owns the Fed. The latter has kept interest rates at next to nothing to punish savers and encourage speculation, making everything less affordable for average Americans who have seen their wages stay the same, decrease or disappear. What's left standing is the perniciously powerful, highly secretive and entirely unaccountable Fed, who now epitomizes the state of American democracy.
We have all become subject to the misguided and/or malicious whims of a few wealthy individuals operating the levers of economic policy, with no adequate means of challenging their power. Our most treasured contribution to poitical society has been reduced to a bunch of meaningless articles and amendments, containing equally meaningless words. We the people, in our pursuit of "a more perfect union", have fallen into an age-old trap. Our economic policies, currency and laws are all manufactured by our very own private dictator, who amasses a fortune from our collective exploitation and destruction. Then, this despot continues to operate like nothing ever happened. We can scream "ABOLISH THE FED" all day, non-stop to every single politician at the top of our lungs, but it will never happen. The reality is that there is only one way back to a true democratic system now, and this path will require nothing less of us than the courage of our forefathers.