Ever wonder where the government gets all its cheddar? Look no further than the Federal Reserve – the central bank of the U.S. government. More affectionately known as “the Fed,” the Federal Reserve is essentially the gatekeeper for the U.S. economy and the regulator of U.S. banks.
Lots of other countries have central banks, too. Just like the Fed, they each regulate interest rates, control the money supply and oversee the banking system.
The Fed is organized into four tiers: The Board of Governors, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), 12 regional banks, and smaller member banks. Business Insider can give you a more in-depth look at the job description of the four tiers, but here’s a quick breakdown:
The Board of Governors – responsible for monetary policy
Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) – runs market operations
12 regional banks – holds money on behalf of the Fed
Smaller member banks – deals with banking specifics
A central bank? Fuhgeddaboutit!
In the first hundred or so years of our government, the United States was still a moody, rebellious teenager with a penchant for bucking central authority. Can you blame it for not wanting to create a central bank right away? It was only after a series of economic meltdowns in the late 19th century that the government finally got its shit together and passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, creating the Fed.
Remember the bank run scene from It’s a Wonderful Life? Well that was happening to banks all the time, and people really didn’t trust banks with their money. A lot has changed since then, but the Fed is still responsible for preventing economic panics and is credited with building up public trust towards banks.
A strong, independent agency that ain’t need no approval
While the Fed is technically a part of the government, it functions independently and can make decisions on its own. Now, that doesn’t mean that the Board of Governors can just take all the government’s money and blow it on a crazy weekend in Vegas without repercussions. The Fed is still subject to scrutiny from Congress. In fact, the Fed’s chairwoman, Janet Yellen, frequently testifies in the Senate and the House to clarify the Fed’s actions.
The whole point of the Fed acting independently is to protect it from political pressure and public opinion. That’s why the members of the Fed’s Board of Governors are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate, just like Supreme Court Justices.
The Honey Badger of the U.S. economy
Just like the elegant yet terrifying honey badger, the Fed basically does what it wants. The Fed could technically bail out anyone or anything if it wanted to. This is because – brace yourself – the Fed is in charge of printing all our money. And since the U.S. dollar isn’t backed by gold anymore (thanks, Nixon!), the Fed can crank out as much money as it feels necessary.
But don’t expect a bag of Benjamins in your mailbox anytime soon. Going back to that whole “monetary policy” thing, the Fed keeps an eye on inflation, too. That means the Fed only prints out extra money in case of an emergency. Which, unfortunately, does not include giving you an allowance for unlimited Taco Bell. #AwkoTaco.
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