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How not to weaken central banks’ independence

THERE ARE more than a few echoes of the Nixon era in the presidency of Donald Trump. Monetary reverberations are among them. Facing re-election in 1972, Richard Nixon felt he needed a strong economy at his back, and made a habit of haranguing Arthur Burns, the chairman of the Federal Reserve at the time. Burns recounted the meetings in his diaries: “The president looked wild; talked like a desperate man; fulminated with hatred against the press; took some of us to task…” Historians reckon Burns was too accommodating of Nixon’s demands, and so helped launch the inflation of the 1970s. Mr Trump is now waging his own assault on the Fed’s independence. He has repeatedly complained about the central bank’s decisions and urged it to take a more doveish stance.More strikingly Mr Trump, who has already chosen three of the five sitting members of the Fed’s board of governors, has named Stephen Moore and Herman Cain to fill the remaining two vacancies. In contrast to candidates who have come before, both are political activists. But the parallel with the 1970s is less apt than it seems. There are different ways to politicise monetary policy, and Mr Trump’s is particularly poisonous.
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