Sometimes it’s hard to tell…

…whether Alan Greenspan is a moral idiot or just an idiot. Perhaps he is just so arrogant that the two forms of idiocy congeal into one reality-challenged character disorder. Consider Ryan Grim's Huffington Post report based on newly released Federal Open Market Committee meeting transcripts from 2004:

As top Federal Reserve officials debated whether there was a housing bubble and what to do about it, then-Chairman Alan Greenspan argued that the dissent should be kept secret so that the Fed wouldn't lose control of the debate to people less well-informed than themselves.

"We run the risk, by laying out the pros and cons of a particular argument, of inducing people to join in on the debate, and in this regard it is possible to lose control of a process that only we fully understand," Greenspan said, according to the transcripts of a March 2004 meeting.

Why is public accessibility to these debates important? Greenspan provides a strong clue:

I must admit that I didn't think about some of these issues [regarding publicity and access to information] until I saw the comments others made, but I'm a little concerned about other people getting into the debate when they know far less than we do. I don't know what [Assistant Secretary of the Treasury] Michelle [Smith] has to say on this but my impression is that, if we go in that direction, we may find ourselves coming to a conclusion that is not based on our best judgment. She's nodding in agreement.

In other words, publicity or transparency about this decision was thought to pose a threat to the autocratic character of the Federal Reserve. Why would these financiers and their experts believe this? They might believe it because it is true, for one thing! Publicity does threaten the autocratic isolation of the Federal Reserve, as it does to any authoritarian institution.

More importantly, just look where the lack of publicity and thus accountability got the country and the world: Financial Hell. Thus the compelling issue raised by the minutes. As the Huffington Post suggests:

The release of the transcripts comes at a bad time politically for the Federal Reserve, as it works to prevent Congress from authorizing the Government Accountability Office to audit the central bank.

The audit language has already passed the House, despite White House and Fed opposition, and a Senate amendment by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is gaining momentum, cosponsored as of Monday morning by ten Republicans and five Democrats.

But the Fed also benefits from the timing. "Transcripts of meetings for an entire year are released to the public with a five-year lag," according the Fed's own policy. Had the transcripts been released on time, they could have influenced the confirmation of Ben Bernanke for a second term as chairman. Meanwhile, the Fed policy of releasing a full year at once deprives the public of transcripts from the first four months of 2005, which are now five years old.

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