Amid a presidency filled with unqualified appointees, President Trump’s picks for the Federal Reserve used to stand out as rare exceptions. Sure, Trump might have put people like Ben Carson in charge of cabinet departments, despite lacking any relevant experience, but at least the Fed got serious officials with a real commitment to the central bank’s mission. His pick as chair, Jerome Powell, exemplified the bank’s tradition, and has proved his willingness to safeguard the Fed’s independence from political pressure.
Now, with the nomination of right-wing pundit Stephen Moore to be one of the seven members of the Fed’s board of governors, even that enclave of competence and nonpartisanship is at risk. The bank’s vital role — it sets interest rates, aiming for low inflation and high employment — is too important for that, and the Senate ought to reject Moore’s nomination.
The problem with Moore starts with his lack of qualifications. Fed officials have traditionally been academic economists with doctoral degrees, but Moore comes with no such pedigree. Nor does he have long experience in government and the private sector, like Powell. Instead, he’s been a “distinguished fellow” at the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, perches he has used to call for tax cuts with the regularity of a broken record. He lacks the “intellectual gravitas for this important job,” according to Harvard economist and former George W. Bush economics advisor Greg Mankiw, which is a nice way of putting it.
What Moore does have is a long record of partisanship — and that’s what makes the nomination truly alarming. Past and present Fed officials like Powell, Ben Bernanke, and Janet Yellin no doubt have their own political leanings, but they were professionals first. There’s nothing in Moore’s background to suggest he’s capable of putting aside partisan politics; his whole career has been about generating justifications for Republican policy goals, gussied up in the language of economic analysis. Not only did Moore serve as an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, he also coauthored a book called “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.”
Already Moore has been hinting that, if confirmed, he’d push to carry out Trump’s demand for a sharp interest rate cut. That’s not just bad policy at this moment, but its obvious partisan rationale would send an ominous message. “It would scare the hell out of the markets,” former Dallas Federal Reserve president Richard Fisher told CNN. “It would really put a dent in the perception of the independence of the Federal Reserve.”
There’s also the $75,000 in back taxes Moore owes to the Internal Revenue Service, and the revelation he was held in contempt of court for not paying his former wife $300,000 in alimony and child support.
But the best reason for the Senate to reject Moore is to protect the Fed’s status as one of the last bastions of nonpartisanship in Washington. The Fed’s decisions have enormous economic impacts, and the people making them need to share a commitment to following the evidence and making independent judgments — not serving the short-term political interests of the president or his party.