Why Close Reading is Important

In the opinion piece below, Alan Blinder explains why it is critical to carefully read documents, especially if they involve legislation and even more importantly if they affect the Federal Reserve Bank.

Alan Blinder – Opinion piece on PBS
January 2010 “The Future of the Federal Reserve”

Do you ever get the feeling that this country is over-lawyered? Well, here’s another example.

Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, has long promoted a first step in that direction. The so- called Paul bill would subject the Fed’s monetary policy decisions to GAO audits. Like most economists, I find the idea, well, appalling.

But I breathed a sigh of relief when a modified version was appended to the House’s financial reform bill late last year. The Paul-Grayson amendment added what I thought was an important clause. Let me read it to you.

“Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as interference in or dictation of monetary policy to the Federal Reserve System by the Congress or the GAO.”

That sounds like a strong affirmation of the Fed’s independence, right? I certainly read it that way and so did my students. Then I talked to a lawyer.

So put on your lawyers glasses and read it again. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as interference and so on.

Read literally, the sentence does not instruct Congress to keep its nose out of monetary policy. Instead, it asserts that the proposed law does not interfere with monetary policy even if you think it does. Orwell’s big brother would have been proud. He gave us war is peace, freedom is slavery. Now the House thought police give us interference is not interference.

Ladies and gentlemen of the House, could we please fix this?