Friday, December 18, 2009

Federal Reserve tries talking to consumers

Sadly, most people don't know anything about what the Federal Reserve does, even though it plays a central role in our economy and has been controversial for its role in the recession and federal banking bailouts.

I won't bore you with all that stuff here but one valid criticism of the Fed is that for all it's regulatory power over the financial sector, consumers don't understand what it does and that perhaps it should do more to educate them.

Seems like at least one Fed branch is trying to change that. This morning I got an email from the Cleveland Fed about a new online publication called "Forefront". Written by three Fed staff economists, the headline on the first issue is "Making Financial Markets Safer for Consumers". The content is still policy-heavy but for the Fed, churning out articles that discuss how it might better regulate financial services specifically to the benefit of consumers is step in the right direction.

My personal favorite: this paragraph that uses exploding toasters as an analogy for the kinds of mortgages some consumers were duped into signing up for in the housing meltdown:
The exploding toaster holds a special place in consumer protection lore. It is obviously an unsafe product: If they knew about the danger, consumers would not buy the toaster and regulators would pull it off store shelves...Some believe that although consumers wouldn't knowingly buy an exploding toaster, in the past few years millions of them took out an "exploding mortgage."

Granted, this is a simplified analogy. But it underlines the observation that ordinary consumer goods seem a lot safer than some financial products. How do consumer goods markets—and their regulators—differ from consumer finance markets?

I emailed the Cleveland Fed public affairs staffer who sent the initial email to me (and other media, I assume) to ask if Forefront was aimed at consumers, media or economists but as of yet haven't gotten an answer. But you can click the link above to have a look for yourself.

1 comment:

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