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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The skirmish over Jay Powell's future as Fed chair provides a glimpse of a much bigger fight — one that could mark the beginning of the end of the modern era of independent central banking.

Why it matters: Powell epitomizes the way in which central banks, working alongside the government, took on the role of rescuing the economy from the shock of the pandemic. Now some lawmakers want to keep the relationship much closer than it has been in recent decades, to harness some of the power only central banks have.

The big picture: Central banks (the Federal Reserve, in particular) have never been more important, or more powerful.

  • The other side: Central banks have also never been as constrained in their range of possible actions. The natural interest rate is close to zero, which means that their main policy tool — the ability to set interest rates — also has to remain near zero.

Driving the news: Left-wing members of Congress have asked President Biden to replace Powell as Fed chair, saying that they want a "whole of government approach" to eliminating climate risk.

Between the lines: The letter clearly considers the central bank to be part of the government, rather than an independent agency working within a relatively narrow mandate.

  • The letter makes clear that central bank decisions are unavoidably political, especially when it comes to the issue of climate change. The Fed is either going to pursue a zero-carbon agenda or it isn't, and either way, it's going to upset certain politicians.
  • The EU implicitly capitulated to the reality of a political central bank when it appointed a politician, rather than an economist, to lead the European Central Bank.

Powell has a strong case that he stayed comfortably within the Fed's narrow mandates. Still, many of his programs were unprecedented, meaning the Fed is vulnerable to charges of mission creep.

  • The debate over Powell's renomination is really a debate over the degree to which Fed mission creep is something to be embraced and extended, rather than accepted only as a necessary evil.

The bottom line: Congressional gridlock means that the official terms of the Fed's mandate aren't going to change any time soon.

  • Unofficially, however, it has already been moving toward a greater emphasis on tackling inequality, which is nowhere in the mandate. If Biden is serious about the importance of the zero-carbon agenda, it makes sense that he'd want someone sympathetic to that view at the helm of the Fed.

Go deeper

Dec 8, 2021 - World

Currency crisis hits hard in Turkey

Waiting to exchange money. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's deepening currency crisis could mark the definitive end of the country's economic success story and is making ordinary citizens poorer.

Driving the news: Turkey's currency is fluctuating on a daily basis and has lost 45% of its value against the dollar this year. Investors are abandoning Turkish assets due to concerns about the Central Bank’s ability to control inflation. Ordinary citizens are rushing to convert their savings to foreign currencies and gold. 

Kate Marino, author of Markets
Dec 8, 2021 - Economy & Business

Turkey's economic gamble

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Polite descriptions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s economic policies go something along the lines of “unorthodox” or “going against the grain.”

Put more bluntly, his ideas appear to tap into the growing urge of unconventional leaders — and their followers — to challenge truisms long held by the global ruling elite.

Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker