“I can’t guarantee the carpenter down the street a margin,” he said. “I really don’t think we should be guaranteeing Wall Street… by guaranteeing them a zero or near zero interest rate environment.”

Matt Taibbi:

Hoenig’s clipped remarks didn’t land with the fanfare of Bryan’s grandiloquent oratory. In fact, it’s hard to imagine two men with less in common, stylistically. Hoenig was and is a reserved former soldier and number-cruncher who disdained limelight and believed in economy in all things, including words, while Bryan was a man born for the soapbox. Moreover, in a misdiagnosis that that persists to this day, Hoenig’s remarks were criticized as the tightwad meanderings of a hard-money reactionary, an impression that grew stronger when “The Fed’s dissident” was lionized in congressional hearings by the likes of “End the Fed” campaigner and gold-standard advocate Ron Paul. If Bryan wanted to loosen the money supply, and Hoenig wanted to rein it in, what linked them? What could American history’s prototype populist possibly share with a fusty economic traditionalist like Hoenig?

In fact there were similarities. Hoenig’s critics tended to see things backwards, pegging beliefs of his we’d now recognize as economic populism as conservatism, and more importantly mis-labeling the bank-friendly, trickle-down policies of Bernanke as liberal progressivism. This radical switcheroo, turning traditional perceptions of liberalism and conservatism on their head, soon spread to non-financial arenas, as elite officials pitched themselves as progressives, deriding opponents as conspiracist reactionaries. Hoenig is essentially patient zero of this phenomenon, and his story is explained brilliantly in The Lords of Easy Money, in my mind the first book that makes the inner workings of the Fed truly accessible to ordinary readers. 

Leonard gets particularly high marks because the Fed — whose officials always used dullness and inscrutability to deflect public scrutiny — is nearly impossible to make interesting and understandable. Leonard pulls it off. A neophyte will come away from The Lords of Easy Money understanding the mechanics of money creation, and the bank’s awesome influence in widening the wealth gap and driving political divisions.