Most Americans with an opinion on the subject think the free market should set interest rates, not the US Federal Reserve, according to a recent survey from the Cato Institute. “Unsurprisingly, a plurality (44 percent) of Americans have not thought much about whether Federal Reserve officials or the free-market system should primarily determine interest rates,” the report stated. “However, if we confine the analysis to those who have an opinion, 58 percent believe that free-market forces should determine interest rates, compared with 43 percent who believe Fed officials should do so.”
There is a big partisan split within this cohort. Among Democrats, 68 percent want the US central bank to set rates. Among Republicans, 75 percent prefer the free market do so.
Education level shapes attitudes, too. Fifty-seven percent of Americans with post-graduate degrees support Fed officials setting rates. Among college graduates, 48 percent back the central bank in this regard, followed by 39 percent of respondents with high school diplomas or less.
Cato found that four beliefs predict support for free markets over Fed officials governing rates: perception of the central bank’s (1) independence, (2) power, (3) efficacy stabilizing the economy, and (4) role in the 2008 financial crisis. Participants who think the Fed is too close to Congress and the President are more inclined to support market-based rates. Those who think the central bank is too powerful also are more likely to back letting the market determine rates, instead of Fed officials.
Respondents who think the central bank lessens economic volatility are more inclined to having Fed officials set rates. Finally, the perception that the central bank caused the 2008 financial crisis predicts support for the free-market system rather than officials determining interest rates. The most depressing finding? Only 20 percent say they have heard of the Fed and understand what it does.