Economic Policy Review
The Political Origins of Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act

JEL classification: E42, E51, G28, N20

Authors: Parinitha Sastry

At the height of the financial crisis of 2007-09, the Federal Reserve conducted emergency lending under authority granted to it in the third paragraph of Section 13 of the Federal Reserve Act. This article explores the political and legislative origins of the section, focusing on why Congress chose to endow the central bank with such an authority. The author describes how in the initial passage of the act in 1913, Congress demonstrated its steadfast commitment to the “real bills” doctrine in two interrelated ways: 1) by limiting what assets the Fed could purchase, discount, and use as collateral for advances, and 2) by ensuring that any newly created government-sponsored credit enterprises were kept separate from the Federal Reserve System. During the Great Depression, however, Congress passed legislation that blurred the line between monetary and credit policy, slowly chipping away at the real bills doctrine as it sought to combat the crisis. It was in this context that Congress added Section 13(3) to the Federal Reserve Act. In tracing this history, the author concludes that the original framers of Section 13(3) meant to sanction direct Federal Reserve lending to the real economy, rather than simply to a weakened financial sector, in emergency circumstances. This Depression-era history provides insights into the evolving role of the Federal Reserve as an emergency provider of liquidity.

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Parinitha Sastry
The author declares that she has no relevant or material financial interests that relate to the research described in this paper.