Lisa Cook’s First Amendment Problem
Today, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on five nominations to the Federal Reserve Board. My IEC colleague Myron Ebell and I opposed the appointment of Sarah Bloom Raskin as Vice President for Oversight, due to her calls for the use of financial regulation to cut business with energy companies.
Along with Fed governor candidate Lisa Cook, there is also strong concern: She has voiced support for European-style speech restrictions that would violate the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Additionally, she participated in a social media campaign to “cancel” a respected University of Chicago economics professor.
Cook is a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University and served as a senior economist on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Much of the attention around his nominations has been on his provocative writings on race, including support for reparations for African Americans to offset slavery and discrimination. Opponents say her areas of research and writing stray from the Fed’s core mission, while proponents say these writings show she would bring much-needed intellectual diversity to the Fed.
Still, Cook’s plea for the cancellation and censorship of voices she disagrees with should be the biggest concern of her nomination. In one the wall street journal editorial titled “The Fed Doesn’t Need a Censor,” Harold Uhlig, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, recounts his experience of being the target of an attempted cancellation to which Cook was participated.
Just after the “defund the police” movement became all the rage in mid-2020, Uhlig tweeted that it was a bad idea. A series of denunciations were circulated on Twitter, along with allegations that Uhlig made insensitive comments about Martin Luther King, Jr. in his class years earlier. Uhlig told the Chicago Grandstand he did not remember the incident from class and called King a “world hero”. A University of Chicago investigation found no basis for allegations of mistreatment of students in his class.
Right after the controversy began, Cook jumped into the fray in a tweet thread. She called for the dismissal of Uhlig as editor of the Journal of Political Economya renowned economic journal, and noted she hoped the then-ongoing investigation would “result in removing your year [sic] access to students. »
In the tweet thread, Cook also made broader comments advocating limits on free speech guaranteed by the US Constitution. Incorporating a tweet about then German Chancellor Angela Merkel praising the criminalization of offensive speech in European countries, Cook wrote“I agree with Angela Merkel… that freedom of expression has its limits. It should not be used to spread hatred and violate the dignity of others.
Cook’s tweets expressing sympathy for European-style speech limits, in which citizens are fined and even jailed for offensive speech (some of which wouldn’t even fit a reasonable definition of ‘hate speech’ ) should sound the alarm about his service to the Fed. Although the Fed, on the face of it, may not appear to be a government entity with the power of censorship, its power over the economy could affect free speech in several ways.
First, as Uhlig notes in his Newspaper editorially, having a censorship advocate as governor could make Fed researchers feel pressured to reach “politically correct” conclusions on important economic issues. Pointing out that Fed researchers “regularly examine labor markets and economic inequality,” and ask, “Will they continue to provide the board with balanced and reasoned assessments?” Or will only activist voices be welcome?
Second, in recent years there has been pressure from both campaign activists and government officials to “debank” some unpopular industries. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a liberal-leaning civil liberties group, sounded the alarm about financial threats to free speech:
As we’ve seen with digital bookstores, whistleblowing websites, online publishers, and online personal advertisements, payment providers often bow to pressure, formal or informal, to shut down or restrict people’s accounts. engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. In order to foster a future where digital expression can flourish, we must ensure that necessary service providers such as banks and payment processors do not become the weak link used to cut off unpopular discourse.
Since the Fed is a banking regulator, comments from a Fed Governor castigating certain forms of speech could make financial institutions think twice about doing business with practitioners of this speech. Senators should keep that in mind – in today’s vote and if the vote continues in the Senate.