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Fighting over the Fed, Christmas brainteaser, 1918's lesson


This week in Keeping Tabs: Republicans battle over Federal Reserve support, a look back at the "Spanish" flu, and a quiz from the Bank of England.

Firstly, over to the US, where Emily Cochrane and Jeanna Smialek at The New York Times report on wrangling over the role of the Federal Reserve, giving an indication of the politicisation of the central bank's work as power changes hands in the country.

Republicans have been seeking to restrict the Fed's ability to offer credit to businesses and municipalities, both through taking cash off the table earmarked to support its lending schemes and stopping it restarting them using other funds.

The battle involves Fed emergency lending programmes set to expire at the end of the year.

Republicans are pushing for language that "would rescind funding earmarked to support Fed credit for small and medium-sized businesses, state and local governments and big corporations," write Cochrane and Smialek. "More alarming to Democrats, it would also bar the Fed and Treasury Department from restarting new versions of critical loan programs enacted this year."

This could hinder the new Biden administration as it seeks to tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic next year. After Donald Trump pushed the Fed to keep its foot on the gas during his tenure, maybe Republicans are turning more hawkish now it’s the blue team in charge.

Moving on: how does Covid-19 stack up against other pandemics? If truth be told, it's too early to tell. But here is a documentary from the BBC about the Spanish flu, which killed 50m people around the world between February 1918 and April 1920.

The first recorded cases of Spanish flu came from the US, in an army camp in Kansas. Why, then, was it called Spanish flu? Well, Spain, neutral in World War I, was one of the few places that allowed its press to cover the pandemic in detail.

In other countries, such as France or the UK, wartime censorship meant the disease was downplayed in order to keep up morale. In addition, Spain's king, Alfonso XIII, fell gravely ill with the disease.

The BBC's programme was aired back in September 2018. The Beeb's description says: "The film also asks whether, a century later, the lessons learnt in 1918 might help us fight a future global flu pandemic"…

Finally, if you want a brain teaser before logging off for the festive season, Bank Underground, a blog written by Bank of England staff, has a Christmas quiz. Fear not: it is not about the Phillips Curve or countercyclical buffers. The bank's wonks appear to be a more cultured lot than you might give them credit for.