THE JOCKEYING and lobbying has already begun for the next appointment to the Federal Reserve Board. The term of the present vice chairman, Frederick H. Schultz, ends in January. There's much speculation whether his replacement will be a supply-sider or a monetarist, and of what particular school and bent. But before the White House gets sucked into these doctrinal wars, it ought to consider a more promising possibility.
Banking and finance are changing rapidly, as other enterprises cut increasingly into the kinds of business that the banks once thought were exclusively theirs. Some of the more adventurous brokerages and credit card companies are now offering services that begin to resemble checking accounts -- with inviting embellishments like securities-trading accounts. The traditional mainstay of commercial banking, business lending, is weakened as corporations borrow directly from investors through the booming market in commercial paper. But when the banks try to compete by extending their own services, they find themselves sharply restricted by laws and regulations inherited from earlier more sedate times.
The banks protest that they are getting very little attention, let alone help, from their regulators -- chief among which is the Federal Reserve Board. The board is currently preoccupied with its first responsibility, the management of monetary policy. But the board also is charged with overseeing the commercial banks that are members of the Federal Reserve System. That function is now largely left to its staff, which, in the absence of other direction, tends, like most staffs, to enforce all the familiar rules in the familiar ways regardless of whatever may be going on around it.
It would be anything but useful to escalate the ideological combat over monetary policy by the appointment of a standard-bearer for one or another economic doctrine. Mr. Schultz is a banker; most of the other six board members are professional economists, and the board does not need another economist. It would make much better sense to replace Mr. Schultz with another commercial banker -- one prepared to take a close and active interest in the evolution of the banking industry.