• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bernanke’s Paralysis

Last week the Fed announced that it would use the proceeds from retired mortgage-backed securities to buy up more government bonds. This may have a very modest effect in keeping long-term interest rates low, thereby giving a small boost to the economy.

Such a measure would be reasonable if the economy was basically fine and just in need of a modest lift. But this is not the case.

The unemployment rate is 9.5 percent and virtually certain to rise in the 2nd half of the year. Job growth has basically stopped and the GDP is likely to be in the range of 1-2 percent in the next four quarters, as state and local governments cut back spending, the stimulus phases down and the housing market resumes its slide.

In this scenario, the Fed should be taking aggressive steps to bring the economy back to full employment. After all, this is part of its job description. Its responsibility is to promote price stability and full employment. There is no concern about price stability in the sense of the rate of inflation being too high right now. Therefore the Fed’s responsibility should be to do everything within its power to reach full employment; obviously we are nowhere close now.

Bernanke even knows exactly what needs to be done, as the Wall Street Journal recently reminded us. He wrote a paper back in 1999 about Japan’s stagnant economy and mild deflation. Following a recommendation by Paul Krugman, he urged Japan’s central bank to target an inflation rate in the range of 3-4 percent.

A rate of inflation in this range would substantially reduce real interest rates, giving firms a powerful incentive to invest. It would mean, for example, that if they built a factory this year, the goods it produced would be selling for 15 to 20 percent more in five years. This modest level of inflation would also go far in reducing the debt burdens of households. The burden of their mortgages and other debt would be eroded as wages rise roughly in step with inflation, while the size of the debt remains fixed.

In spite of knowing exactly what needs to be done, Bernanke and the Fed show no inclination of moving in this direction. Instead, the Fed seems prepared to ignore its legal mandate to promote full employment.

The explanation for this incredible policy failure is straightforward. The people that Bernanke must answer to are the Wall Street bankers, not Congress and the public. The Wall Street bankers are not troubled by 9.5 percent unemployment. Their profits are back to pre-recession levels and bonuses are again hitting record levels.

For the Wall Street bankers, everything is just fine now. If Bernanke were to pursue a policy of targeting 3-4 percent inflation, it could erode the real value of many of their assets. These banks own mortgage debt and other assets whose value would be reduced by even modest rates of inflation. While targeting a slightly higher rate of inflation may be a no-brainer from the standpoint of workers and most of the country, it is not good for Wall Street, and this is who our supposedly independent Fed is answering to.

This is not the first time that Bernanke has done Wall Street’s bidding. When Goldman, Citigroup and the rest were on the edge of bankruptcy, Bernanke deliberately misled Congress to help pass TARP. He told them that the commercial paper market was shutting down, raising the prospect that most of corporate America would be unable to get the short-term credit needed to meet its payroll and pay other bills.

Bernanke neglected to mention that he could single-handedly keep the commercial paper market operating by setting up a special Fed lending facilities for this purpose. He announced the establishment of a lending facility to buy commercial paper the weekend after Congress approved the TARP.

Of course, the whole crisis stems directly from the Fed and Bernanke’s fealty to Wall Street. It was easy for any competent economist to recognize the housing bubble and the danger it posed to the economy as early as 2002. Yet, the Fed and Bernanke (then working as Greenspan’s sidekick as a Fed governor) insisted that everything was just fine with the housing market. After all, the Wall Street banks were making tons of money, what could be the problem?

The country badly needs a central bank that is independent of Wall Street, where its governors can do what they believe is best for the economy and the country. Unfortunately, we do not have such a Fed. Until Congress and the public start putting heat on Bernanke for his policy failures, we can expect to get kicked in the face again and again.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

 

 

WORDS THAT STICK
?

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
Jeff Klein
Syria, the Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: Why Progressives Should Not Support a New Imperial Partition in the Middle East
George Ochenski
The Governor, the Mining Company and the Future of a Montana Wilderness
Charles Pierson
Bret Stephens’ American Fantasy
Ted Rall
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Fire All the Cops
Jon Rynn
Saving the Green New Deal
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Down Side of Impeachment
Harvey Wasserman
What Really Happened to American Socialism?
Tom Engelhardt
American Brexit
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail