FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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. 

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
ANIS SHIVANI
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail