Tuesday, November 16, 2010
How In The World Did We Get To The Point Where The Federal Reserve Is Printing Money Out Of Thin Air Whenever It Wants?
Ben Bernanke and the rest of the folks over at the Federal Reserve did not just wake up one day and decide that they wanted to start printing hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air. The truth is that the economic forces that have brought us to this point have taken decades to develop. In the post-World War 2 era, when the U.S. economy has fallen into a recession, either the Federal Reserve would lower interest rates or the U.S. government would indulge in even more deficit spending to stimulate the economy. But now, as you will see below, both of those alternatives have been exhausted. In addition, we are now rapidly reaching the point where there are simply not enough lenders out there to feed the U.S. government's voracious appetite for debt. So now the Federal Reserve is openly printing hundreds of billions of dollars that will enable them to finance U.S. government borrowing, and (they hope) stimulate the U.S. economy at the same time. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is not amused. Nations such as China, Japan and many of the oil-exporting nations of the Middle East have accumulated a lot of U.S. dollars and a lot of U.S. Treasuries and they are not pleased that those investments are now being significantly devalued.
So how did we get to this point? Why is the Federal Reserve printing money out of thin air in a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy?
Well, the Federal Reserve has more or less exhausted all of the other tools that it has traditionally used to help the economy during an economic downturn. As you can see from the chart below, the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates during past recessions. The goal of lowering interest rates is to make it less expensive to borrow money and thus spark more economic activity. Well, as you can see, the Federal Reserve has no place else to go with interest rates. Over the past 30 years, rates have consistently been pushed down, down, down and now they are kissing the floor....