The cost of avoiding a financial meltdown

November 24, 2014

On the last Wednesday of October, the Federal Reserve Bank announced the end of its controversial quantitative easing program using the kind of delightfully prolix language that can only come from an economist or a robot:

The Committee judges that there has been a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market since the inception of its current asset purchase program. Moreover, the Committee continues to see sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment in a context of price stability. Accordingly, the Committee decided to conclude its asset purchase program this month.

Translated to humanspeak, this means that the Fed believes that the economy has sufficiently recovered, so it will no longer buy billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed bonds every month.

Looking at this Reuters graphic, it’s easy to see why opponents objected to the Fed’s “policy of debasement.” In 2000, the Fed held about $500 billion in assets; the number is now roughly $4 trillion bigger, with the majority of the debt having been incurred since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008. Predictions of runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar were rampant, particularly in response to QE2, the second iteration of the buyback.

But most analysts agree that the policy has succeeded as a necessary evil, brought on by dire global circumstances. As Matthew Craft wrote for the Associated Press earlier this month, “The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since July 2008; the stock market has soared; the dollar has held strong against most major currencies; and inflation has remained in check.”

As it turns out, instead of lending it, banks sat on much of that cheap money, so inflation never became unmanageable. Meanwhile, the world’s economy was in worse shape than that of the U.S., so the dollar remained strong. The question of how to ease down the Fed’s huge balance sheet remains, but when viewed through the lens of the global financial meltdown it helped prevent, the price tag could be worse.

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One comment

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bernanke and yellen did a great job so far, regardless of what some political lunatics might say. They are well respected economists… but what does worry me is how and when will they start selling everything.

Posted by CommanderOtto | Report as abusive