Opinion

The Great Debate

from James Pethokoukis:

Candidate Bernanke hits the campaign trail

JamesPethokoukiscrop.jpgIf Ben Bernanke were running TV ads, taking polls and holding town hall-style meetings, it wouldn't be any clearer that he's conducting an explicit reelection campaign for another four-year term as Federal Reserve chairman come next January. Oh, wait a second, he just did hold an unprecedented town hall meeting. And it was one worthy of a presidential candidate charming primary voters in Iowa.

At the Kansas City Fed last night, Bernanke answered a couple dozen questions from 190 area residents for a three-part public television broadcast. Like a veteran politico, he tossed out the occasional platitude ("The best way to have a strong dollar is to have a strong economy"), railed against Washington ("I don't think the American people want Congress running monetary policy"), gave a riveting and heroic personal narrative ("I was not going to be the Federal Reserve Chairman who presided over the second Great Depression"), and got downright folksy when talking about too-big-too-fail ("When the elephant falls down, all the grass gets crushed as well").

Message to America: Ben Bernanke, a pharmacist's son from Dillon, South Carolina, feels your pain. Now it's not as if previous Fed chairmen haven't campaigned for another four-year hitch. But the usual modus operandi is to curry favor with the Electorate of One -- the president -- who will be doing the renominating. And the precise mechanism has been a growth-friendly monetary policy.

Of course, the Fed has already been, to use Bernanke's town hall phrase, "putting the pedal to the metal" to bolster the fragile economy and financial system. And that's sure been to Wall Street's liking. A Reuters poll last month found that economists rated Bernanke at eight out of 10 for his handling of the financial crisis.

But Bernanke's smart to try and also get Main Street on his side. Obama, for instance, might prefer a more dovish Fed chair, such as San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen, who'll worry more about unemployment than inflation as the 2010 and 2012 elections near. Bernanke's pushback against Obama's proposals for a consumer financial protection agency is also another sign of his independence.

On the Bernanke interrogation

James Pethokoukis – James Pethokoukis is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Ben Bernanke’s testimony to Congress about his involvement in the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch merger was a lot like an FOMC statement: short and unadorned, yet open to much interpretation.

When the Federal Reserve chairman wasn’t repeatedly saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recollect,” he was matter-of-factly stating that he didn’t intend to threaten Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis with termination if he didn’t go through with the Merrill deal.

First exit for the Fed

fed– Agnes T. Crane is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are her own –

Call it a battle for beginnings and endings, and the Federal Reserve is smack in the middle.

As Fed policymakers convene for a two-day meeting starting on Tuesday, the lines are growing more defined between those who want the Fed to do more to stimulate a still fragile economy, and those who are calling for a defined exit strategy to prevent the global economy from going into an inflation-inducing overdrive.

Too failed to live not too big to fail

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The U.S. policy of keeping zombie financial institutions alive is so clearly failing that it is now attracting attack from inside policymakers’ circle of covered wagons.

The most interesting intervention in the banking debate in the past few weeks was an extraordinary attack by Kansas City Federal Reserve President Thomas Hoenig on what he termed a policy of “piecemeal” nationalization which leaves discredited management in place, repels new capital from the banking system and allows bad assets to fester rather than be cleared.

Redefining the sacred in the banking rescue

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Another week, another set of protestations that U.S. banks will remain in private hands, apparently almost regardless of the consequences.

It is clear that nationalization violates a sacred value for U.S. policymakers, or perhaps they believe it to be a sacred value held by voters. As we know from behavioral economics, when people are confronted by a conflict between material advantage and their ideas of the sacred, they tend to opt surprisingly often for the sacred.

Global imbalances and the Triffin dilemma

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

For the world monetary system, the financial crisis which erupted in the summer of 2007 is a cataclysmic shift that will prove every bit as significant as the outbreak of the First World War (which heralded sterling’s demise as a reserve currency) and the suspension of gold convertibility in 1971 (which marked the end of bullion’s monetary role).

The crisis marks the passing of an era in which the U.S. dollar has been the world’s undisputed reserve currency for making international payments and storing wealth.

Fed unleashes greatest bubble of all

John Kemp Great Debate– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his predecessor Alan Greenspan have unleashed a series of ever-larger asset bubbles they cannot control.

Now the Fed’s decision to cut interest rates to between zero and 0.25 percent, coupled with a promise to keep them there for an extended period, and the threat to conduct even more unconventional operations in the longer-dated Treasury market risks the biggest bubble of all, this time in U.S. government debt.

“Risk free” rate going way of free lunch

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

One of the many comfortable but unreliable certainties now coming unglued is the idea that U.S. Treasury interest rates are the paramount benchmark, a measure of “risk free” investment, an idea at the heart of finance.

In the old days we quaintly believed that U.S. government debt yields represented a benchmark against which all other types of risk taking could be measured. The 30-year yield, later supplanted by the 10-year, used to be called the most important rate in the world for just that reason. All other risk taking began from this handy jumping off point and all capital allocation decisions used it as an implicit or explicit input.

Quantitative easing has begun

johnkemp3– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Quietly, without fanfare, the Federal Reserve has turned on the printing presses.  The central bank is flooding the market with enough excess liquidity to refloat the banking system — and hopes to generate an upturn in both economic activity and inflation in the next 12-18 months to prevent the economy falling into a prolonged slump.

Since the banking crisis intensified in September, the Fed has been rapidly expanding the credit side of its balance sheet, providing an ever-increasing array of facilities to support the financial system (repos, term auction credit, primary discount credit, broker-dealer credit, commercial paper funding, money market mutual fund liquidity and term securities lending).

Moving beyond conventional remedies

diana-furchtgott-roth1Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed here are her own.

WASHINGTON (Reuters.com) – The stock market is falling, retail sales are down, GM and Xerox announce layoffs, and economists predict GDP declines in the 3rd and 4th quarters.  Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has called for a stimulus package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prescription for economic stimulus centers on more infrastructure spending, as well as more aid to states, Food Stamps, rebate checks, and unemployment benefits, a package that could cost up to $300 billion.

  •