Rather Than Sink Main Street by Raising Interest Rates, the Fed Could Save It. Here’s How. 

Inflation is plaguing consumer markets, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to tighten the money supply. But as Rex Nutting writes in a MarketWatch column titled “Why Interest Rates Aren’t Really the Right Tool to Control Inflation”:

It may be heresy to those who think the Fed is all-powerful, but the honest answer is that raising interest rates wouldn’t put out the fire. Short of throwing millions of people out of work in a recession, higher rates wouldn’t bring supply and demand back into balance, a necessary condition for price stability.

The Fed (and those who are clamoring for the Fed to raise rates immediately) have misdiagnosed the problem with the economy and are demanding the wrong kind of medicine. …

Prices are going up because crucial inputs—labor, electronics, energy, housing, transportation—are in short supply. Normally, the way to solve this imbalance would be to give workers and businesses incentives to increase their supply. …

The Fed has been assigned the job of fixing this. Unfortunately, the Fed doesn’t have the tools to do it. Monetary policy works (in theory) by tweaking demand, but it has no direct impact on supply.

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The Real Antidote to Inflation: Stoking the Fire Without Burning Down the Barn

The Fed has options for countering the record inflation the U.S. is facing that are more productive and less risky than raising interest rates.

The Federal Reserve is caught between a rock and a hard place. Inflation grew by 6.8% in November, the fastest in 40 years, a trend the Fed has now acknowledged is not “transitory.” The conventional theory is that inflation is due to too much money chasing too few goods, so the Fed is under heavy pressure to “tighten” or shrink the money supply. Its conventional tools for this purpose are to reduce asset purchases and raise interest rates. But corporate debt has risen by $1.3 trillion just since early 2020; so if the Fed raises rates, a massive wave of defaults is likely to result. According to financial advisor Graham Summers in an article titled “The Fed Is About to Start Playing with Matches Next to a $30 Trillion Debt Bomb,” the stock market could collapse by as much as 50%. 

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Tackling the Infrastructure and Unemployment Crises: The “American System” Solution

A self-funding national infrastructure bank modeled on the “American System” of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt would help solve not one but two of the country’s biggest problems.

Millions of Americans have joined the ranks of the unemployed, and government relief checks and savings are running out; meanwhile, the country still needs trillions of dollars in infrastructure. Putting the unemployed to work on those infrastructure projects seems an obvious solution, especially given that the $600 or $700 stimulus checks Congress is planning on issuing will do little to address the growing crisis. Various plans for solving the infrastructure crisis involving public-private partnerships have been proposed, but they’ll invariably result in private investors reaping the profits while the public bears the costs and liabilities. We have relied for too long on private, often global, capital, while the Chinese run circles around us building infrastructure with credit simply created on the books of their government-owned banks. Continue reading

The Fed’s Baffling Response to the Coronavirus Explained

When the World Health Organization announced on February 24th that it was time to prepare for a global pandemic, the stock market plummeted. Over the following week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 3,500 points or over 10%. In an attempt to contain the damage, on March 3rd the Federal Reserve slashed the fed funds rate from 1.5% to 1.0%, in their first emergency rate move and biggest one-time cut since the 2008 financial crisis. But rather than reassuring investors, the move fueled another panic sell-off.

Exasperated commentators on CNBC wondered what the Fed was thinking. They said a half point rate cut would not stop the spread of the coronavirus or fix the broken Chinese supply chains that are driving US companies to the brink. A new report by corporate data analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet calculates that some 51,000 companies around the world have one or more direct suppliers in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. At least 5 million companies globally have one or more tier-two suppliers in the region, meaning their suppliers get their supplies there; and 938 of the Fortune 1000 companies have tier-one or tier-two suppliers there. Moreover, fully 80% of US pharmaceuticals are made in China. A break in the supply chain can grind businesses to a halt. Continue reading

The Fed Protects Gamblers at the Expense of the Economy

Although the repo market is little known to most people, it is a $1-trillion-a-day credit machine, in which not just banks but hedge funds and other “shadow banks” borrow to finance their trades. Under the Federal Reserve Act, the central bank’s lending window is open only to licensed depository banks; but the Fed is now pouring billions of dollars into the repo (repurchase agreements) market, in effect making risk-free loans to speculators at less than 2%.

This does not serve the real economy, in which products, services and jobs are created. However, the Fed is trapped into this speculative monetary expansion to avoid a cascade of defaults of the sort it was facing with the long-term capital management crisis in 1998 and the Lehman crisis in 2008. The repo market is a fragile house of cards waiting for a strong wind to blow it down, propped up by misguided monetary policies that have forced central banks to underwrite its highly risky ventures. Continue reading