Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How Ben Bernanke Saved the World

Subtitle: "How I Learned to Land a Helicopter", by Ben Bernanke

The title is past-tense for posterity's sake. This link needs to be remembered in the future when reality testifies on Ben's behalf. Fortunately for Ben we can never know what might have been -- we only know what he claims would have been if not for his policy, and must believe reality is better no matter how bad it is in fact, when the facts are in.

This, though, is his expose on how he plans to keep the world from hyperinflation after the biggest creation of fresh dollars the world has ever seen. Download a copy for posterity before the Wall Street Journal archivists cut off the link.

This isn't very reassuring: "we can raise the rate paid on reserve balances as we increase our target for the federal funds rate."

It's reassuring if all one cares about is ensuring that interest rates rise. We'd really like to know how the next upward move in fed funds isn't going to create a financial shock like all the others in this present generation. Granted, inflation is under control as measured by CPI and a few other choice tools, but 9+% unemployment is approaching historic levels, so this last fed funds move failed on the employment objectives. And apparently wiping out American investors' wealth is an acceptable outcome (as happened in the dot-com bust and now the real-estate bust) since it isn't a policy mandate to target preservation of American 401(k) accounts.

Furthermore, it doesn't address the bank's fiduciary duty to shareholders. How are banks going to justify tiny ROI when fed-funds level of yields are earned on an ever growing pile of reserves? This is going to pressure banks to use reserves for higher-yielding assets. To keep bank stockholders from rebelling, the rate on reserves is going to have to be higher than fed funds. This program will create a ceiling for fed funds, not a floor. Small banks without large in-house investment departments like Goldman and Morgan (recently converted to banks) are going to demand yields that match ROI garnered from their securities market operations. Equity investors will not stand for ROI in single digits. If banks can't make loans to business, they will seek out returns in other markets like securities.

As taxpayers, we're not very reassured. It is certain this board of governors won’t make the same mistakes as their predecessors, but equally certain the mistakes they do make will be costly. One can always offer the blind assurance that it would be worse with any other option. But of course you can’t prove what might have been. You can only have faith. When it comes to faith in the central bank policies, our only faith is that they will create a boom-bust cycle just like they have for generations. As for us, we’ll prepare for the inevitable disaster in what ever form it comes in the next business cycle bust, including the potential of having to pay 80% tax rates on inflation-induced capital gains for the "rich" (where rich is defined as anyone not a ward of government social programs) to pay for the next Keynesian stimulus devised for the consequential bust of present-day quantitative easing.

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