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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monetary Policy is a Joke

Recently, my favorite blogger (Kevin Drum) wrote what I consider to be his dumbest post in the 9 years I've been reading him. He claimed that the U.S. middle class has been "screwed" because of overly tight monetary policy. The Fed, he said, has ignored the full employment part of its mandate, in favor of fighting inflation.

This seems ludicrous to me. The main tool in the Fed's toolbox is setting interest rates. Drum's argument must be that the Fed has been keeping interest rates too high, thereby keeping the volume of loans too low and consequently failing to promote employment. A moment's reflection on the repeated bubbles we have experienced, most recently in housing, shows this to be absurd. The problem has been just the opposite of what Kevin said -- there have been unsustainably high levels of private debt. The U.S. has one of the lowest savings rates in the world as we learned to finance consumption with debt. After 25 years of increasingly loose monetary policy, the result has been the high unemployment that we have today.

The situation is equally absurd if we look at the short term effects of monetary policy. The Fed reduced interest rates aggressively beginning in August 2007. This had no discernible effect in boosting employment. In fact, unemployment soared in the face of this supposedly loose monetary policy. This is just one example of what I have noticed since I began paying attention to this sometime around 2004. Monetary policy, it seems to me, is a joke -- a sort of 21st century voodoo that generally serious people like Kevin Drum fall for...

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