“Economic recovery” is a term that has no fixed meaning. But it’s worth mulling over to determine whether aggregate demand is strong enough to keep the economy from tipping back into recession. In normal times, the Fed slashes interest rates to increase the flow of capital to the markets and to consumers via lending at the banks. That’s the traditional method of “jump starting” the economy.
The Fed has never initiated policies which provide unlimited guarantees for underwater financial institutions. Nor has it ever poured more than a trillion dollars directly into the financial system by creating excess reserves at the banks and direct purchases of long-term assets. (Quantitative Easing) All of this is new. Naturally, this ocean of liquidity has produced price distortions which have been confused with real recovery. The S&P has soared more than 60 percent in the last 9 months, even though the yield on short-term Treasuries are at historic lows.
WASHINGTON, December 2 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today placed a hold on the nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“The American people overwhelmingly voted last year for a change in our national priorities to put the interests of ordinary people ahead of the greed of Wall Street and the wealthy few,” Sanders said. “What the American people did not bargain for was another four years for one of the key architects of the Bush economy.”
With the government-mandated bankruptcy of one of the largest, longest-lived, and, until recently, most profitable manufacturers in the world, the takeover of the U.S. economy by the same East Coast forces that destroyed it is now complete.
The speed with which GM spiraled into insolvency was breath taking. Less than 18 months ago, just as the horrifying effects of Wall Street’s malfeasance were becoming clear, GM was profitably selling SUVs, making money for its shareholders and paying big ticket CEOs far more than they were worth, just like Wall Street.
Suddenly the rules changed. In a spectacular reversal, GM was deceptively accused of failing to sell what consumers wanted to buy, of being out of touch and out of date, of having too many built in personnel costs which made them unable to compete with foreign auto makers whose short history in the U.S. left them free of pension liabilities.
Is it possible to make hundreds of billions of dollars in profits on securities that are backed by nothing more than cyber-entries into a loan book?
It’s not only possible; it’s been done. And now the scoundrels who cashed in on the swindle have lined up outside the Federal Reserve building to trade their garbage paper for billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded loans. Where’s the justice? Meanwhile, the credit bust has left the financial system in a shambles and driven the economy into the ground like a tent stake. The unemployment lines are growing longer and consumers are cutting back on everything from nights-on-the-town to trips to the grocery store. And it’s all due to a Ponzi-finance scam that was concocted on Wall Street and spread through the global system like an aggressive strain of Bird Flu. The isn’t a normal recession; the financial system was blown up by greedy bankers who used “financial innovation” game the system and inflate the biggest speculative bubble of all time. And they did it all legally, using a little-known process called securitization.
Testifying Wednesday before the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke demanded that Congress and the Obama administration map out a program of austerity measures to bring down record budget deficits. Bernanke made clear that the heart of this program should be sharp cuts in social spending, including basic entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
“Maintaining the confidence of the financial markets,” Bernanke said in prepared remarks to the committee, “requires that we, as a nation, begin planning now for the restoration of fiscal balance.”
The phrase “confidence of the financial markets” is a euphemism for the interests of Wall Street and major international banks and investors. In demanding the preparation of austerity measures to be imposed on the American people, Bernanke was speaking in behalf of the financial elite whose massive taxpayer subsidies have been the major cause of the explosive growth over the past year of the federal deficit and the US national debt.
Collapsing home prices and credit markets continue to put downward pressure on consumer spending, forcing the Federal Reserve to take even more radical action to revive the economy. Last week, Fed chief Ben Bernanke raised the prospect of further monetizing the debt by purchasing more than the $1.75 trillion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) already committed. The announcement sent shock-waves through the currency markets where skittish traders have joined doomsayers in predicting tough times ahead for the dollar. Foreign central banks have been gobbling up US debt at an impressive pace, adding another $60 billion in the last three weeks alone. That’s more than enough to cover the current account deficit and put the greenback on solid ground for the time-being. But with fiscal deficits ballooning to $3 trillion in the next year alone, dwindling foreign investment won’t be enough to keep the dollar afloat. Bernanke will be forced to either raise interest rates or let the dollar fall hard.
Fed chief Ben Bernanke’s understanding of financial crises may have kept the country from sliding into another Great Depression. That doesn’t mean that he’s fixed the credit system, removed the non-performing loans from the banks, or stopped housing prices from crashing. It simply means that pumping liquidity into the system–via huge increases in the money supply, zero-percent interest rates, and multi-trillion dollar lending facilities–has either slowed or reversed the rate of decline in many sectors of the economy. Monetary stimulus works. Manufacturing, industrial output, world trade and global stock markets had all been falling faster than during the Great Depression. Bernanke changed that. His aggressive monetary policy helped to stabilize the financial system and pull the economy back from the brink.
In April, retail sales rose slightly as did consumer spending. The service industries contracted less than expected and manufacturing (ISM) showed modest gains. There are also signs that housing prices are flattening out although future price declines are still expected to be somewhere in the range of 10 to 20 percent. (Housing prices have already slipped 29 percent since their peak in 2006) The underlying problems in the economy have not been fixed, but green shoots popping up everywhere.
If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
And so it is with Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Henry Paulson, the entire East Coast financial establishment, innumerable Ivy League economists including Paul Krugman, and people who really should know better, like the media, Congress and the President.
Truly mindless fuzz continues to flow out of Washington, accepted as gospel by both its inhabitants and the media. For example, there’s the idea that the worldwide financial crisis can only be solved by the same institutions and people that created it; that the banking sector needs lots and lots of additional money and political support to solve problems that trillions of dollars so far have not; that months of nonexistent positive results means only that we haven’t handed financiers sufficient loot; that the failure to bail out Lehman’s is what caused this whole mess; that reinvigorating casino capitalism is the way out of the dilemma; that public outrage shows that the rest of us just don’t get it.
Worse than senseless, the nonsense that passes for conventional wisdom in the corridor between New York and Washington, D.C., is worrisome on a number of levels.