Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Federal Reserve Helicopters Deployed

FOMC Statement
The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to lower its target for the federal funds rate 50 basis points to 4-3/4 percent.

Economic growth was moderate during the first half of the year, but the tightening of credit conditions has the potential to intensify the housing correction and to restrain economic growth more generally. Today’s action is intended to help forestall some of the adverse effects on the broader economy that might otherwise arise from the disruptions in financial markets and to promote moderate growth over time.

Readings on core inflation have improved modestly this year. However, the Committee judges that some inflation risks remain, and it will continue to monitor inflation developments carefully.

Developments in financial markets since the Committee’s last regular meeting have increased the uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook. The Committee will continue to assess the effects of these and other developments on economic prospects and will act as needed to foster price stability and sustainable economic growth.

Voting for the FOMC monetary policy action were: Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman; Timothy F. Geithner, Vice Chairman; Charles L. Evans; Thomas M. Hoenig; Donald L. Kohn; Randall S. Kroszner; Frederic S. Mishkin; William Poole; Eric Rosengren; and Kevin M. Warsh.

In a related action, the Board of Governors unanimously approved a 50-basis-point decrease in the discount rate to 5-1/4 percent. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston, New York, Cleveland, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and San Francisco.

Deflation: Making Sure "It" Doesn't Happen Here
What has this got to do with monetary policy? Like gold, U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.


Each of the policy options I have discussed so far involves the Fed's acting on its own. In practice, the effectiveness of anti-deflation policy could be significantly enhanced by cooperation between the monetary and fiscal authorities. A broad-based tax cut, for example, accommodated by a program of open-market purchases to alleviate any tendency for interest rates to increase, would almost certainly be an effective stimulant to consumption and hence to prices. Even if households decided not to increase consumption but instead re-balanced their portfolios by using their extra cash to acquire real and financial assets, the resulting increase in asset values would lower the cost of capital and improve the balance sheet positions of potential borrowers. A money-financed tax cut is essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter drop" of money.


Sustained deflation can be highly destructive to a modern economy and should be strongly resisted. Fortunately, for the foreseeable future, the chances of a serious deflation in the United States appear remote indeed, in large part because of our economy's underlying strengths but also because of the determination of the Federal Reserve and other U.S. policymakers to act preemptively against deflationary pressures.

Too bad those helicopters have to burn oil to drop dollars. Yeah, too bad.


Anonymous said...

Ron Paul says real inflation is 8% to 15% depending on the population segment. In addition, many people are saying they feel they are in hard times. Looks like a rock and a hard place.

By the way, an interesting symbol of an illusion of prosperity is in the Corman (Winkless) movie Nightmare City 2035, which should come out soon. In that movie it is an implant in the brain that causes the people to see prosperity around them.

Stagflationary Mark said...

I can safely say inflation isn't hitting me anywhere near that hard but I keep expecting it to.

At some point I expect the rising price of oil to bleed over into food more than it has, if nothing else. Yet, just the other day I had another grocery spree involving 69 cent canned goods (on sale), 33 cent per pound bananas (on sale), and a variety of other things I keep expecting to rise in price.

On the other hand, there are deflationary pressures. I can't imagine we can maintain a massive trade deficit permanently though.

Go figure.