Federal Reserve | timiacono.com - Part 55

On that Premature Tightening in 1937

I’ve never really gotten that argument about how the Federal Reserve and U.S. government tightened too soon in the late-1930s and, as a result, induced another recession. In his column today, Paul Krugman notes:

“The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.” So declared John Maynard Keynes in 1937, even as F.D.R. was about to prove him right by trying to balance the budget too soon, sending the United States economy — which had been steadily recovering up to that point — into a severe recession. Slashing government spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy further; austerity should wait until a strong recovery is well under way.

Yet, anyone able to look at the data back in 1937 would hardly see the U.S. economy as “depressed”, not after three straight years of real GDP growth averaging 11 percent. While perhaps not a “boom”, a “strong recovery” was certainly underway by then.

To be sure, the 1930-1933 downturn was severe, but, according to the data from the BEA above, the U.S. economy had returned to its 1929 bubble output by 1937 when all the policy mistakes were supposedly made.

Occupy the Federal Reserve?

According to this item at Occupy Wall Street News, the African-American faith community will join forces with Occupy Wall Street to protest economic injustice on Martin Luther King Day next month and they intend to “Occupy the Federal Reserve” in up to twelve cities across the country where regional central bank offices are located.

There’s more than a little bit of irony in the event also being referred to as “Occupy the Dream”, that is, just two years in advance of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Fed, what, to the biggest of the banks back then was a “dream” of a monopoly over the industry at a time when smaller regional banks were rapidly gaining market share.

So far, it’s worked out pretty well for them, if not for the rest of us.

A “Nothing Sandwich” from the Fed

The Federal Open Market Committee made no changes to monetary policy at their last meeting of the year that concluded a short time ago and provided no further hints at action they are likely to take next year.

They simply upgraded their assessment of the U.S. economy after the generally positive data that has been received since they met last month and, with a much friendlier board composition in 2012, will begin their work anew in six weeks.

Gone next year will be board members who cast dissenting votes on more accommodative policy changes in the fall – Richard Fisher of the Dallas Fed, Charlie Plosser of Philadelphia, and Narayana Kocherlakota of Minneapolis – while three of the four incoming voting members – John Williams of San Francisco, Dennis Lockhart of Atlanta, and Sandra Pianalto of Cleveland – appear open to more easing should the economy stumble.

The only 2012 voting member who has voiced opposition to more easy money from the Fed will be Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, so, when considering the improvement in the economy in recent months, the “nothing sandwich” from the group today shouldn’t be surprising in the least.

Markets were clearly looking for more, but they’ll have to wait until next year.

Today’s FOMC policy statement is shown below alongside the one from last month.

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Since we’ll be out when the Federal Open Market Committee meeting adjourns in an hour or so, offering up yet another policy statement for an increasingly fragile global economy, this story at The Onion seemed worth sharing between now and the time that we return.

To no one’s surprise, Fed Chief Ben Bernanke came in #1 in the short list of most influential economists and, sadly, the satire website’s characterization of what he’s accomplished probably isn’t too far off the mark.

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