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The Fed Isn’t a Magic Money Tree

The Fed Isn’t a Magic Money Tree

The Fed Isn’t a Magic Money Tree

There seems to be no end to the Federal Reserve’s arrogance. Fed officials believe that through their wise actions, they can eliminate the business cycle, lower unemployment and make society prosperous.

But it’s actually much more limited in what it can do.

All the Fed can reliably do is stop bank runs and limit liquidity panics. It can also fund (or “monetize”) the U.S. federal deficit, as it has done in recent months.

By buying essentially the same amount of U.S. Treasury securities the government has issued, the Fed has taken pressure to fund mammoth federal deficits off of the private sector.

But such actions are not cost-free.

They store up trouble for the future. These actions swell the Fed’s balance sheet, which will limit the Fed’s flexibility and its willingness to tighten policy during the next inflation spike.

The more the Fed intervenes, the harder it is for it to reverse course without causing damage.

By promising the public that it can do anything more than offer dollar liquidity, the Fed is setting up both investors and workers for disappointment.

Yet it’s going to try anyway. And it’ll only undermine its limited reputational capital in the process.

“Yield Curve Control”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Fed is considering implementing “yield curve control” in the Treasury market. This policy hasn’t been used since WWII and the early postwar period.

It essentially funded the war effort. If unleashed today, it wouldn’t be done to support a civilization-saving war effort but to maintain the debt-saturated economy to which we’ve become accustomed.

Here’s how it would work in practice:

The Fed would set a target range, or cap, on yields for Treasury bonds of a specific maturity — say, 3-, 5- or 7-year Treasuries.

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