Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Monetary policy in disarray

Tatom, John (2011): Monetary policy in disarray.

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Abstract

Monetary policy has become difficult to characterize or follow since 2007. A debate as to whether interest rate targets or monetary aggregate targets are better indicators of policy and prospective outcomes has given way to a new credit policy built on inflating the Federal Reserve (Fed) balance sheet to provide private sector credit. This policy grew out of the Great Depression and has led the Fed to ignore monetary growth and render a federal funds rate target impotent by pushing it to zero. To implement the more than doubling of the Fed’s assets, the Fed took up commercial banking policies. Three examples are: selling Treasury assets to fund private assets, paying subsidies to banks for holding reserves and attracting a new class of Treasury debt sterilized in Fed deposits. These actions insulated monetary aggregates and the effective monetary base from the explosion in the Fed’s balance sheet. The new credit policy severed the tight link that had existed for over 70 years between Fed credit and its effective monetary base. Fortunately, it also insulated the economy from a more than doubling of the general price level. But these actions have turned the balance sheet of the Fed into a collection of illiquid and risky private assets. A similar portfolio of government securities that has the longest duration in history and therefore the greatest interest rate risk limits the Fed’s ability to reduce its assets or the excess reserve position of banks, exceeding $1.5 trillion and costing the taxpayer over $3.3 billion, from 2009 to mid-2011. The subsidy and excess reserve levels of the first half of 2011 will cost $2.3 billion per year going forward. Finally, the paper rebuts claims by Fed officials that the Fed has successfully followed the framework of monetary policy developed by Milton Friedman. The paper concludes with recommendations for Congressional restrictions on the Fed and Treasury to ensure that the Fed focus on responsible monetary policy and not its failed credit policy.

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